I am fascinated by religion. I think religion can have a role as a tremendous force for good in the word, particularly at the parochial level. I see congregations do wonderful things for their members and act as a true “caring community” in the best sense of the word. But once religion has too much hierarchy and too much invested in being the one true faith, well, that’s often where the wheels comes off. The Crusades. The persecution of Protestants under Queen Mary. Pogroms and the Holocaust, though those were secular persecutors, really. The Catholic Church’s hiding of abusers. Widespread evangelism that ultimately has a material outcome for a denomination. All of those things are what give me a little twitch about organized religion.
All of which is to say, I don’t have a problem with the mosaic of beliefs and practices of religion. If it brings you comfort and joy and gives you an avenue to help your fellow man, rock on. I start to get antsy when a religion becomes more about being right than doing good.
Interestingly enough, Pope Francis may be more on my side than on the side of the religious elites who decry non-believers categorically. I talked about his recent homily at length over at The Broad Side last week. Here is the quote of his that I like the best:
“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! … We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
Isn’t that glorious? Do good and we will meet each other there. I love that sentiment. It make me, an agnostic, feel respected by a religious leader, something that almost never happens. Usually, Christian leaders sound disdainful of the work of non-believers because, ya know, we’re all going to hell for not accepting the divinity of Jesus anyway. So, for a Pope to say that good works are good works no matter who does them, that’s a real affirmation for me and I said as much in my post.
You can guess what happened next, right? In the middle of all the pleased gasps and nods about how nice this was to hear, someone shows up and starts preaching her own brand of religion in the comments. Exactly the opposite of the spirit of Pope Francis’s words and my reaction to them.
My blood boils every time someone comes at me and tries to make me convert. It just seems so rude. My way is my way. My beliefs are my beliefs. I’ve come to them after years of study and I have good reasons for them. I assume other people are in the same place with their beliefs. I would never try to talk someone else out of their religion and I do my best not to denigrate beliefs. Why would someone come in and tell me that my ways and beliefs are all wrong and I need to change it now, or else? I know true believers consider proseltyzing a loving act, but I see it as rude. And my inability to take it in stride is why I so seldom write about religion.
Anyway, go read my post at the Broad Side, see what the evangelist has to say, and add whatever thoughts you want.