When we look at the horrific violence in the world and the role that religion often plays in justifying the violence, it is more than understandable why many persons do not want to have anything to do with religion. How can religion be a good thing if it is constantly used to divide us, demean others, treat people unjustly, and promote violence? We cannot deny that religion has been used and is being used to do all of these things and more. Many persons have concluded that religion is more a problem than a solution to our world’s problems, and perhaps this is one of the reasons why in my country the fastest growing self identification in relation to religion is “none.” Couple this with the tendency for some religious groups to be anti-scientific, homophobic, sexist, and apparently unconcerned about our ecological crisis; and it is no wonder why so many of us are not only distancing ourselves from religion, but are actually running away.
There are certainly times when I look at my own religion of Christianity and all of the wrongs that it has done and continues to do in the world, and my reaction is to want to “run away.” Why would I want to be associated in any way with a religion that has justified the Crusades, implemented the Inquisition, treated women unequally, perpetuated unjust imperial rule, rejected science and killed scientists, and at times justified slavery and genocide? Just typing this incomplete list of atrocities makes the feeling of wanting to run away grow stronger. However, I don’t think the answer is running away from religion per se. I think the answer lies more in self transformation and world transformation from the place where I am, from where we each of us are, and thereby transforming the religions of which we are a part.
There has never been a time in human history when religions have solely been a force for good in this world because religions are made up of us. Religions become a force for good in the world when we who are a part of them recognize our brokenness and the brokenness of the world and when we are humbly transformed to become healing agents for all life, including our own. Only then does religion do what our world so desperately needs: reconnect us to each other and the community of life of which we are all a part.
Thank you, Mark, this is exactly how I feel. I’ve been mostly teaching in school these last few years, and every so often a student acuses “religion” of bring resposible for “all” the hatred and violence in the world. It’s usually hard work to try to convince them that most religions can be lived in different ways and that especially christianity was meant by Christ as a call to nonviolence and love.