THE POWER OF RELIGION
There was a time when I considered the ministry. I grew up in a family that was devout but not fundamental or charismatic…especially my grandmother who both lived her religion and could quote to you chapter and verse, despite refusing to darken the doors of our church. Even though I lived in a small rural area, we were a high Methodist church which would be less charismatic than a lot of people’s preconceived notions. That would be high as in liturgy not as in the use of drugs. My wife says I religiously repressed whatever that means. Did she just call me “tight assed?” Between my sophomore and junior year I fell under the influence of my minister, Mr. McAllister. My statement sounds like I was falling under the spell of a cult but that was not the case. He just took an interest in my piety. During our revivals we had a tendency to become more “hellfire and brimstone” oriented and really got into that “old time religion.” Less “tight assed?” I sometimes think of those revivals during the hot and humid days of August. Our church had no air conditioning, the only air movement coming from the opened windows or fifty or sixty Wolfe Funeral home fans waving in the congregation.
During a revival geared to young adults the summer after my junior year we were told that the visiting minister’s wife was in remission from breast cancer although she eventually would succumb to it. She was a graduate of my high school, a local girl several years my senior. Somehow this made her disease more real to me. This younger man of God believed his wife was cured and her wished for recovery became the centerpiece of his sermons. He hammered his reality repeatedly, celebrating his belief that her “cure” was due of the depth of her faith. “CURED I SAY BY THE GRACE OF GA-ODD! CAN I HAVE AN AMEN?”I can hear him tonight just as I did fifty years ago saying “If your faith has enough depth you can overcome any sickness, any disease.” I am no more comfortable today than I was fifty years ago. Later; during a gathering for our youth he hammered the same point. He asked for any questions and timid little me raised his hand and asked, “Are you saying that my mother is going to die because her faith is not strong enough?” She had been diagnosed with ALS when I was in my early teens and would succumb to it during my freshman year in college at age forty-eight. He looked me square in the eyes and said, “Yes, if her faith is not strong enough.” My religious commitment and belief in miracles flew through the open windows and it took a while for them to fly back. It wasn’t that I ceased to believe, I really didn’t. I simply took my religious leanings and locked them away in a deep safe place for later. It was one of those pathways that wound back from my youth. I also didn’t go out and rebel, I waited until my late twenties and early thirties to do that. I hope my old age is as tardy with its arrival as my rebellious age. Well, the way my knees feel that maybe a pipe dream.
Despite my wandering pathway back to the light, I still have so many questions not the least of which is how something can be such a powerful good, be used to do such harm? I know the answer is easy on the surface, it’s the human factor and it’s really about religions not Christian beliefs. I think it was Gandhi that observed, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” The older I get the more I agree. True Christians follow the teachings of Jesus Christ not the tenants of some religion. I wonder now if I have not discovered the reason my grandmother refused to go to church. It should never be “my God is better than your god.” What can be bad about “Loving your neighbor or your enemies?” The statement that is quoted often, “More wars have been fought over religion than any other reason” is not true but when ideologies conflict, religion is usually one of those ideologies.
I’ve never been high about religions that play to our fears. I truly believe that the FAR Christian right and the Far Islamic left are feeding our fears. I am in the middle politically on Muslim refugees but don’t believe that we can afford to take the chance on accepting them. ISIS atrocities and the memory of 911 are just too strong. But what about our own Muslim citizens or the thirty-five hundred Muslim service members, Muslims whose families have lived here peaceably for hundreds of years or who are fighting in the Middle East for our safety? I asked that question on Facebook and I don’t guess I was surprised by the response considering other posts that I have seen. Visions of Muslim’s scrambling aboard boats attempting to avoid concentration camps enter my mind. That could not occur in the United States could it? It was unconstitutional but I remember studying the Japanese “internment” camps during WW II? I’m not sorry that my beliefs won’t let me believe that something like that could happen again this time to our Muslim population.
My beliefs will not allow me to call my friends abominations either. Conservatives, Liberals, abortionist, anti-abortionist or Gay and Lesbian and homophobes. Yes I just threw you into the group that you are all defiling or supporting when what I would really like to do is throw you all away. How can good Christians use such terms to describe their neighbors…or non-Christians for that matter? How can good human beings say those things?
This past week we began ripping the Pope. Too political? Not political enough? A man who preaches forgiveness and service is bad? Didn’t say enough about abortion and too much about climate change. I am glad to see that we are equal opportunity haters. I just thought it was our racism. It would seem that we are just against anything that is remotely different than our anything. Why do we demonize other people’s heroes…and our own? I keep seeing posts asking why the Pope was even here and even sat through a sermon that somewhat maligned His Holiness. That was the minister’s point, the Pope was no more holy than you or I. I wanted to point out to him that unlike you or me, and why I worry about how much blue and gold will be in Death Valley this Saturday as the Golden Domer’s visit, the Pope does represent a Christian population that is the largest in the United States, twenty-two percent, and in the World, fifty percent. He may not be “his holiness” but sheer numbers of Catholics would seem to make him pretty important and someone we might want to cultivate. Catholics are still Christian right?