Justice and Peace: September 2019

By Steve Atherton, Justice and Peace fieldworker

When I meet people who say that they don’t need religion, it makes me wonder why I need religion so much. What does it do for me? Why is it such an important part of my identity?

Religion gives me faith that the world is good. It puts me in touch with the bigger picture; in touch with previous generations; in touch with European culture; in touch with fellow Christians; it gives me access to a community so that I have a home wherever I go.

Being a Christian challenges me to be like Jesus. It puts me into relationship with Jesus, making me a follower of a man who was driven by compassion and who allows me to see myself as a child of God. To be a child of God is a remarkable claim to make. It is at the same time both humbling and empowering in the light of the vastness of creation. Our Catholicism is based on knowing Jesus and the more I get to know Jesus, the more I realise that his teaching was about life itself rather than about religion.

The notion that Jesus travelled around the Holy Land like a travelling Sunday school teacher doesn’t do justice to how dangerous he was. His quarrel/running battle with the scribes and pharisees wasn’t about how many tassels to wear, about liturgy or even doctrine, but about whether people could have access to the things that made life possible, things that were essential to reduce suffering and to give dignity.

My question about religion has become: what would Jesus be struggling for today? Which translates into: what are the things today that reduce suffering and give dignity? Religion is part of the answer but not all of the answer. Much of the answer is found in access to goods and services: to housing, to healthcare, to education, to work, to food, to community ... in short, to those things that are commonly called ‘human rights’.

In response to our 21st century situation, where human activity is in danger of making the planet unfit for human habitation, we are called to become actively involved in protecting the environment. Pope Francis has recently said that Laudato si’ was not ‘a green encyclical’ but ‘a social encyclical based on the
reality of the custody of creation’. He urged us to pay attention to the little everyday things that affect the future ‘because they are concrete actions’.

Among these little concrete actions are things as simple as avoiding single-use plastics, limiting car travel, not wasting food, etc. So I end up needing religion to teach me that religion is not the be-all and end-all but a way to help me focus on being the best human being that I can be.