Love, fear and religion

There are only two things in the world: love and fear. That’s what Leunig says, anyway, in one of his prayers. I never really understood what he meant, but it’s beginning to come to me now.

Kerala, like everywhere else in India, is heavily steeped in religion – the difference is that the faith of choice here is Christianity. Rosary beads hung from our taxi driver’s dash on the way from the airport, and we passed pink coloured churches whose decorative facades reminded me of something made out of cardboard, tacked on to the front of an otherwise ordinary building. From village parishes whose crosses are reflected in the backwaters, to large cathedrals that rise up on the side of busy roads, there are churches everywhere. Life-size models of Mary and Jesus ascend in shrines that are more like oversized glass cabinets.

We went into a wonderful old cathedral in the tourist district of Fort Cochin – built by the Portuguese in the 1500s. This was a living church: large stars made out of basket material hung from the ornate ceilings, and the images of Jesus sported disco lights. Though the cathedral was beautiful and felt light on my spirit, I didn’t feel a strong affinity with the faith expressed there. As David and I discussed it afterwards, I realized that this was a religion with a heavy focus on fear. It was about worshiping to absolve guilt; it was about praying so that God may show mercy on one’s soul.

Where was the love, inside this old cathedral? I imagine it was amongst the people. But from the prayers and images that covered the walls in the church, I also sensed a lot of fear.

Fear lurks in all religion. We believe for fear of being damned. We insist that others believe the same thing for fear that we might be wrong. We build walls and hierarchies for fear that we might lose our power, or lose ourselves. We of the Protestant faith have bastardised Christ’s message and example and turned discipleship into a club, where you have to follow the rules to be a member, and membership equals salvation.

But what of love? It doesn’t lie in a set of beliefs, or a liturgy of prayers. It doesn’t lie within the bounds of a club. It lies in the way we treat each other – with dignity, with humility, without envy or exploitation. Salvation doesn’t lie in what we believe: salvation is love. If we believe because we are too scared to face the consequences of disbelief, then that is bad religion.

It’s comparatively easy to believe. Love is freakin’ hard.

Loving involves listening, and that’s hard because you might find out that you’re wrong. Being wrong is scary, because it shifts the way you think of yourself and the world. It’s too easy to become dogmatic, but that’s just fear.

Love involves making yourself smaller and less powerful, and that’s scary because you think you might turn into nothing. Love involves finding the similarities between yourself and other people, and that’s scary because you might realise that someone else is just as right as you are.

There are only two things in this world: love and fear. Love and fear.