I would think after thousands of years this might not be a radical idea. But it’s time to say that a lot of religious theology is bogus, wrong and hurtful. Oh yes, I know, it’s in your Bible, or other significant holy text. Therefore it is true. Besides, your faith informs you that the nonsensical and unworkable is somehow correct and true.
Bullshit. As the late Ann Landers would say, “It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee”.
If you are unwise enough to think that the Bible is the complete and consistent word of God then, my friend, you are in for a dysfunctional life if you take the time to actually read the Bible. I’m not stupid enough to say there is not a lot of wisdom in the Bible. There is. But there is also a lot of trash. There are also a lot of ideas that made sense two or three thousand years ago but make no sense today. It seems we try to read too much into the Bible and our other holy books. We project our needs and inadequacies into them and hope they will provide solution and solace to all life’s persistent questions. We would probably be a lot better off and happier if we were reading pop psychology books like Getting The Love You Want by Harville Hendrix. Oh, and we’re doing that too. That’s one reason that pop psychology books are flying off the shelves of bookstores. Because apparently our holy books and ministers can’t give the answers to all of life’s persistent and complex questions.
Just suppose we chose restaurants the way we choose religions. What would it mean if we would only dine at a McDonalds or a Wendy’s? Even if we upscaled our dining choice to say, Applebees, would it be good for us to eat off the same menu all the time? But that’s what many of us do with our spiritual life. We find (or more typically we are born into) a religion. Often it finds a way to grab us for life as children: through parental reinforcement, through Sunday school, and through the favorite method of many mainstream religions: reinforced communal guilt allegedly sanctioned by God. The result? Many of us enter adulthood with wacky and skewed ways of looking at the world. It’s hard to see things clearly because we have not walked far out of our communal tribe on religious matters. Because we eat only McDonalds of course their French fries are the best, and only a moron or apostate would consume a Whopper when a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder with Cheese completely satisfies the appetite. And besides God, through our clergy and holy books, tell us it’s true.
Oh I know, how abhorrent and secular of me to compare lofty religions with fast food chains. If this alone doesn’t condemn me to Hell then I can at least count on a few eons in purgatory for such Voltarian thoughts. But I’m not saying that religions are necessarily bad or evil. I’m saying large parts of it are often BS. It’s time to say so out loud, and noisily, particularly to our religious leaders. And it’s time for us to stop shopping inside our insular religious communities and to check out other faiths to see if they ring truer. But why stop there? It is likely that no one faith can really speak to us. So I propose we build our religions piecemeal.
Yes, I know. We in the laity are spiritual morons. We need our so-called religious leaders to discern God’s truth for us. They after all went to seminary and we didn’t. And so we get shining examples like Pope John Paul II who, while he clearly has some excellent ideas about living in brotherly love, is also busy peddling shop worn and dangerous ideas that, if practiced conscientiously would doom our race to extinction. A couple examples: contraception in any form is sinful. It is better to transmit HIV by not using a condom than to sin by using a condom and likely prevent its transmission. This is not to pick on the Catholics since pretty much every religion has some of these dangerous ideas. But with John Paul’s health very much in the news and with my roots in Catholicism these jumped to mind.
Perhaps those of us who claim to be Christian could start with the Jefferson Bible. It’s a heavily pruned Bible consisting of just the words and story of Jesus and leaving out the rest. Of course it still takes a leap of faith to assume these “words” were actually spoken by Jesus. Men who had never personally met Jesus wrote the gospels. But at least this way the Christian doesn’t have to get messed up trying to integrate the Old and New Testaments. Because many preachers do not we get a lot of cognitive dissonance: we must love all our neighbors and turn the other cheek, but it’s okay to persecute and condemn homosexuals for their alleged sinfulness.
I took my pruning sheers to the Bible long ago. Out went Leviticus and Deuteronomy. I kept in the Psalms. They are good stuff. Much of what was written by the Apostle Paul: snipped. He never met Jesus. Paul seemed all about establishing rules. Jesus was much more a big picture sort of prophet. And of course Revelations had to go. It reads more like some lunatic’s ravings than something inspired.
Oh the apostasy, but the same thing could be done with the Quran, the Book of Mormon and pretty much any holy book out there. Whenever an idea is raised that clearly has been proven not to work let’s take it out, or at least footnote it that practicing this idea has been proven not to work. When it is a value that has demonstrated relevance and helped mankind as a whole, leave it in. So by all means, highlight the Sermon on the Mount.
We do ourselves and the rest of the religious world a disfavor by not speaking out against those aspects of modern faith that are hurtful and destructive. Where possible members should try to change the course of the denomination. We see these today in efforts by the Episcopalian Church to be more inclusive of homosexuals in its ministries and congregations. (Too bad the Anglican Community has effectively sent the Episcopalians to the woodshed, basically telling them, “Don’t show up at our decision making meetings for the next three years.”) Where not possible, and the Catholic Church definitely comes to mind, members need to be brave and walk out. For example many Catholics find the idea of requiring priests to be only men, single and celibate ridiculous, unworkable and outdated. They would be much more at home with the Episcopalians. Aside from the gender of their priests I couldn’t tell the difference between Catholic and Episcopal services anyhow.
It may take generations but eventually we might get the religions that are viable, workable and effective. But it also requires nerve from many of us. If we hold a value in our heart to be true then we must not be afraid to express it and to live our lives consistent with those values. When we manifest them in actions they will take on meaning.
Here is a heartwarming story of values in action.