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Here’s another quote from When Religion Becomes Evil by Charles Kimball.
… The ultimate focus of religion–liberation or salvation–cannot be disconnected from life in this world. In authentic, healthy religion the end and the means to that end are always connected. But it is often easy to lose sight of the ultimate goal and focus instead on one component of religion. When a key feature of religion is elevated and in effect becomes an end, some people within the religion become consumed with protecting or achieving that end. In such cases, that component of religion functions like an absolute truth claim, and zealous believers become blind in their single-minded defense of it. … The end goal of protecting or defending a key component of religion is often used to justify any means necessary.
Means and the end are always connected. Or to paraphrase Kierkegaard, one may only treat someone as a means to an end when one sees them as an end in and of themselves. Kimball cites Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. as examples of leaders whose movements recognized the inseparability of the end and the means to that end.
I’ve heard people argue that it is more worthwhile to show preferential concern for the well-being of one’s eternal soul over their physical situation. The rationale is that the physical world is but an iota when placed on the vast scale of eternity. However, this seems to divorce the means from the end, a process which often permits passive violence. When a person’s actions become inconsequential to that person’s fate, sins become inconsequential to her or him. Such a situation enables one to act without questioning motives or repercussions. It also allows very little concern for one’s physical well-being.
Protecting a component of the religion easily permits violence. To defend their religious convictions on sexuality, Christians like John Hagee and Jerry Falwell placed the blame of catastrophes like 9/11 and hurricane Katrina on homosexuals. Such statements are indefensible against the standard presented by Jesus: love your neighbor as yourself. They pervert and misalign one of the central messages of Christianity.
In contrast, when the means and the end are inextricably tied, the process of salvation becomes a daily act. This is not to suggest that our ultimate fate is determined by a tallied list of pros and cons. Rather, our spiritual transcendence of this world is in the spiritual moments throughout our human experience. We experience God by helping a friend move out of her place. We experience God in the meal we share with a homeless man. We see God in the child we mentor once a week.
When one’s means begin to differ from one’s end, an act of humble, penitent reconsideration is needed.