Promoting our religion and witnessing our spiritual experience in the marketplace are two poles apart. The former concerns talking too much about our god and religion with the subtle motive to covert the ‘other' to our religion while the latter concerns living our God experience through responding to the needs of the ‘other'.
Tension and conflict arises when religions take different approaches in the marketplace. Approaches may differ even within a religion. While the former primarily seek to exclusively promote a single religion, scripture and spiritual experience in the marketplace, the latter is the necessary outcome of an authentic encounter with God by allowing mutual interaction of the different religions, scripture and spiritual experience in the marketplace.
The approach to promote religion is primarily based on the assumption that whatever falls outside our religion, exclusive spiritual experience, scripture, and even place of worship, is ‘pagan' and must be compelled to convert to the ‘non-pagan', to the ‘superior' religion, where we think, we belong to. So by naming the other as ‘pagan'; we claim ourselves as the superior, pure and undefiled. Moreover, by naming our god, we draw boundary lines in the marketplace to separate the God of the ‘other' from our god.
We construct battlefields, invent line of attack and form religious armies to protect our god so that our god will not consent to become the god of the ‘other' without the sanction of our religion and religious pundits! We attempt to tie God in our religion and think that we have tied God, the maker of heaven and earth.
But we forget that we could only tie our god. But that is not God. That is our self made god, who despises and hates the ‘other'. It is true that our god cannot love the 'other' unless we permit. Through this ‘god branding', we think we can create ‘market' for our god and package our god in human made dogmas and doctrines. Thus, we covert our god into a product in the marketplace.
Hence, we create enemies in the name of our god, our religion, our race, our scripture and our scriptural revelation. The ‘other' who does not ‘buy' our brand of god becomes our enemy and competitor in the marketplace. The God of the 'other' also becomes our enemy.
Thus, different religious players compete with one another to disprove and dismantle the God of the ‘other' and create economic, political and cultural structures to ‘save' and protect those who only belong to our religion and god. We even attempt to legalize our god through human made laws and make the God, religion and scripture of the ‘other' illegitimate and illegal in the marketplace.
We also come to the conclusion that the ‘other' who does not conform to us must face hell in this life. So we design structures to make the life of the ‘other' a hell in our society by discriminating, destroying and dismantling him/her economically, politically, religiously and culturally.
We take refuge in our self elevated superiority, which guarantees us economic and political heaven through the religiously sanctioned ‘sacred' structures that we have established in our society and we rejoice in the misfortune of the ‘other'.
We claim that we are superior, blessed, fortunate and wealthy because of our god and our religion. Thus we think we are superior not because of witnessing our god experience to the ‘other' or in responding to the needs of the ‘other', but by discrediting, dismantling and restricting the experience and space of the ‘other' in the marketplace. We try to show the strength of our religion or race by pitching our god against the ‘other' in the marketplace.
As competitions increases, we think we must convert the ‘other' before he/she converts us i.e. do unto them before they do unto you. In order for the ‘other' to buy our religion, we start offering ‘goodie bags' to persuade the ‘other'.
Thus, the marketplace, which is supposed to reflect peace, oneness and fellowship with one another and with God, becomes a divisive space not because of God, religion and scripture but due to the self appointed ‘sole agents' of communal gods who distort and discredit the role of religion in a society.
Human beings created their own religions and religions in turn created and named their own gods to lord over the ‘other' and the entire army of human beings, religions and communal gods join together to destroy the world which God has created. In all this, the God remains the true God, silently waiting for our transformation and authentic encounter and response to God.
This is the consequence when our intention is to promote our religion (and race) in the marketplace. It reinforces the idea that there are different unseen gods ‘up there' fighting to win the favour of human beings whom God has created!
They give the hunch that just like how human beings form infantry of their gods to fight and compete in the name of religion in the marketplace, gods also fight and compete with each other to develop gods army ‘up there'.
Hence, today the prevailing trend of many religious propagators in the world is to act like ‘marketing managers' of their gods trying their level best to sell their religion, their scripture and their god in the marketplace. Many attempt to limit and restrict the space of the ‘other' by trying to establish superiority over the ‘other' through talking too much about their religion.
Many attempt to witness their god experience by promoting their religion and not by living it. Such approach reveals the fallacy of our understanding of religion, our God and our scripture, which utterly failed to recognise the one true God, the maker of heaven and earth, who is also the God of the ‘other' in the marketplace.
As we deny and restrict the space of the ‘other' due to suppositions based on our religion, our (mis)understanding of God and scriptural revelations, we discredit our god, spiritual experience, our scripture and our religion in the marketplace as well as we miserably fail in our test in the marketplace.
Though unfortunate, this is a blessing in disguise because we are privileged to discern the true religion, spiritual experience and scriptural interpretation based on the different responses in the marketplace.
Engaging our exclusive spiritual experience in the marketplace should not be misunderstood as an opportunity for us to promote our religion at the cost of the space of the ‘other' in the marketplace. It should not be construed as an opportunity for religious followers to create animosity between adherents of different religious followers based on our imaginary belief in a fighting god whom we think wants to fight against own creation.
No religion has monopoly of God, monopoly of truth, monopoly of culture. Each religion should humbly admit that it is one among many other religions. It searches truth along with others and it may have resources which is different from others.
That is its uniqueness and every member of God's creation is unique. In which religion one should show his/her affiliation is a personal matter and not a legal matter. However, how one exercises his/her religious faith/belief in the marketplace has both personal and social dimension. Here caution must be exercised.
In a secular and pluralistic society like Malaysia, we should care to keep our exclusive spiritual experience from promoting our religion and race in the marketplace. In addition, we should be cautious about the varied teachings in our own religion, where adherents may be fed with scriptural interpretations which promote exclusive cult mentality, animosity, perverted and a lopsided spirituality fostered by self interests and the narrow vision of the community in which we live.
Such teachings are the outcome of fear of the ‘other' or due to pressure tactics of ‘manipulators' within one's religion, who use religion as a cover to maintain power in the political or religious field. We should reject such manipulation in our religions and keep our religion from becoming a nuisance for ‘others' in the marketplace.
God is beyond our religions and race and God is able to work in ways beyond what is revealed in our scripture and religion, which we cannot fathom with our imperfect understanding and limited intelligence. The true God does not need our show of strength and support. Our strength must be channelled to help the weak and the needy in our society and to correct the injustice, discrimination, sexually explicit and perverted discourses and corruption in our society.
Religions must stand united as a corrective force in the society for the betterment of the people. For this, along with the ‘other', we must constantly struggle to uplift our knowledge above the level of our religions to a higher realm of spirituality where we are also spiritually awakened to the realization of a common humanity created by one God. An authentic encounter with God will enable us to achieve this level of spirituality through our religion.
If we do not let our religion, scripture and exclusive spiritual experience lift us up to a higher level of spirituality, we will surely be 'caught up' in religious fanaticism and use our religion and our self made god to pitch us against the ‘other' in the marketplace. Thus we make reformation within our religion and elevation of our exclusive spiritual experience to a higher realm, an impossible task.
As imperfect finite human beings, let us admit that our understanding of God, religion and our exclusive spiritual experiences are in need of constant reformation, transformation and enrichment. Hence, the ability to think of God beyond religion is not a negation of our religion, scripture or exclusive spiritual experience, but a humble approach to experience God on a higher level of spirituality and to understand our God, who is also the creator and God of the ‘other' in the marketplace.