Sunday, April 3, 2005

Organized Religion is Not for Me

Religion is a personal thing for me, and I think, many others around the country. We are the people that check the “other” box in surveys. We’re not Christians or Jews, Muslims or Hindus, for that matter we’re not even Wiccans or Mormons. We don’t go to church but we believe in God or at least a Supreme Being or Beings. Some of us like to discuss religion in an attempt to understand what compels people to gather together and celebrate their beliefs in a group. Is it the need to reassure themselves that they are following the “Right” God? Is it the need that almost all people have to form a community of like-minded individuals? What drives their belief in the same aspect of a Supreme Being? I am one of those that would like to have a serious discussion with religious folks about their religion.

Unfortunately, religion has always been one of those topics that are difficult to have a real discussion about without falling into an argument. This seems to have gotten worse in the last few years. The religious fundamentalists have always seemed to ally themselves with the most conservative politicians in our country, for obvious reasons I suppose. Both groups dislike change and are generally representative of the less tolerant members of our society. This alliance has emboldened both parties and allowed them to exert influence out of proportion to the members of each group. These groups have worked together to make it tantamount to political suicide to not be an overtly religious person (of the Judeo-Christian religion of your choice). And if you disagree with the government wearing the Christian religion on its sleeve, then you hate God right? Or you are prosecuting a “War on Christianity.” It is the same method the Right uses to shore up support for its political policies: “Why do the liberals hate America?” Both methods use the easiest method of persuasion; they twist people into believing that everything is an “us against them” proposition.

Organized religion, especially Christianity, seems to be uniquely suited to this proposition. The very foundation of most Christian sects is that the word of God comes to them through the Bible and one of the most important parts of the Bible is the Ten Commandments where God says, “thou shalt not have strange gods before Me.” This is not exactly a tolerant attitude. If you combine it with the proselytizing that seems to be a part of most Christian religions, then it can easily be warped into the attitude that anyone that doesn’t accept their version of religion is the enemy. This is not reflective of the majority of religious people but it seems that a frighteningly large number of the more fanatically bent “people of faith” are drawn to these types of religious sects.

It may be unfair to dismiss organized religion based on a small subset, but the influence that these fanatical people exert paints all similar religions with the same brush. If the more moderate and reasonable sects of a religion don’t want to be lumped into the extremist category of their more fanatical relations then they should make an effort to distance themselves from them. Just as Christian religious leaders call upon moderate Muslims to denounce the terrorist acts of their extremist sects , it’s only fair if other people can call upon the moderate Christians to denounce the extremist Christians.

Where I live (Seattle, WA) there are many churches that do good charity work. They save lives by hosting and feeding the homeless; they raise money for disaster relief and host informative forums about political and social issues affecting the area. They do good work and are an asset to the community. But I also feel that I live in an area that is not dominated by extremist sect. We don’t have an aggressive push for prayer in our schools, or at public events. We don’t have churches calling for rewriting science textbooks to include creationism or push for banning books.

Other areas of the country aren’t so lucky. They have churches pushing their Christian agendas on the secular arena. They use their influence to push values that they believe in on the general public that may not believe in them. If the more moderate sects don’t believe that this is right, why don’t they speak out against it? Why don’t they use their status as religious leaders to call for a more tolerant attitude from these more fanatical sects?

I don’t know why. Some kind of religious politics I suppose, maybe someday someone will explain this to me. But until then, this will be one of the reasons that organized religions don’t appeal to me. It seems hypocritical to be for tolerance but not speak out against intolerance in other sects of the same religion. It is a failure of sorts and one that has a profound effect on the country. Until I see some organized religion that is willing to stand up to the fanatics, especially those in their sects, organized religions will be forever lumped into the category “watch – may be dangerous.”

The First Amendment to our Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” to my mind this reflects the intent that government should stay our of religion and religion should stay out of government. Organized religions don’t seem to be able to grasp this concept.