Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why I Don't Hate Religion

Here's what I read: http://i.imgur.com/mpQA0.jpg. It's a montage of articles on evils perpetuated by religious people. It's posted as a justification for hating religion (and religious people) as a whole. And the emotional impact is enough to make any kindhearted soul want to go an an anti-religious rampage. But then, that would be hypocritical.

Here's what I am feeling right now: A palpable heaviness. A sense that people bent on hating religion will continue to hate it regardless what I say. It's so easy to see religion as the root of all social problems. But the thing is, most of the people on this planet have some religion or other, and if not a religion, most have a guiding political philosophy, traditional cultural ethic, or intellectual framework gleaned from the particular way they were educated. We sort ourselves out according to our beliefs, even if we kid ourselves that we are total individuals, completely isolated in our thought processes from any other human. (Generally, that is what is known as a sociopath, BTW.)

The problem, of course, is that we are sinners. All of us. I know that's kind of an old-fashioned word and it's extremely loaded, but there it is. Regardless what lofty ideals we hold, we screw up. We're not our best selves a good deal of the time. We get together with like-minded folks and try to create something good--elect a good candidate, pass good laws, educate children, support the arts, worship the creator of the universe--and our selfish little egos get in the way. We like to think we're not capable of pettiness, judgmentalism, hatred or abuse, but it turns out that stuff is in all of us--in varying degrees, and depending on our choices and circumstances, but it's there. Religion has no corner on hypocrisy. I get weary of people saying that the religious are hypocrites. You ever meet someone who isn't?

So, I've still got this stone sitting on my chest right now and I want to figure out what that's about. I think it has something to do with being accused of hatred, violence and abuse. I suppose that's a little sulky, but the creator of the montage of articles seems to propose that the shoe ought to fit for me because I call myself a Christian.

I didn't always. If you read this blog, you'll know that I left off calling myself a Christian for some time. But I call myself one now--unabashedly, regardless of my own sins and the sins of my brethren (and sistren)--maybe because of those sins. I was just never able to shake the idea of a God who is unknowable and transcendent, who fills all things and is everywhere present, and who is interested enough in humanity to show up here as a human being. I'm a Christian because that's what I believe about Jesus.

If I were not a Christian, I might be Jewish, or Muslim. I might be Hindu or Buddhist. I might be Neo-Pagan. There are things in each of those religions that I love--teachings in each of them that resonate deeply for me.

But I think I would still have a religion, even if it was not Christianity. Why? Because I long for God and that just won't go away. I believe it is because God longs for me. That's hubris, I know. But I think God longs for all of us and God put a longing for God inside of us. That's why we come together as Christians or Jews or Hindus--to exercise a corporate longing, through which great love can come to the world. Because when we are truly longing for God instead of for our own self-fulfilment, we want to feed the hungry and bind up the wounded. We want to care for the earth and create beauty. We want to lift up the abused and bring peace to the warring. We want to, but we can't do it alone. We need each other and we need God.

Many terrible things have been done in the name of religion (and, I might add, in the name of political parties, moral philosophies and business ventures), but look around you: Look at the universities and hospitals, the famine relief organizations, reconciliation initiatives, and social justice groups. Look into their histories and you will find that a very large percentage sprang from religious teaching or were directly founded by religious groups. John Donne said, "No man is an island." It is amazing what people can do when they come together motivated by a love for God.

It is enough to lift the heaviness from me. It is enough to make me pray.