John Lennon asked us to imagine a world with no religion. I think the reason he wanted to get rid of religion is because he dreamed of a world united by love and he thought that religion divides us.
Debate.org wonders the same thing. They asked the question: Does religion divide the world? 73% of those responding said yes.
Why does religion divide? One of the respondents (AbdulRaufw4lr6s) nailed it explaining that
“Religion is another form of categorizing. Religion . . . tries to divide between good and evil . . . ; accordingly, people who belong into that particular definition of ‘good’ is called the ‘believers’ and likewise, those who belong into the definition of evil is termed ‘sinners.’ From there, the whole process of giving definition and categorization escalates . . .
It is true that religion divides humanity in exactly this way.
But this is not only a characteristic of religion. Whenever someone claims an exclusive truth there is a great danger of division.
Truth Claims Can Divide
Everyone makes truth claims–decide between exclusive beliefs–and when they do, they will create categories. These categories aren’t usually as either/or as we make them, but they do create camps. These can lead to hatred and disunity.
Here are some examples of the kinds of categories that create camps–that divide us.
“Jesus or Mohammad”
“Liberal or Conservative”
“Republican or Democrat”
“Theist or Atheist”
“Ford or Chevy”
“Ginger or Maryann”
Some of these are more exclusive than others, but the issue is not whether or not one will hold to an exclusive belief; the issue is to which an exclusive set of beliefs will one hold. We can be nice about all these categories, but John Lennon had it right, we tend not to be nice.
So, as long as we make any claims for truth, we are stuck with the categories. So is there no hope for the peace and unity of which John Lennon imagines?
The Differences that Lead to Unity
Christianity is different than all other religions, and these differences are humanity’s best bet to achieve peace and unity. I have three reasons for this assertion:
- The central figure of all other religious beliefs is a human being, but in Christianity, it is God himself. This God became a human being and was killed on our behalf. We are saved because of what he did, not on what we do. In all other religions, the central figure tells us what we need to do in order to be blessed, but in Christianity, God blessed us because we could never deserve it.
- Because we aren’t saved by our performance, we can’t even begin to start “the whole process of giving definition and categorization,” as described by AbdulRaufw4lr6s. People who live the Gospel believe that they are no better than anyone else, probably worse. If you’ve run into Christians who think they are better than everyone else, you’ve either misunderstood them, or they’ve misunderstood the gospel.
- Most other religions point to a life to come as the true destination for humanity. Christianity, on the other hand, is very interested in THIS life. By becoming flesh, God himself is affirming this world–this physical world. He wants all of humanity to work together to make this world a good world–he wants us to serve the world, as he did when he died for it and us. Consequently, Christians desire and work for the flourishing of others; they are generous with their time and money. If you’ve run into Christians who don’t care about other people, who are not generous with their time and money, and don’t care about the environment, then you have either misunderstood them, or they have misunderstood the gospel.
Jesus came into a divided world. There were tremendous divisions between Jew and Greek and rich and poor. But because of the differences between Christianity and other religions, the early Church mixed races and socioeconomic classes. This unity was created because people understood Jesus to be God who came to earth and died for people who hated him so that they might live, both now and forever. How can a person who follows this God, look down on others for any reason?
All truth claims create divisions and categories. Religions usually do this as well, but the truth claims concerning Jesus Christ do not. These differences, if they are embodied, are the very things that will bring peace on earth of which John Lennon sang.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.