There will be peace on earth when there is peace among the world religions.
-Hans Kung

The Rev. Kevin Dixon of St. Mary’s Kerrisdale

Why is it that so many of the world's current conflicts have sprung from religious roots? Would the world be better off without religion? Maybe it's not religion that is the problem, but rather, a certain kind of behaviour cloaked in religion's guise.

What is religion, anyway? Is it primarily obedience to specified moral principles, like temperance and tithing? Or submission to a particular authority, like a Pope or an Ayatollah? Or is it a commitment to defending an ideological agenda, like Zionism, or the freeing of Tibet from China? Regardless of ideological stripe - Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish or Moslem - I believe that all good religion is composed of two dimensions: one inner, the other outward.

The inner dimension is characterized by the nurturing of spiritual disciplines, like prayer, that foster a sense of hope rather than despair, of love rather than fear, that strengthen our relationships with one another, and that give our lives a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. Followers of Jesus believe that these spiritual practices are one part of a process that leads to the death of selfishness and gratification of appetite in exchange for a life committed to loving God and people, and appropriate self-love.

The outward dimension is not about appearing to be religious. Rather, it's about exercising the will in order to contribute to a society and world where peace with justice is achieved. These activities may be exercised individually, but more effectively when they are undertaken collectively. I think, for instance, of my own commitment to supporting the human rights work of the church in El Salvador.

There is much I can do alone but, as we have seen in my parish, more can be done when more people catch the vision and work together. We are approaching a time of year when there is an outpouring of compassion for "the less fortunate" as though the greatest injustice in the world would be for anyone to be unhappy at Christmas.

We've heard the "Christmas Truce" stories about the First World War when soldiers came out of the trenches on Christmas Eve, sang carols with their counterparts in the enemy trenches, exchanged gifts, and then returned to killing one another the next day. Tragic irony! Neither a day of peace like Christmas Day nor a day of honour like Remembrance Day is enough to overcome the world's perpetual cycle of violence, wh got called, in the days of gender-exclusive language, "Man's inhumanity to man."

Religion must play a different role if the world is ever to become more humane. Our inner lives must be characterized by a prayerful yearning for harmony within families, among strangers, between nations and religious groups. Our outward behaviour must demonstrate a commitment to the common good and a healthy disinterest in sectarianism and ideologies that divide.

Let's not be romantic in our talk of peace and goodwill. For my own part, I am going to try harder to be a person whose life - inwardly and outwardly - models harmony and fairness. Not just today, and not just between now and the end of the year, but every day. I do not believe the world would be better off without religion. I do, however, want the religion I practice to be one that fosters peace, not one that gives birth to bullets and butchery.

This article is from ICON, the parish magazine of St. Mary's Kerrisdale, where the Rev. Kevin Dixon is rector.