Radical

Many of my in-laws consider themselves radicals. Radical leftists, despite half of them being hyper-capitalists. Radical atheists, despite positing the same arguments as primal religion.

The other day on social media they were lambasting a celebrity TV scholar and preacher, accused of amassing great wealth at the expense of his followers. They were much amused, thinking that they had hit upon something new. But it turns out that the books which they reject are far more radical than they are.

O you who have believed, indeed many of the scholars and the monks devour the wealth of people unjustly and avert from the way of God. And those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of God — give them tidings of a painful punishment.

Quran 9:34

Indeed, such radical thought is found in all the traditions.

While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and make lengthy prayers for show. These men will be punished most severely.”

Gospel of Luke 20:45-7

Perhaps some of these relatives of mine justly condemn institutionalised religion as it has come to be practised in their society. Perhaps some of the criticisms are well-founded. Perhaps they are right to identify the hypocrisies amongst those who claim to follow the path. Perhaps they are right to attack politicians who exploit religion to curry favour with the masses.

Yes, I absolutely concur: there is hypocrisy aplenty amongst those who claim to be religious. But there is hypocrisy too amongst those who claim to oppose it. I have seen men who claim to be radical leftists — supposedly concerned about the welfare of the poor and vulnerable — robbing their very own families, leaving relatives destitute.

The main problem is that few of us bring to life anything that our wise ones taught. If we are taught to live with others in kindness, how many of us actually do so? If we are asked to oppose tyranny, who really dares to? Who knows that God is always with the just, regardless of their religion? If we are taught to live truthfully and seek the truth, how many of us can honestly say we do? If we are taught not to lie and cheat, who dares take himself to account?

I appreciate it is difficult for people raised in a particular religious or cultural milieu to see the wood for the trees. It took my beloved to migrate to another country to take up this path. She left her homeland one like them. Perhaps had she remained there, she would never have rediscovered this truly radical way at all.

We are with the just, whoever they are. We are for the kind, whatever they believe. We are with the truthful whatever they claim to hold fast to. If those radical relatives of mine are just, kind and truthful, I am with them. If they truly support the poor and vulnerable, they will find me walking with them. But if it is just sloganeering, then I will call it out.

Radicalism calls for action not words. To be a radical, feed the poor, look after orphans, free slaves, fight discrimination, oppose tyranny, side with the oppressed, be kind to your wife and children, give full measure in trade, act justly between people, speak a word of truth in the face of the unjust, forgive those who wrong you, promote safety and health in your lives.

Necessarily, the institutionalisation of religion will seek to remove its radical impulses. Necessarily, the powerful will always seek to blunt every tool that threatens the status quo. That doesn’t mean you must concur. Seek and you will find.

Be a true radical. I am with you.

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