Religion gets a bad rap. I consider myself religious and a person of faith. I am incredibly thankful for all that religion has given me. It hasn’t always been this way. Although I was raised in the church, by the time I hit Junior High School I had pretty much dropped out of religion. For most of my life, I considered myself an “atheist.” About 4 years ago, I returned to religion and have been very happy with my decision. I put atheist in quotations because I don’t think I was really an atheist so much as it was a placeholder for me figuring out my spiritual journey. For some of us it takes a long time.
When you type in the words “Religion Is” into a google search box, this is what comes up:
- Religion is the opiate of the masses
- Religion is a lie
- Religion is dying
- Religion is a cult
- Religion is poison
- Religion is bad
- Religion is ridiculous
- Religion is for the weak
- Religion is a mental disorder
- Religion is a disease
It saddens me that everything that pops up is so terribly negative. I recognize that many people have had bad experiences with religion. I recognize that people often experience dissonance between their personl/political ideology and their faith tradition. But classifying religion as a mental disorder or a disease helps no one. In fact, it is incredibly insulting. Here’s the thing: religion is part of diversity. For some people, religion is a central part or THE central part of their life. For somebody else to classify them as ridiculous or weak is bigoted and untrue.
I have no tolerance for what I call atheist fundamentalists who cast aspersions on all people of faith and who demand that others abandon their religion and become non-believers like themselves. I watched the film Religulous by the wretched Bill Mahar and I was horrified at the venom and downright hate he had for all people of faith. I respect the rights of atheists and agnostics to believe what they believe. They should extend the same courtesy to people who do believe in God. We need a big tent approach that takes everyone into account, both believers and non-believers and people who have had good, mixed and negative experiences with the church.
I also hate the Marx “religion is the opiate of the masses” quote. This is especially true today where there are MANY things which could be seen as diverting people from revolutionary struggle, so it is unfair to single religion out. In addition, I do not see a conflict between being a person of faith and being a socialist or a revolutionary. Religious identity and political affiliation are two different things. I am a Christian and politically I am progressive/radical. While this does create dissonance for me, it is not a deal breaker. There are plenty of progressives in my religion and I think Christianity in its true form is very much wedded to social justice.
There is so much to say about religion but the main thing I wish to get across in this entry is that people of faith should not be made to feel guilty, should not be told our religious practice is a waste of time or a diversion from political struggle or assumptions made about our politics based upon our level of religiosity. No one should be made to defend their religious practice or relationship with God. I would like to see more room made for progressive people of faith and less judgment about people being religious or spiritual. Religion is a vitally important part of diversity and social justice and needs to be seen as such. To close, I wish all who observe them a very holy and blessed Ash Wednesday and meaningful and peaceful Lenten Season.