There are many conflicts scattered across the globe. Most of these conflicts are tribal or national, and often religion plays a role, in that it becomes a marker of identity. To take one example -- Northern Ireland. Is the conflict really one of theology or is it one of tribal identity, with a religious face placed on it. In Bahrain, there is conflict between a Sunni majority that rules the country and a Shia majority. The conflict has a religious face, but it's also quite political and involves the struggle for dominance between the Saudis and the Iranians (also an issue in Iraq). When religion is a factor in such situations, it's really not about God, but about a desire for dominance and power, and God gets dragged into the conversation. That is, we want God to bless our side of the debate. Thus, God blesses America -- right!?
Although a full review of Miroslav Volf's book Allah: A Christian Response is to be written in the coming days, I wanted to share a paragraph from the book in which he shares a conversation with a Franciscan priest and theology professor, a conversation that I think speaks volumes to the issues of our day. In a book that argues that Christians and Muslims (as well as Jews) worship a common God, even if at points we have differing understandings of that God, he brings to bear the issue of Ultimate Allegiance. This is, of course, a concept I explore in my reflection on the Lord's Prayer, and here he argues that the "the fear of God" or "ultimate allegiance" is an important key to overcoming these conflicts.
Religion, seen as a marker of identity, has swallowed up allegiance to the common God. Even though God is on everybody's lips, religion has become godless (or maybe religion is godless partly just because God is on everybody's lips). The consequence? Each community thinks only of its own injuries and hopes, pursuing only its own interests and its own good. Neither cares for the other or for the common good. It would take allegiance to God in love and fear to cure them from self-preoccupation and excessive fear of others, my friend suggested. To care for the common good, and not just for our own good, in face of powerful impulses to protect the group and enhance its power, the God of truth, Justice, and love must claim us. (Volf, p. 241).
Is not our problem today that religion as a marker of identity has swallowed up our allegiance to the common God? That is, because we have so committed ourselves to our own concerns we fail to understand that God is much larger than these pre-occupations that lead to conflict. So, what would it take to shift our allegiance from our own national/tribal identities to that of God?
Note -- bolded words for emphasis (mine).