Magazine article Tikkun

My Problem with Religion

Magazine article Tikkun

My Problem with Religion

Article excerpt

"The corruption of the best is the worst."

- Latin proverb

"These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their hearts aren't in it... so I am going to step in and shock them awake, astonish them, and stand them on their ears."

- (Isaiah 29:14, Eugene Peterson translation)

A RECENT STUDY ON ALTRUISM IS SUPPOSED TO HAVE SHOWN THAT PEOPLE AFFILIATED with religion are statistically no less or more loving than people who call themselves unbelievers. In fact, they are often more egocentric, and only a very small percentage is genuinely or heroically altruistic. If true, this is surely disappointing and humiliating for religion, although I must say that it largely matches my own observations. Some of the most naturally generous people I have ever known have been secularized Jews. And they don't even believe in an afterlife system of reward and punishment! We really have to look at this.

I believe there is a deep dilemma and contradiction at the heart of institutional Christianity. Maybe it is even a necessary one. All I know is that it can only be resolved by authentic inner experience, "prayer," mysticism, or dare I call it, "spirituality." I am convinced that religion, in its common cultural and external forms, largely protects the ego, especially the group ego, instead of transforming it. If people do not go beyond first level metaphors, rituals, and comprehension, most religions seem to end up with a God who is often angry, petulant, needy, jealous, and who will love us only if we are "worthy" and belonging to the correct group. We end up with the impossible scenario of a God who is "small," and often less loving than the best people we know! This supposedly divine love is quite measured and conditional, and yet ironically demands from us a perfect and unconditional love. Such a salvation system will never work, unless we allow an utterly new dimension of love "to astonish us and stand us on our ears," as Isaiah says above. Unless God is able and allowed to love us unconditionally, we will never know how to do the same.

Most people I know would never torture another human being under any conditions. Yet people believe in a god who not only tortures, but tortures for all eternity. That is bitter vengeance by anyone's definition. Why would anyone want to be alone with such a testy and temperamental god? Why would anyone go on the great mystical journey into divine intimacy with such an unsafe lover? Why would anyone trust such a god to know how to love those who really need it? I personally know many people who are much more generous and imaginative than this god is. We have ended up being ourselves more loving, or at least trying to be, than the god we profess to believe! Such a religion is in deep trouble-at its core.

Most of my Jewish and Christian friends are very tolerant and accepting of different races, cultures, and religions. They are willing to see good wherever good is to be seen. But not our god. Our god only likes "born again" Americans, and preferably morally successful and "normal" people, who hopefully attend my denominational service on the proper day. (This is easily the quickest growing form of religion in most countries today). Even stingy little Richard Rohr ends up being much more caring, patient, generous, and merciful than Yahweh Sabaoth! How did we get to such absurdity? Especially after Jesus spends most of his ministry affirming those who are wounded, unworthy, not successful, normal, or properly affiliated?

Perhaps you say, "But religion has always taught me that God is love! " Yes, religion "says the right words," but this god we hear about is never allowed to be loving in the way that we have experienced it from even our middle range friends and lovers. I have experienced immense patience, tolerance, and mercy from many of my friends. They put up with my failures and idiosyncrasies, and eventually know that some of my patterns will never even change. …

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