How to forgive religion and the people in it.
A few years ago I was booked on a radio show to talk about forgiveness. Just that morning, a bomb had been detonated in Europe, and ISIS was claiming responsibility.
When I sat down in the chair, the radio host introduced me and then asked me why Islam is causing so much terror. My simple response: “Religion is not God. Religion is the practice of dogma, and dogma is a point of view and a human interpretation of Holy Scripture. When dogma is used to serve and further the needs of personal agendas, it’s no longer serving the original intent of God. Simply, when people twist scripture to justify their wrongful actions, religion becomes something detested and to be feared.”
People’s animosity toward religion is because people ruined it.
God is certainly not the problem.
Religion and some of its leaders have messed up their own PR campaign. Extremists have overloaded religion with hate-filled messages and put evildoers disguised as leaders in positions of power.
Who would want to give up precious screen time to put on more than yoga pants to go to a building filled with people that might judge you and tell you you’re not doing “it” correctly? Whatever “it” is. I know I wouldn’t, and I’m a reverend!
Again, God is not the problem, people are.
When you meet someone in a casual conversation, you often ask them “What do you do?” When I get that question, I give my usual answer, “I’m an interfaith reverend.” Then I wait, hoping I get a casual, “Wow, that’s interesting.” But most often I hear, “Oh, well, I’m not religious.”
At first I thought their response came from the fear that I was going to go into a long, unsolicited televangelist rant, and they were just trying to shut an imaginary door in my face. However, after getting this response so many times and in so many places—from cocktail parties to the tire shop—I’ve come to the conclusion that the “I’m not religious” response holds a much deeper concern.
When I probe deeper, most of the I-am-not-religious-folks follow up with, “But I do believe in God.” And they often share they’ve had a faith tradition passed down from their family.
So, what’s the problem here? Is there a problem? Do you have to be religious to know God? Do you have to go to church to know God? Heck, no!
So then why do we have churches, synagogues and temples? To put it bluntly: people need people! We need to be together to support each other, to love each other, and to learn more about God. You can only go so far alone, and you benefit greatly from learning from others and others learning from you.
Plus, the feeling of being with others while learning and worshiping God is very different than doing it alone. It’s like the difference between singing in the car to your favorite song or seeing the band live in concert with a crowd. The energy is very different.
Also, one bad apple does not need to spoil the bunch. Religion can be a beautiful and supportive practice in your life. When disasters strike in the world, our communities or our personal lives, the best of religious organizations tends to come out, bringing comfort and support to the community members, and fulfilling physical needs. When we work together in harmony for a common goal, we can solve many problems.
Many people are currently afraid of religion, and for good reason. A lot of extremists have done very bad things in the name of their religion. Religious wars have been waged and religious judgment shows up everywhere. Past religious trauma is valid, and it’s important to not repeat it. Healing any past trauma and making healing decisions about how religion can help you is important.
So, how do you forgive religion so you can find the true intent of religion and have it benefit your life?
- Realize that people make religion. The old saying, “Ultimate power corrupts absolutely” could not apply more. If you had a traumatic event or feel that a religious group has been less then loving, you first need to remember that a person or a group of people are the ones you need to forgive.
- Do not blame the sacred texts of the world for what people do. All major religions have some form of the golden rule in them. Treat each other as you would want to be treated. If people are being unloving, hateful and hurtful in the name of their religion, it doesn’t mean you have to, too.
- Find the beauty in religion and ritual. Practicing rituals solidifies your feelings about what you believe and what you do. If you’re at a sporting event, you wear your team colors and cheer your team on. Just like you mark moments in your life with weddings, funerals, graduations and holidays, religion can help you mark and grow your spiritual journey.
- Find ways to participate in religion because it makes our communities stronger and infuses you with spirit. Work at finding a church, synagogue or temple that shares your beliefs and worships in a way you are comfortable. If you believe strongly in helping others, find a church that has a strong outreach. We are never better than when we are helping others.
- Adjust your expectations. Know that it’s rare to find a group that you agree with 100%. Remember that Holy Scripture is given to us by God, but interpreted by flawed human beings, even with the best intentions. Use your heart and mind to decide on what you believe and what feels right in your heart.
- Be the change. If you are not OK with the leaders or teachers in your religion, then do what you can to change it. Change the conversation from hate to love, and choose to walk in love and forgiveness.