Tom 7:00-12:00am

I Am A Religious Extremist Featured

My name is George and I am a religious extremist. I know that's not usually a label people would use for themselves. While I'm certainly not wanting to associate myself with the kind of person who commits acts of terrorism – in a sense I, too, am an 'extremist'.

I have strongly-held beliefs about who God is. I subscribe to a religious ideology through which I filter everything else in my life. My faith is the single most important thing to me. My beliefs lead me to take actions which may seem extreme to others. Ultimately, if necessary, I hope I would be able to give up my life because of my beliefs.

Before you report me to the police, at this point I should clarify that I'm a Christian. And not a particularly crazy one at that. The things I believe about who God is and how he requires me to act toward others are pretty standard for most followers of Jesus. In a sense though, my beliefs might look extreme to those who have no faith. The whole loving your enemies thing and putting others before yourself might look a bit unusual to those who don't share my beliefs.

I put my trust in a divine being I cannot see. I believe he leads me and speaks to me. My relationship with him informs everything else in my life – including how I relate to others.

So what's the point of trying to paint myself as a religious extremist? Well following the recent tragic terrorist attacks, I've noticed many online conversations where people point to religion as being the cause of such evil. They say if only people would stop believing fairy tales about a make believe guy in the sky and live their lives as rational human beings, we wouldn't see attacks and wars.

You might say that's just angry people mouthing off on social media. But social media is simply a tool where we have conversations – including about the things which matter to us. It may be online, but that doesn't mean it isn't real life. And besides, these conversations happen in person-to-person conversation too. A while back a friend of mine who is an educated, intelligent and kind guy suggested the same idea to me.

I can see why people might think this. A disturbing number of attacks seem to be motivated by faith. There are far too many evils acts carried out in the name of God.

But you can't blame religious beliefs for the bad done in the world unless you acknowledge the good they also inspire. There's no shortage of examples from history in which people of faith have sought to make the world a better place. William Wilberforce's fight against the slave trade is one that comes to mind. Mother Teresa serving the poor in the slums of India is another. And it's not just a historical phenomenon. Billions of believers around the world daily seek to serve their fellow human beings with acts of love and service. It's no coincidence they are people of faith. For Christians, taking Jesus' command to love one another is not an optional extra when it comes to following God.

Of course, such acts of service are not limited to Christians either. I personally know many people from a variety of religious backgrounds who live in way that makes the world a better place. For every suicide bomber who tries to take the lives of others, there are billions more who love, serve and respect their fellow human beings – and are motivated to do so by their belief in a higher power. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ gives the ultimate example of self-sacrifice for a greater purpose. While my actions don't always reflect this, my inspiration is his selfless love.

It's too easy to look at some of the pain in the world and blame religion, without acknowledging the good it does too. Sure, there are religious extremists who carry out acts of evil which destroy the lives of others. But there are also many, many more of us religious folk who are just as passionate about our beliefs. We are 'extremists' too – not in killing but in seeking to lay down our lives in the service of others.

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