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.
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.
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?