Another little tale that illustrates the difference between religion and fanaticism: In the 70's I was working in Papua New Guinea. PNG had more missions from more religions than any other place I can think of. (Outside the USA...) And a lot of my friends were children of missionaries. On the weekend I particularly remember, we were discussing prayer and churches. I asked why my prayers don't get answered and was told that "you have to pray in church."
I said that since there were about six people in the lounge room, we could declare it a church, and then would my prayers be answered? The answer apparently was that there wasn't an authority figure presiding. (I specifically asked if a father or a monsignor or a pastor was needed and that was how the "authority figure" was hastily pulled out of the hat.)
Fine, I said. I have demonstrated that I am leading this congregation, there are six of us here, and this is a church. Will you join me in prayers? You could almost see them each evaluating if that would perhaps be heretical, then they all declined. So as we were walking out to their motorbikes, I asked if my prayers would be answered any more if I went to one of their churches.
"No," was the general opinion, because to respond to a prayer was a bit like a miracle, and "He doesn't work like that any more." I asked if that could perhaps mean that God had left us to our devices, and got the kind of frosty silence normally reserved for outcasts.
At that point I decided to give it a try anyway. "I can see the sky" I said, "and no matter what you think, we have a church right here and right now. And my prayer will be answered." I pointed to the guy that had been giving me the most formulaic and constant opposition and said "God? Please zap him!"
The guy hopped on his motorbike along with the others, and they all started looking at him. Because his bike wasn't starting for him. he kicked and kicked that lever, but not even one cough of life. At that point I walked up to the bike, put my hands on the handlebars and said "Okay you can let him go now." And the damn bike started right away after the very next kick.... [See Note 1]
The following morning I was discussing that event with a couple of them as had come back to town, and asked if that wasn't a miracle. And do you know, not one of them would agree that it was. That's the sort of dedicated one-eyed fanaticism that causes people to get killed "for a cause..."
The best part? They said they had to get going to take some rugs out to their mission, and as they went to leave I said "God? Please zap them so they know it was a miracle?"
And they took off, only to return 20 minutes later to strap the rugs on their luggage carriers...
In light of it all, what are we supposed to think? There must be 40,000 religions and variants and schisms out there, and the Christian church one of the most splintered and divided of those. Of the religions that most loudly claim to be peaceful, it's always true that they have committed more murder, genocide, and atrocities in the name of whatever god they claim to serve than any number of corrupt military regimes.
So what events caused that conflagration which the Middle East still is? What is it that has shed more blood in the last two millennia than anything else? And why is every religion "the one" and only? Are we really so naive as to kill one another over something that, by its own admission, can never be anything but imaginary?
The guy was flustered. He had flicked the "chicken switch" (an engine kill switch) to "Off" when he arrived, but because he was too engrossed in the argument he failed to turn it back "On." I saw that, and when I "blessed" him and his bike, I palmed the switch to the right direction. Oh come on! Him forgetting is as much a "miracle" as a piece of chalk finding a softer way to the ground by bouncing off a shoe. If you want to call one a miracle, you have to allow the other too!