As our country resonates with its latest tragic mass murder, with leaders and the media trying desperately, it seems, to make the shooters in San Bernadino members of "radical Islamic terrorism," I find myself having to come face to face with the way religion - not just one religion, but religions in general, have failed us.
There is no doubt that having faith is necessary; most religions, it seems, teach that faith is necessary. But faith as a spiritual entity which pulls people through the rough seas of life through to the other side intact is not what religion in general seems to represent. Karen Armstrong, in her book The Case for God, talks about the evolution of the concept of faith, saying that "during the late seventeenth century....as our concept of knowledge became more theoretical, the word "belief" started to be used to described an intellectual assent to hypothetical...and often dubious ..proposition." (p. 87) Faith, she says, evolved as a concept but was, by the 4th century, "purely a matter of commitment and practical living." (p. 90)
Religion, then, with its basis of "faith" has meant and does mean providing a way to live practically ...and to be committed to ...what? There is the notion of a good God, but religion seems far too often to push God aside in favor of political ideology. In the Christian faith, the Bible has been used to justify the most egregious components of life: sexism, racism, and homophobia, as well as, some might argue, militarism and materialism. The notion of a good God gets lost in the stories of horrific wars, where people are killed off because of any number of reasons, most of which have to do with behavior which is offensive to God, and unabashed discrimination of people who are different.
The current obsession with Islam is fascinating to watch, as "radical Islamic" religion has been lifted up as the walking Leviathan amongst us ...while "radical white Christianity" and the terror it has wrought on people in this nation and in the world is scarcely mentioned. Blithely, it seems, the media is working hard to make the case for the "bad" Muslims, while letting comparable "bad" Christians get off. The work of "bad" Zionists almost never gets lifted up, even as they wreak havoc in Palestine.
In the middle of this inhumane treatment religious people give to each other, there is God. All religions claim God...but this God seems strangely inept to handle the terrorism that all religions carry on in God's name, and the question becomes "Why doesn't God do something?"
God, and belief in God, is given as justification for all kinds of self-righteous, yet heinous, acts. "People of faith" think nothing of abusing other individuals; our religion lets us do such and in fact seems to endorse it. A person who is anti-abortion (I refuse any longer to say "pro life) and who attacks an abortion clinic or maybe a Planned Parenthood clinic, is often praised by his or her church. Religious people openly discriminate against same gender-loving people, they seem disinterested in helping "the least of these" as mandated by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 25), evangelicals remain quiet as a ranting Donald Trump insults everyone from Muslims to women to people with developmental disabilities ...in spite of being "religious."
There is a disconnect here, between the notion of a good God who demands that human beings be in good relationship with Him/Her. Indeed, the words of Matthew 25 seem lost or disavowed: "people of faith" seem not to care that those word say that "inasmuch as they do (or not do) for the least of these, they have done (or not done) the same to the Christ.
Religion as a genuine connector to God, then, seems to be weak. It historically has not been important or strong enough to keep human beings from doing horrendous things to each other. Religion and belief in God didn't stop slavery, lynching, or Jim Crow; it didn't stop "good, Christian people" from putting dogs on innocent men, women and especially children during the 60s. Religion and belief in God did not stop murders of and discrimination against gay men and women. Religion and belief in God did not stop materialism from developing as a major sociological entity in this world; it did not stop imperialism from causing the ravage of smaller countries by the large powers. Religion is not, seemingly, a factor considered in the increasing economic disparity in the world, causing more and more people to live in dire poverty. Religion has not served as the example of inclusion of all people in God's kingdom; to the contrary, religion, in spite of God, has been one of the primary institutions of bigotry and hatred in this world.
If religion is built on the notion of a good God and the necessity of faith, then where is the issue? Why don't the notion of a good God and faith intersect, resulting in a world which the scriptures suggest God wants? It might be this is the case because there is no real faith; Armstrong says in her book that "faith ...(is) a matter of practical insight and active commitment; it (has) little to do with abstract belief or theological conjecture." (p. 102) People of faith are not necessarily followers of God; they are, however, most assuredly, followers of dogma and doctrine which are not compatible with the notion of an egalitarian and just world.
Religion has failed us. It has pushed the notion of a good God aside, if ever that notion was front and center. It has called its belief system "theology," but in practice, religion has been a hotbed for political ideology, using God as justification for its social policies and practices. Those who are the religious leaders are much more likely to be faithful to their political ideologies than they are willing to faithful to an exacting God.
The blindness of American Christians, as they hurl insults at Islam, is evidence that religion as a source of right relationship with God and therefore with others, is fueling further religious intolerance, even as it ignores its own terroristic tendencies done in the name of its God. Religion should be our salvation; it seems, however, that it is the source of what might be our eternal damnation. The world needs God, not babbling, ideological religion, but religion continues to sidestep what really should be its central focus: to bring peace to a world which is so fraught with hatred and intolerance.