St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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Good and Bad Religion

People who had suffered the consequences of state-supported and favored religious institutions founded this country.  They sought to avoid those consequences in a new land.  Debates rage about whether or not the “founding fathers” of our country were Christians.  It doesn’t matter.  They wanted to separate politics and religion because they knew that mixing them always had bad results.  They were right.

Whatever its usefulness in a person’s life, or lack thereof, religion must be voluntary.  It cannot be coerced, nor can it be maintained by coercion.  Forms of religious coercion invariably lead to hostility, animosity, resentment, and war.  So far, so good: in America we do not have coercion.  Religion is a voluntary matter.  But there is much more to be worried about.

We have to look at our commitments to see if they lead to the exclusion of others in the name of “faith. “ Sure, we can believe that somebody else’s religion is a form of craziness and should not be tolerated, but what about our own?  Are we committed to forms of faith that lead to peacefulness and social harmony or are we belligerents?  Do we see any craziness in our own positions?  Have we found the way to affirm our own religious principles without using them to deny others their place in the social structure?

This last point is the test.  As we look around the world, we see many places where religious diversity is denied by the mechanisms of power.  Social penalties for difference abound.  Every penalty from “legal” restriction to outright physical persecution continues to occur in our world in the name of religion.

Let’s make it simple: if you are willing to go to the wall in the belief that your neighbor is going to hell because of his religious choices, your faith could lead to disaster.  What separates you from the s0-called fanatics?

With singular exceptions, most forms of religion in these United States have at one time or another been in the position of having the upper hand in other countries – and in each case the results have been unsatisfactory at best, grim at worst.  People have died in the name of somebody else’s idea of love.

You don’t have to go far to find fanaticism.  It is at the ragged, insecure edge of your own faith.  It arises wherever your commitment to the truth you find in your faith leads you to deny another’s commitment.  Coupled with political power, bad religion leads to the rack and the gas chamber.

To deny other people their place at the table will not make you feel better, in the long run.  Denial merely papers over your insecurities.  The social is the personal: you cannot escape your insecurities by putting down those whose positions make you uncomfortable.  We need more interfaith dialogue, which after forty years of effort in this country is still in its infancy.

Many thoughtful people are asking: in the light of tragedies everywhere perpetrated in the name of religion, is there any good religion?  Is religion at the heart of many social woes worldwide?  If we haven’t begun to ask this question individually and collectively, it’s time we started.  The arrogance of some forms of religion is itself intolerable and it’s time for a humble, less-exalted approach that asks hard questions.

We have to begin by granting the cultured despisers of religion their due.  Let us examine our hearts to see if we use religion as a crutch or as wings for the human spirit.  Millions of victims of religious persecution cry out from their graves for an answer.

published 01 Feb 08