The Beauty of Religion?

Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings. It even immunizes them against fear, if they honestly believe that a martyr’s death will send them straight to heaven.
— Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, Oxford University Press, 1976

Religion has been called the root of all evil. In light of the evil done on this planet in the name of god, or belief system, it is difficult not to agree. Throughout history there are endless examples of persecution, wars, and needless suffering that has been brought by the hands of those who believed in some deity. It seems faith can and has been manipulated to pursue goals inconsistent with the faith itself.

While, it must be stated that this is not limited to religious or faith systems, it is certainly true that people have used religion, faith, ideologies, and belief to control people, races, and countries to cause much pain and incredible injustice. The evil of their actions are even contrary to the teachings or beliefs in which they say they follow.

We would hope that in a modern and shrinking world that we would be free of this, but we are not immune. Extremism, terrorism, wars, genocides, and religious persecution are still some of the plagues that mankind cannot seem to rid itself from. Even in this decade we may see more people killed in the name of god than any other period in all history. When we look at the incredible scope of the tragedies happening before our eyes it is not hard to see what many like Christopher Hitchens, many other authors and great thinkers, would declare “God is not Great’.

When we see these evils, I would hope that any rational person, whether Christian, atheist, agnostic, or someone from any other religious group, would say together in one voice, these must end. Wherever, evil is being done in the name of god, or through the abuse of those who would use any type of belief system to bring harm, that together we should and must stand against these things.

Religion, when looked at objectively, can in fact appear evil. The words of Richard Dawkins as so true that, ‘Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings.’ There is absolutely no doubt at all that religion and faith can be abused. It can and has been used for wrong. This then leads us to the question, based on history and these facts, ‘Is all religion and faith evil or dangerous?’

I would say the answer is no. It is here where I openly disagree with those who call it the root of all evil. I certainly believe it can, and has been, be a root of much evil, but that is limiting yourself to one side of an argument. I believe most people, even those opposed to faith, would recognize some potential positives brought by faith groups, or even people of faith.

However, despite recognizing some potential benefits of religion and faith some still believe it is best to avoid them. The thought is, if the possibility of great evil may follow than perhaps we should just avoid it for the greater good. This poses a great and reasonable question many are wrestling with, ‘would the world truly be better off without religion and faith?’

The question I want to raise though is this, ‘is our issue with faith and religion, or the abuse of it?’ For some acceptance of a divine being seems strange or outlandish, but that alone should not cause strife just because someone has a different view point. Instead at the core of this issue is abuse of power and control. For example, we will never rid ourselves of governments. They are needed and helpful, but as we all can see in the world today, the abuse of power can cause incredible suffering. Does this mean we should fight against countries having governments in general, or should we all fight against injustice and the abuse of power?

I agree that religion and faith are things that must be handled with care because corrupt, self serving, and immoral people can use the power they possess for evil intentions. However, there is also another side to this argument that is not ugly at all. There may be something at the core of religion and faith that has a noble purpose. It is like a buried jewel waiting to be discovered yet again. Before we get there though we must acknowledge that even Christians are suffering from an identity crisis. This is partly based on the obvious harm religion and followers of faith have caused.

As a result, ‘I am not religious, but I love Jesus,’ is a common saying amongst some Christians.
The desire of many is to distance themselves from much of the unpleasant preconceptions people have about believers, as well as, the trappings, traditions, and failing of many who call themselves Christians. We now have new terms we use other than the title of Christian. We use such names as ‘I am a Christ Follower’, ‘I am a Red letter Christian’, or some other new and creative title.

I understand the reasoning behind this. For many Christians, irrelevant traditions, bad leadership, or bad teaching have never been part of their experience in the first place. For others, they just want to live out a simple faith and don’t want to be lumped together who’s practices are totally different. However, whatever the case their terminology may be incorrect.

By definition whether you follow, or don’t follow, the rituals or traditions of any particular church or denomination, if you are a believer, you are indeed part of following a religious figure. Christianity is certainly, at its core, about a relationship with Jesus. Christianity is also a religion. However, the fact that Christianity is a religion does not have to be viewed as a negative.

Again, I fully understand why many believers want to distance themselves from many religious structures and people. Some of the things people have said and done in the name of God are simply atrocious, absurd, self-serving, irrelevant, and most of the time down right embarrassing. Sadly, we don’t have to look very hard to find examples of these as they are all too obvious. Television evangelists, Westboro Baptist Church, David Koresh, and the list goes on. I personally don’t want to be associated with people who are not living like the one who we claim we are following.

Changing our name does not change the past or really get rid of the fanatics. In the end perhaps admitting there are crazy people who called themselves christians, much like there are corrupt people in any group, would be a healthier alternative. Even admitting that people have used religion, and it’s power for evil is a start. Asking for forgiveness and seeking to stop corruption must come next. Honestly is always the best approach.

However, in the end we still may be missing the point. The argument over whether religion is good or bad needs an old focal point. The true definition of what the Bible says religion is not even in our dictionaries or mindsets and must be examined again. The definition found in the the book of James states something quite contrary to our modern definition and purpose of religion. If we focused on the following definition of religion perhaps people would actually strive to stop saying I am not religious, and instead would want to be.

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
James 1:7

There is nothing ugly, offensive, or destructive in this pure and genuine religion mentioned in Scripture. It is free from the contaminates brought by the agenda’s of man. There is not even a hint of a self serving attitude. No perverse scheming. It is instead, something attractive. If those who call themselves believers were known for this instead of being judgmental, homophobic, anti-science, than faith would suddenly be attractive to many.

Pure religion is being the answer to those who are destitute, lonely, and broken. It is being there to pick up the pieces left when death, poverty, divorce, and hardship have ravaged the lives of our fellow human beings. It is about being the answer to the broken’s cry and prayer for help. Seeking and living out this call to be religious should move us to live lives full of compassion and mercy.

Pure religion is also deciding that we will not be conformed to the materialism and consumerism that has infected our mindsets and society. Understanding our self worth is not to be based on what a magazine or a television ad says is sexy, successful, or important. Pure religion is being free from the corporate agendas which try and control our thinking in order to make someone wealthy. Pure religion in a sense is the beginning of finding beauty and worth in each one of us.

The measuring stick of what the Bible presents as religion is how is this relationship with God affecting how we treat others. Is it in judgement or grace? Pride or humility? Punishment or mercy? Hate or love? Worthless or valued. This is how we should also examine our own Christian walk and our churches. If faith isn’t moving us in this direction then perhaps we ourselves are in an extremely dangerous place where we are at risk of becoming destructive and an obstacle of true and pure religion.

I am so thankful that, ‘God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8). One truth I see is how at the centre the gospel, which is referred to as the ‘Good News’ is that the love of God outweighs all our failings. True religion, then should move us to help people not based on their beliefs, race, gender, sexual preference, but rather based on love. If this is what pure religion is we need to fight our own culture, mindsets, and present religious institutions which cause us to judge first. If we do it is a sign we have been corrupted and we are marring the beauty of who we are meant to be.

I have also learned that if a relationship with God depended on how good I was, I would be in trouble, and so would you. Instead it is all about how He comes to us when we are lost, broken, and imperfect. Knowing this it must move us to treat others the same. ‘For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.’ (2 Cor 5:19) Knowing Jesus was no longer counting our sin’s against us must move us to act the same. As Christ’s love compels us, we must be healers of the broken, the widow, the poor, and the orphan, never looking at them in distain.

Many years ago as I visited an orphanage for severely physically disabled children and youth in Mexico several times. It was easy to become overwhelmed by sadness as the needs and challenges each of these young people were living with were immense. At the same time, I witnesses first hand something truly incredible. In the midst of suffering there were a group of nuns who had given themselves to care for these children. When I really consider their sacrifice I have had to realize these children may never be able to give back to these women. They may never hear the words, ‘Thank You’, from one of these young people that they cared for. They have and will continue to clean vomit, snot, and feces every day. I have realized they were not doing this for what they were going to get in return from those they were serving. In the midst of suffering, surrounded by despair, was something so incredible. Something so valuable. Something so life changing. It was beautiful religion at work in all its fullness.

As we look at this Biblical definition of religion we see something very different than our own understanding of the term. How ludicrous it would be to say loving the widow and orphan is the root of all evil. I truly believe it is time for us to walk in the beauty that pure and genuine religion calls us to. We should stand united against injustice of any kind, especially against those who exploit faith to bring harm. We must forget the man made definitions and run from the corruption which has tried to rob us of this most incredible gift to the broken.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Romans 12:9

Live religiously. It is pure and genuine beauty in the fullest.

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