Friday, June 14, 2013


I went to a rather unusual movie recently.

It was unusual because there was no sex or violence or anything we good Catholics would even have to confess, except for the occasional swear word. The movie was called "Once" and it is little known, but critically acclaimed.

In essence, the story is about two complete strangers, one Irish and one Czech, who meet on a Dublin street and forge a bond because of their mutual love of and commitment to music.

Throughout the movie, an odd mix of characters come together, bond and blend their talents through the universal language of music. It was one of those movies that makes you feel strangely good about having seen it.

In thinking about the movie, I was taken by the extraordinary gift that is music.  Even when language separates, music unites.  The hero plays a beat-up old guitar and sings sad dirges of love lost. The heroine plays Mendelssohn on the piano with gifted fingers. They recognize the beauty in each other's song and they blend their talents to make the song even richer.

And somewhere along the way, it made me thing that religion is supposed to do the same thing.

The moral core that is our essence is also the essence of most religions throughout the world.  Our understanding of a just and loving God transcends the depth of our human understanding and calls us to unite in our love for one another.  That call is not the singular call of Christianity.  Virtually every religion in the world is based on that single premise  that our earthly world is made more perfect through our love and caring and commitment to each other.

Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims all believe in the inherent goodness of man and search for a way to a more perfect life of peace and harmony.  They all strain for peace and for the fellowship of human kind.

So why can't religion act as a unifier instead of a divider in our world ?  If music can provide musicians with a universal language of beauty and harmony, why can't our belief in peace, our commitment to lead ethical and moral lives and our dedication to the love of humanity serve the same function ?  Why does religion, instead, serve to divide the people of our country and of the world ?

Why do people kill in the name of their God ?

Beliefs may, and do, vary.  Buddhists seek nirvana.  Hindus seek the ways of action and of wisdom.  Christians are commanded to love one another.  Our Jewish brothers and sisters embrace not just a religion, but a way of life to guide them on a moral path.  Muslims are also seeking eternal reward through peace and ethical life.

But repeatedly throughout history, these major religions of the world have been used as tools to turn people against one another. Jews and Arabs kill each other over a patch of desert.  Muslims kill Muslims in Iraq because of slight differences in religious belief. Christians and Catholics have killed each other for centuries in Northern Ireland.  Hindus and Sikhs kill each other on the Indian sub-continent.  This prostitution of religious belief to feed war and death and destruction is a sad and heinous perversion of what we are called to be.

Strange, isn't it, that we never see blues musicians at war with classical musicians ?  Rock and roll artists never fight with jazz players.

Music is a universe unto itself.  Music is what religion is supposed to be.

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