I Propose a Revolution of Religion!

I’m a person who checks, “Spiritual but not religious,” on the forms where there’s a red asterisk next to, “Religion.” I try to avoid getting too deep into my belief structure with other people. Mostly because there is no structure and it’s kind of something I made up as I went along. I believe in treating people fairly, respecting other human beings, and that to some degree, love and kindness are the solutions to most problems human beings encounter. That’s why I’ve got a slight issue with the concept organized religion.

I’m not not even mad at any particular organized religion, and I haven’t studied enough theology to truly favor one over the other. On paper, I think every religion has its merits and is generally peachy keen. In practice, I find the rituals of some religions exhausting, but my laziness has nothing to do with this article. Save the religions I may or may not be making up right now, where participants sacrifice infants, eat poop three times a day or commit other grievous acts to get the favor of some unknown energy or creator, I think religion and mythologies are pretty cool. I get a little rumble-y in my tummy when I think of how several major religions have used faith to encourage otherwise kind and rational people to abandon all they know is right and do some horrible things. If the purpose of religion is to control people, in a lot of cases, it’s doing a bang up job. “Let’s go do some heinous shit because a few contrary words came out of a dude who said he had a private conversation with God.” That idea alone makes me want to write an angry breakup text to the concept of organized religion.

Pretty sure this is the equivalent of a shirt that says, "Ask me if I'm a sinning heathen!"

What makes it complicated is that belief structures are far more powerful than simple common knowledge shit, like the sky is blue. We all share a very similar view of what the sky looks like, because there isn’t much to interpret. When it comes to religion, there is plenty to interpret. Whether they care to admit it or not, people take some serious ownership of these creations. Along with what is written in a theological text, I think all religion is intensely personal.

We are free to make our own interpretations of religious texts, and those interpretations are extremely intimate with those who make them. It’s like developing an idea and giving birth to a concept, even though this concept is reborn over and over in many other brain-wombs. And boy, people get fiercely protective of those ideas they’ve labored through birthing for years. When we think of what God, Allah or Jesus looks like, it is a personal creation. Although these mental images of deities are influenced by the text themselves, and also pop culture, it is still just as personal as a dream. We humans create our own creators every time we tell a story, or interpret text.

Recently, I was at an event held by a Black Christian church where a female preacher got down with song and interpreted the hell out of a bible passage. I don’t remember the exact chapter or even what book of the bible it’s in. I tried to Google it a few times, to no avail. I’m kinda lazy, remember? Anyway as far as the key points from the story I remember them clearly.

Quick story summary: A woman married to an old man is kind to a man of God. She asks him for nothing in return, but someone else says she could use a son. Miracle! She gets a son. The baby grows to a boy, hits his head and dies. Tragedy! She gets her servant to help her take the dead child back to the man of God. Upon their arrival, the man of god asks if all is well with her husband and son. The woman says yes, all is well. Her servant tells the man of God that her son is dead. The boy is resurrected! Miracle part two, Electric Bugaloo.

Kevin Smith created an image of Jesus and shared it with all of us!

What really touched me was more than the association of the story with God, and miracles or whatever. The outstanding piece, for me, was the preacher’s five-star ability to relate this story to experiences everyone has in their daily life. She said that we ought to take our promises back to those who gave them to us if they start to fail, whether we asked for these promises or not. She also explained that when life offers you promises, and they die, to not give up hope. We all carry promises from time to time which may be as mournful to bear as a dead child, but we have to carry that promise through, if we expect to see it thrive one day. Otherwise, the promises are bound to rot, and we’ll spend our days grieving instead of posting kittens on Tumblr and drinking wine.

Heavy shit, right?

For me this is often the promise of religion. There are other, more tangible things that I can easily relate this story to, including the preacher’s example of late bills, unavailable “friends” or lack of success in a career. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to say the dead promise is that of religion and faith in modern society. I think that organized religion has, in many ways, been used as an excuse to get faithful people do terrible things. What I see as being a solution is for the pious and faithful is to have a revolution, similar to what is happening for economic and social justice, worldwide. A reclaiming of religion as something that heals people, rather than condemns them.  A higher energy, chakra, supreme being, creator  or something to grasp on to when everything else seems to crumble is very helpful for many people. If it is being used for cruelty, suffering and oppression, rather than building hope, kindness and empowering people, I think it’s time for that to change.

I’m sure I’m opening a huge can of worms, but what are your thoughts on organized religion, and its future? Are you a religious person?

Do you think a religious revolution is even possible?

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Pam Newman

Black, intelligent and awesome are three adjectives Pam Newman uses to describe herself. Other adjectives that others use to describe her include: bold, compassionate, geeky and rockin'. Pam has a tattoo that says, "Everything in life is done because of love or the lack there of." She later learned that thereof is a word, and regrets nothing.

24 thoughts on “I Propose a Revolution of Religion!”

  1. I have always identified as Roman Catholic, but I’m hesitant to say anything because of the general attack I will then face as a self-identified Catholic.  I don’t hold with everything the Church does, in fact, I don’t hold with most of what the Church does.  And when it comes time to pray for the “One, Holy and Apostolic Church,” I mostly pray that the leaders of the Church will get their acts together and their heads out of their asses.  But as I explained to someone else recently, being Catholic for me is as much cultural as it is religious.  I was born Catholic, I was baptized Catholic, I was raised in the Catholic Church and a Catholic home, I will probably get married in the Catholic Church, and at the time of my death I will probably be buried after a Catholic funeral mass.  It’s not just a religion, it’s a life cycle.

    But when I disagree heartily with the stances of the religious leaders of the Church (Benedict is totally a substitute teacher nobody likes), I remember a sermon given by Monsignor Heslin, the Irish priest of my youth:  “You have to make up your own mind.  Nobody should tell you what you believe, what the words of the Bible mean, what is right or good.  It was all done by men.  People.  People just like you.  People who make mistakes and get it wrong and screw up.  It’s YOUR job to decide what’s right and true and good in the eyes of God and to decide what YOU can live with.  Don’t listen to me.  I’m JUST a man.  I don’t really know anything.”  That has stuck with me my entire life.

    1. I also identify as Roman Catholic but disagree with most of the Church’s actions.  The Catholic idea of primacy of conscience, however, really grounds my spiritual life.  Similar to the ideas expressed by your childhood priest, it’s the notion that we have to develop our own consciences independent of doctrine (although ideally with some religious guidance) so that we are ultimately accountable to God within us.  If only religion could be a useful tool for this personal growth and greater empowerment of all people, rather than being wielded as an instrument of oppression, like Pam points out.

      1. Raising my hand as a practicing Catholic. I totally relate to the cultural aspect of religion- and the rituals are some of my favorite parts of Catholicism as a whole. Do I agree with all of the Church’s teachings? No. But then again,  I don’t agree with a lot of things. Do I think the Church does do good things? Yes. Can it be better? Of course, can’t everything be improved? The Church doesn’t change from the outside, it changes when members on the inside decide on a change. I am hoping that in my lifetime the Church will decree a few changes that make it a more inclusive, love-your-neighbor kind of institution.

        Anyone who’s been to Mass recently knows they’ve just had a major rehaul of the Roman Missal, and a lot of the responses are different. It didn’t really phase me one way or another, but I was really surprised at how adamant my  mother was that the changes were unneeded/arbitrary/a bunch of bull. It was really interesting.

  2. That would be the story of Elisha and the Shunammite woman, if you’re still interested in reading it. 2 Kings 4:8-37.

    I think that when evaluating the merits of a religion, it is best to talk to people who believe and practice it. Religious beliefs are frequently quite complex, and I have found that when people who do not agree with a religion talk about it, they tend to gloss over a lot of the nuances. Of course, this is tricky because many religions have all kinds of little splinter groups within them that makes a complete picture difficult. But I don’t think an “objective,” scholarly appraisal alone is enough. I like finding out why individual people believe what they do.

    I can’t speak for the revolut-ing of most faiths, but try googling “post-evangelical.” Maybe you’ll find it encouraging for one major religion at least.

  3. I identify as a Reform Jew, and I think Reform Judaism allows is a very personal religious experience. But I didn’t come to talk about that.

    So, one of the really big things that Reform Judaism focuses on is called Tikkun olam, which means repairing the world. Basically, it means that as a Reform Jew, you have the obligation to make the world a better place, for everyone. Equal rights, fair wages, anything and everything to help people (and I include animals and the environment). This is what is repeated and repeated by the rabbis…help others, and make the world a better place.

    I don’t understand how people forget that everyone has to live on the same planet, and it’s like living in a house. When people aren’t arguing or blaming others, stuff gets done faster and it’s easier to live with other people. So, remember: Tikkun olam. Repair the world. /gets off soap box.

  4. Even though I’m a Christian, I’m always hesitant to tell people that because people hear “Christian” and think “religious nutcase.” Hell, that’s what I think.

    Marx described religion as the opiate of the masses, and I think he nailed that on the head. Organized religion can make for a blanket of beliefs that allow people to operate within a framework that can be used to justify all kinds of actions. In my opinion, taking responsibility for your own beliefs, researching them, considering various theologies, etc., would lead to less religious extremism all around and more consideration for people of all belief systems–whether secular or sacred.

    Personally, I think that what a person believes or doesn’t believe is his or her own business.

  5.  A reclaiming of religion as something that heals people, rather than condemns them.

    love it.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I identify as Christian, participate in an Anglican (I think that’s Episcopalian for my friends in the States?) community, and am in the midst of Master of Divinity studies which means I think about ordination into the (Anglican) priesthood a lot. My background is in Christian history/history of Christian-Muslim relations and I am hyper-aware of the negative accoutrements that accompany identifying as part of an organized religion.
    I’m working really hard, for myself anyway (and one day if I have students/children/a parish of my own I’ll hope to pass it on) to redeem/reclaim this concept of “Christian” from the hands of the religious right and from people who claim to be a part of this faith but ignore/reject its main tenets (i.e. love, compassion, care for the poor, justice for the marginalized).

    1. I just wanted to say, that this post and the idea of reclaiming/redeeming the concept of Christian warmed my heart and gave me a tremendous amount of hope. I grew up a conservative baptist and spent a lot of my undergrad bouncing between churches which also leaned towards conservatism.  I now (as a result of different life experiences) attend a very liberal anglican church in Toronto,  but still struggle with faith and with identifying with an ideology which seems, at least in North America, set on rolling back the rights of women, the LGBT community, and generally not caring for the poor. Thank you for your thoughtful words, they are very much appreciated.

    2. I was raised rigidly Catholic and I hated it.  I am a Christian and I believe in the tenants of Christianity, but as I child and young adult I could not stomach the contradiction of people preaching the tenants of Christianity then conducting their lives in such un-Christian manners.  But, the hang up for me was, I loved going to mass.  Somewhere in the familiarity of ritual and song I have always been able to feel a spiritual connectedness.  So I have tried finding other churches to attend, hoping to find people who more closely try (I say try cause we are all imperfect) to live the tenants of Christianity.  The Pastor of the church I currently attend often repeats something his grandmother told him:  “Even if you don’t believe a word of the Bible, its a good way to live your life”  He then goes on to say:  “Don’t go out and do a good thing and say ‘I did this because I’m a Christian’, rather say ‘I did this because it was the right thing to do, and being a Christian taught me that.'”.  That really resonates with me.  If more Christians stopped talking about being Christians and just acted like they are Christians, I think there could be some healing in the religious world.

  6. I’m funny about religion, much like you. I see that it can do wonderful things for people. When a church is truly community oriented, in that it creates a community for it’s members, it is a powerful support structure that replaces what we lost when cities got so big that people got lost in the anonymity of the crowds. However, I have studied religion a bit, and some history too. I can’t sit in a church without hearing the echoes of the horrible horrible things people have done in the name of God, at the urging of their religious leaders. Every sermon I’ve listened to as an adult has a running commentary in the back of my mind asking “Could this be used to hurt people?” In the end, I’ve decided that I believe in the higher power, but I don’t believe in organized religion. A group of people, with a power structure and God “on their side” can’t be trusted.

  7. I’m sure I’m opening a huge can of worms, but what are your thoughts on organized religion, and its future? Are you a religious person?

    Do you think a religious revolution is even possible?

    This has been a really interesting read for me. I’m a Humanist, and it was interesting to see a lot of that echoed in your post; there’s a lot to be said for being able to live a good life without the structure of religiion (IE it can be done). I’m not sure what the future will bring, but i’m interested to see. If it wasn’t for another article I had read earlier, I might be able to form more of an opinion, but right now i’m trying to keep calm.

    Nonetheless! Thank you again for an excellent article!

     

      1. The article was about a talk being cancelled, you can read it here: Talk at Queen Mary cancelled after threats of violence (Hope it’s okay to link to it!)

        Eep. That’s quite a thought. I would say, if a little hesitantly, yes. But I doubt it, there will always be those who need religion to justify their agenda and of course, there are those who wish to believe in a higher power. Whether or not there’s an increase in people doing that with a Humanist influence, i’m not sure. Perhaps spiritual Humanism will be what we see happening?

  8. Coco said it perfectly:

    I would like to see religion become less about maintaining a sense of control / strict moral guidelines for “the next life” and instead doing everything that is good and beneficial in this one

    I don’t participate in religion anymore. I once announced that I no longer wanted to be called a Christian because I have a serious distaste for the negative connotations that word has. Obviously not being a Christian also carries negative connotations and I lost friends over it. But why are we drawing lines in the sand? Is there nothing–nothing at all–that we can learn from each other?

    1. Yeah, I was baptized in an African Methodist episcopal church (not even sure what that means). The austerity of Christianity and it’s incessantly bad press really turned me off. Also, I had a cult experience in my teen years, which was a crazy experience, and leaving it was even crazier.

      I don’t know. I want to be a part of a group and do faithful stuff in a community, but Christianity frightens me a little bit.

      I like Buddhism a lot, but that’s one of those religions where you have to do rituals and stuff, and I’m way too lazy for all that commitment.

  9. I really loved this article, Pam. I, too, have a fairly complicated and highly personal belief structure built from my individual experiences and have very conflicted opinions about organized religion. While I understand that it’s a small (but vocal) minority of people that give religions a bad name, I just don’t understand how even that small amount of people can justify how they try to oppress others with their own beliefs. It’s something that will always baffle me and keep me from identifying with any religion, I suspect. This idea that to subscribe to a religion means to vehemently deny anything that doesn’t fit with that one interpretation of a document.

    1. Right?

      I just don’t understand how even that small amount of people can justify how they try to oppress others with their own beliefs. It’s something that will always baffle me and keep me from identifying with any religion, I suspect. This idea that to subscribe to a religion means to vehemently deny anything that doesn’t fit with that one interpretation of a document.

      In a lot of ways I look at religion that twists its interpretation to give men the ability to treat women worse than they’d treat an animal, murder people based on who they love, and the idea that anyone who was ever born is inferior… I feel like it removes the qualities of individuality. I really like being an individual, and if subscribing to a religion means I have to give that up, I’ll pass.

      Also, most of these texts were written long before the grandparents of the people interpreting them died. I think there is plenty of space to eliminate a few outdated ideas!

  10. That story is seriously heavy shit.

    I don’t think religion as it has been (specifically christianity, the demonizing, colonizing, hateful, sexual abuse filled fun time) can work anymore. Sure there will always be a handful of Westboro Baptists and I dont think there wont ever be religion, but I would like to see religion become less about maintaining a sense of control / strict moral guidelines for “the next life” and instead doing everything that is good and beneficial in this one, starting by having more realistic conversations (like this one) on the nuances that exists within peoples lives, as well as their interpretations of certain ideas.

    What does give me hope about religion is the handfuls of good I know of. My dad who was an atheist all his life, but now councils (effectively shames) religious folks through their homophobia. I know some amazing women priests who kick ass on all fields and are at every reproductive health march I can think of. Photos of christians circling muslims in egypt as they prayed affirm my faith in the goodness that exists within people. And the story you just told about the priest -boom, just more evidence

    But seriously, I think if there is any one thing that religion or even spirituality needs is just be fucking nice to one another and help each other out. And not by going to Haiti and stealing children / feeding them bible versus because God told you to. Nowhere has God, Allah, the flying spaghetti monster, told you to be an utter dick.

    1. Yeah, I see religion (on paper) as being this really amazing thing that gets people together, gets them through difficult moments, and helps restore communties etc etc.

      I don’t think religion as it has been (specifically christianity,demonizing, colonizing, hateful, sexual abuse filled) can work anymore. Sure there will always be a handful of Westboro Baptists and I dont think there wont ever be religion, but I would like to see religion become less about maintaining a sense of control / strict moral guidelines for “the next life” and instead doing everything that is good and beneficial in this one.

      EXACTLY. I think that punishing the living for what they’ve done so they can get access to something else is so pre 20th century. I’m TOTALLY fine with the idea of an afterlife, but chastising and hate mongering are probably not going to get the hate mongers into heaven or wherever. I guess it’s the hypocritical nature of the folks who are being toyed with politically and using their religion, and power as individuals who people listen to every week, to tell people what is good and what is not.

      And that is an awesome thing your dad is doing!!!

      I believe the majority of people who are hunkered down in their faith just want to believe and do good things. Maybe religion doesn’t need a revolution so much as it needs better publicists, and to stop fucking with politics.

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