Recently someone I respect re-posted what I can only call a rant on her Facebook page. After commenting on the ways the religion he grew up in taught him that he was not okay, the author ended with this:
"This is why I am so outspoken about religion. It's not enough to say I'm and atheist and that I simply don't believe; I am anti-religion and what it does to peoples' lives. Life is about us, we make our own choices, and this time on Earth is OURS. Make the most of it."
I would like to offer something of a rebuttal. Or, at least, an alternative perspective. I would like to speak for all those people — including me — for whom religion has been a source of comfort, strength, and inspiration.
The religion I know, or what I think of as religion, tells us that we are worthy, we are loved, and that we are part of something huge and miraculous. Yes, it also tells us that we are "sinners," but by this it only means that we are fallible, that we make mistakes, we make wrong choices, and that we do things, and think things, the block us from manifesting our deepest and truest selves.
I know that some people would insert God here. They would say that we do things, and think things, that block us from our union with God. I happen to find that that language makes sense to me. Yet I don't believe it is necessary for the fundamental truth to still be true. However you phrase it, the reality for most of us is that most of the time we are not "all we can be." We are untrue to ourselves, and who we really are. Most of us, most of the time, do not live up to our own ideals much less the ideals of anything we might call "God."
But that doesn't mean we should feel shame. After all, if this is true of everyone why is it shameful for it to be true of us as well? This is not some kind of condemnation or curse, it is simply a description. It's like saying "we breathe air." "We make mistakes." "We are sinners." "We do not live true to our most authentic selves most of the time." Can anyone really argue with that?
And let's talk about "god" for a minute. As I've heard it said, when the Buddha was asked if there is a God, he said, "this is a question that does not tend towards edification." In essence his argument was this: if there is a God, how should we live our lives? We should do as much good as we can for others, and strive to do the best we can for ourselves, in order to please this God.
And if there is no God, how shall we live? We should do as much good as we can for others, and strive to do the best we can for ourselves, because this is the only life we have.
The question, then, is not, "is there God"? The real question is, "how do we live a good life"? Religion, at its best, strives to help us answer that question. And I think it's always important to remember that "religion" is not a monolithic concept. It is not synonymous with "Christianity."there are all kinds of religions — from Atheism to Zoroastrianism.
That's right. I classify Atheism as a religion. I do so because -- as I understand the term, at least -- "religion" does not have to do with any particular theological statements (or lack thereof). The term "religion" comes to us from the Latin relegare which means "to bind together." Religion, then, is that which helps us make sense of life, which helps us to order our own existence, which connects us to others. By this definition, then, that poster's "Anti-Religion" is, in an ironic twist, his religion -- it helps him to make sense of the world and his place in it; it helps to order his thoughts and actions. That's what religion does.
I will readily concede that a whole lot of truly horrible things have been done in the name of religion -- both to individuals and to whole groups. No question about it. There's no way to rationally deny it. But here's an analogy: say that someone of about my build got into my house one day and stole some of my clothes, and then stole my car. Say this person then went on to commit a series of robberies and was caught on some grainy security video. The police, quite naturally, might come to my house, since the robber was wearing my clothes, was about my weight and height, and was seen to be driving my car. Their mistake would be quite understandable, but what if they decided to prosecute me anyway?
I would argue that there has been a lot of horrible things done in the name of religion, but that that's not the fault of what for want of a better term I'll call "true religion." That was the doing of "impostor religion." "True religion" inspired and strengthened Nelson Mandella, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. "True religion inspired the Beregan brothers. "True religion" inspired Rumi and Hafiz. Look at virtually every movement for social change and you'll find religion there, often leading the charge.
I am deeply offended by what "religion" has done. I am compelled by what I know religion can do.