The plight of Afghan Christian convert Abdul Rahman has focused thought on the issue of religious freedom. Accused of being an apostate for converting from Islam to Christianity, Mr. Rahman faced a possible death sentence, prior to finally being freed on technical grounds before any trial took place. His freedom is freedom to flee the country rather than face mobs who have been protesting his release.
Like many people who have chosen Christianity as their spiritual walk and way of life, I have been unhappy about this - especially as I live in a multicultural society in which people of all faiths benefit from the freedom to worship according to their conscience.
However, I realize that ultimately prayer has to be my answer. As I take stock of my own thoughts, I have thought about what religious freedom means. It is the freedom in heart and mind to be religious - as one definition reads, "manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity."
At the deepest level, only my own thoughts can either deny me this freedom or allow it. Standing for this freedom means overcoming any internal mental opposition to expressing spiritual qualities such as love, forbearance, compassion, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, even in the most trying of circumstances.
Most of all, I feel that religious freedom means the freedom to pray with clarity that sees through a situation in which two sides are at loggerheads, to the indestructible, universal unity of God and His creation. Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself...' " ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 340).
This spiritual vision involves recognizing and mentally denouncing the evidence that God's children are divided into opposite "sides," believing themselves to be either aggressor or victim. That evidence is the product of what Christianity describes as "the carnal mind" (Rom. 8:7) - the false thinking that misrepresents God, divine Mind, as powerless rather than all-powerful, and His-Her children as at the mercy of many divided opinions.
Jesus took on this foe through his spiritual insistence on God's allness. When he was on the cross for the spiritual ideas he had practiced and taught, his verdict on those intent on murdering him for his religious expression was "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). I believe that Jesus saw the hatred governing those who acted against him as an imposition on them from which his persecutors needed to be freed for their own sakes.
In thinking of Jesus' example, I realize that instead of getting angry at Mr. Rahman's situation, I have to entertain more of the spirit of my Saviour and Way-shower. That is not to forgive the spiritual ignorance that would persecute anyone for his or her religion, any faith persecuting another one, or secular institutions persecuting religions. But it is to forgive those who may be misguided by such ignorance. It is, in fact, to yearn for their freedom from it for their own sakes.
Whether I could do that if I was actually in Mr. Rahman's shoes is impossible to say. But in a world where religious rights are still being undermined in many countries, every prayerful thinker's willingness to protest in prayer the carnal mind's efforts to perpetuate religious divisions is of value.
That's not to say that no one should take appropriate political or diplomatic action when religious rights infringements arise. Prayer and prayer-guided action go hand in glove. But real religious freedom - the freedom to be the child of God - cannot be stymied for an instant, and will be found to stand undiminished when all secular and intrareligious intolerance has long given up the ghost at the hands of prayer-grounded progress.
Adapted from the Christian Science Sentinel.