The other day I happened to overhear this conversation between two people:
Are you a Christian?
No, I am a Catholic.
Once the word “Christian” included all kinds of Christians, but today this word, at least in America, is used with a very limited meaning. It seems to denote a group of Christians who describe themselves Bible-believing and evangelical. That is why this person responded that he was not a Christian but a catholic.
This is not a unique case of a word which is used to mean simultaneously the whole and also a part of it. Many commonly used words in our language are often used with double meaning: to denote the whole, and a part of it. Consider the word man. It may mean human or male human depending on the context. Earth may mean the planet earth or soil. Head may mean the part of the body above the neck or the back part of head covered by hair. New York may mean New York state or its capital, New York city.
If someone asks me if I am a Christian, I cannot give an easy, one-word answer any more. If I do, he/she might mistake me to be an evangelical Christian. I don’t have any objection to call myself a Christian in its wider sense because I was born and brought up within the Christian religious tradition, and my worldview has been very much influenced by my Christian upbringing. So if someone asks me if I am a Christian, I will most probably respond with a counter question: what do you mean by Christian? Once I understand the sense of that word for him/her, then I can answer the question affirmatively or negatively.
Some Christians in our world express their faith by burning the holy books of other religions. I have nothing to do with that kind of Christianity. I hear in the news that some Christians are planning to burn Koran publicly on September 11th of this year. This decision to burn Koran sharply divides the Christian world into two or maybe three: the Koran-burning Christians, the Koran-honoring Christians, and the Christians who don’t care. In this situation, if someone asks me if I am a Christian, I want to make it clear that I am not a Koran-burning Christian. I also want to make it clear that I am not among those Christians who don’t care. I am among those few Christians who honor Koran.
Let me explain briefly what I mean by a Koran-burning Christian. Such a Christian sees the followers of other religions as his/her enemies. Salvation for them means conversion from other religions to Christian religion. The growth of Islam and Hinduism and Paganism makes them feel panic. They earnestly believe that one of these days Christ will appear in the sky, and take with him to heaven all those people who believe that Christ died for their sins. They believe that some people in the world are God’s children, and some others are Satan’s children. For them, all non-Christian religions are Satanic, and all those people who belong to those religions belong to hell. They cannot be seen as brothers and sisters until and unless they get converted to Christianity.
In my younger days, when I was ignorant, I was also a Koran-burning Christian, but not anymore. I am among those Christians who honor Koran. I also honor all other religious scriptures from the past along with the Holy Bible. They all belong to the precious inheritance of humankind. If I expect my Muslim neighbor to honor Holy Bible, I should also honor Koran. If I do not, how in the world can I expect him/her to honor the Bible?
I believe that all people in the world are God’s children regardless of their religious affiliation. God has no religion, and God doesn’t care for anybody’s religion. If God loves all people alike, I should also see all people in the same way. My Christian faith makes me see all people in the world as my brothers and sisters, and also makes me honor their religions and their Holy books. Conversion for me is not from one religion to another religion; it is from darkness to light, from self-righteousness to God’s righteousness, from hypocrisy to honesty, and from death to life. One doesn’t need to change religion for such a conversion. The Koran-burning Christians are badly in need of such a conversion from darkness to light.
Just as there are Koran-burning Christians, there are Bible-burning Muslims as well. But there are a lot of Muslims who honor the Bible, but a lot more might be among those who do not care.
I think these three groups will always be there in any religion at any given time. If so, why is it a problem now? For the simple reason that the Koran-burning Christians and the Bible-burning Muslims have become very powerful groups today. These short-sighted and ignorant groups have immense economic and political power at their disposal. The world is at their mercy. The solution? The Koran-honoring Christian group has to become stronger, and expose the dishonesty and self-righteousness of the Koran-burning Christians.