Religion is automatically seen as inherently good for people, yet it often stunts a person’s emotional, intellectual and multicultural growth. While there are important exceptions, it stresses believing over thinking, certainty over inquiry, conformity over diversity, entitlement over enlightenment. It emphasizes rightness of belief over one’s right to believe as one chooses. It is about being right not one’s right of being. It values uniqueness of faith not faith in everyone’s uniqueness. Its priority is evangelizing people not ending inequalities. It has difficulty handling one’s right to be different—and especially one’s right to be wrong. It is far more about being an integral part of the status quo than about empowering those who are without economic and political status. It is much more comfortable with the way things are than with striving to make things the way they should be for the common good.
The intrinsic value of religion should not be assumed. It tends to repress and “straightjacket” sexuality, with its weapon of “sinfulness” warring against what is natural and human and varied. It alienates the individual from himself or herself and from people who think and act differently than the believer. It is about being “holy” not whole. Thus the passing of anti-gay measures, like California’s Proposition 8, that deny loving and committed same sex couples the right to marry.
Religion should not be viewed as sacrosanct. It ignores so much that is human. Itleads people to look to heaven rather than to earth for meaning. To look outward rather than inward for power. To look upward rather than around them for causes of conflicts and solutions. It is about dumbing down its god to fit the assumed infallible “Good Book,” which is used by evangelists and doctrinaires to claim authority and thus gain power over people.
Religion is too often about folding one’s hands rather than using them—and one’s feet. And about closing one’s eyes and looking the other way in the face of injustice. And not only looking the other way: in the words of liberation theologians, it is about religious leaders who are “chaplains to the oppressors”–rather than to the oppressed. It is about the sanctioning of, or muted protest or indifference to, a so-called “war on terrorism,” launched by a “God”-mouthing president on the pretext of “protecting America’s security.” A war of terrorism that has brought death and injury and destruction and civil war and want and uprootedness to millions of innocent Iraqi citizens and tens of thousands of young American soldiers and their families– and has created mounting economic insecurity and fear in homes throughout the United States and the world.
When it comes to risking, religion’s moral judgment is more likely to be guided by public opinion rather than lead it. It is about religious leaders remaining silent rather than calling for the prosecution of former President Bush and Vice President Cheney and members of the Bush administration for committing war crimes in our name: the unjustified invasion and occupation of non-threatening Iraq, the illegal apprehension, detainment and torture of human beings branded “terrorists,” US drone airstrikes that have indiscriminately killed and wounded untold numbers of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and providing weaponry for and supporting Israel’s inhuman aggression against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. War crimes that will continue to fuel anti-Americanism and violence world-wide if they remain unprosecuted. American might does not make right; it makes enemies– and merely postpones the moral judgment of truth and justice.
Religion often doesn’t get it. It is about being sheep rather than problem solvers. About people being made for the “Sabbath” rather than the “Sabbath” being made for people. That is, when put on the line, its institutional bottom line is more likely to be profits than prophets. It does not bite the faith-based initiatives’ governmental hand that feeds it. It does not rock the boat for fear its own ship won’t come in, and that members will jump ship and board other denominational vessels offering safe and certain harbors.
Religion should lead people to become more human not more “holy.” Beyond our theologies and political ideologies is the human need to love and to be loved.
Therein is our common ground: our humanness. Religion—and politics—should be judged by the extent to which it teaches people to love themselves and to make room for and to value and love other persons for themselves.
The Golden Rule is a basic teaching of most religions, inspired by the widely held belief that “God is love.” Surely, any god worthy of worshiping must be big enough to love all people equally, and to inspire them to do onto and love all other persons as they themselves would want to be honored and loved. Not that one needs to believe in a god to be legitimate and authentic and worthy and honored and loved. Our humanness makes all of us entitled. And our humanity enables us to transcend religious, political, racial and ethnic differences and make room for and live with each other.
Rev. WILLIAM E. ALBERTS, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain, and a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.