(Material for this essay comes from the following sources: “Personhood” by Dr. Leo F. Buscaglia, PhD, “Would You Believe” by Tom Harpur and “When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough” by Harold Kushner)
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What is it that people find offensive about religion? Today, religion and some of their followers get a “bum rap.” Is it justified? Many people are put off by religion. Some say that there are too many rules, restrictions, regulations. You just can’t have any fun anymore.
And why worship God anyway? Why does He deserve our attention?
So, what puts people off when it comes to religion?
For starters, many religious use their faith to justify their political agenda particularly those of the right wing – i.e. arms build up, war, etc. Would a loving, forgiving God justify war? Or, want us to try to prevent it?
Secondly, our churches have become houses of bigotry. To be part of a church, one must worship God on the congregation’s terms. And it’s not just the conservative churches who behave this way. Our houses of worship should be building community where we are all loved and accepted. Sadly, this is rare.
It could be the religious stories themselves. To some, they are nothing but fables and not factual.
Or maybe the religious keep putting us down. We sometimes feel that we don’t measure up to their standards. We are made to feel unworthy in their interpretation of God.
But religion should liberate us. It’s man’s distort of faith that has hurt us.
In Judaism, a person is created in the image of God. Therefore, man is not sinful in nature but good. Even in the Christian faith, we are accepted. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8: 38 – 39)
Religion has been accused of taking the fun out of life. We have to walk the straight and narrow. But religion does not demand of us to be perfect. It allows us to be human. In the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes 7:15 – 17, we read that we should be neither too good nor wicked.
And according to the Talmud, a book of wisdom which is part of the Jewish faith states: “At Judgment Day, every man will have to give account for everything which he might have enjoyed and did not.” The problem arises when these good things are taken to extreme, becoming addictive. But that is our fault, not God’s.
There are many things I find troubling about religion. I am troubled by many of the Bible stories – the story of “Adam and Eve” comes to mind. Holding all of humanity forever accountable for what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden is repulsive. If I held a friend and his offspring accountable for what my friend did, I would be the most immature, selfish human being. But that’s what the story of Adam and Eve is about.
I have trouble with praying. Can we really change God’s mind?
I’m troubled about the promises of God – giving us our hearts’ desires. Not everything works out. There is such a thing as man’s free will.
And because you lead a righteous life, doesn’t mean you’ll be free of heartaches. As Rabbi Harold Kushner once wrote ”because you’re a vegetarian, doesn’t mean the bull won’t attack.”
I’m troubled by the church itself – a pillar in the community years ago. A failing institution today.
There is a hunger for spirituality and community. It should be in our houses of worship. It is not. If there was community, our churches wouldn’t be closing down.
I’m troubled by those who say they are adherents to their faith. Many people go to church, go through the rituals of their faith. They haven’t a clue what all this means. Many don’t know what it means to be a follower to their faith.
They sit in church. Go through the motions of their faith.
The cornerstone of faith is one of action – to love and to serve. The person who practices this is the exception not the rule. Many religious are terrible ambassadors of their faith.
As theologian Francis Schaeffer has written: “if we do not show love to one another, the world has a right to question whether Christianity is true.”
We have committees where doctors and lawyers must answer to when they don’t adhere to their principles. I wish we had the same for clergy and our churches.
I’m troubled by the concept of worship. Is it mandatory? Is it necessary to maintain our faith? And why worship? Why does God deserve our attention?
According to William Law (1686 – 1761), a devout Anglican priest, in his work “A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life”, “there is not one command in all the gospel for public worship.”
The Bible does say to be of service, to love, to address the wounds of the vulnerable.
And worship can mean many things. Besides the traditional ways such as the church service, rituals of one’s faith, we worship God so many other ways. Being of service to our fellow man, bringing positive change from a negative situation. Exercising one’s talents. Some say talents are a gift from God. What we do with them is our gift back to God.
The non believer may deny God but he is still showing signs of worship when he practices such things as compassionate and forgiveness.
Does a religious life make a difference? Can we be a happy/good person without God? Of course. I know happy atheists as well as miserable Christians.
Yes, a non-believer can practice all the above virtues but I have to believe religion has worked its way into that person’s heart whether he believes it or not.
To some religious followers, belief in a God is not a religion but a relationship. It’s more of a discipleship. It’s about adhering to a set of virtues/values according to that faith – to love, to serve, to show mercy, to practice the Golden Rule. It is a type of surrender.
Values and a type of surrender that are never easy. And are practiced by few.
I do believe in something. If there is no God, where do our values come from – wisdom, mercy, love, compassion, the Golden Rule? And where does laying down one’s life as an act of love come from?
I do believe adhering to a religion can change one’s heart. But it’s a slow process. I’m skeptical of the “quick fix.” One grows, matures by their faith.
To an atheist, religion defies reasoning. To be religious, faith over rides reasoning. There is an intangible about life and all its mysteries. I cannot explain them. The concept of synchronicity or “unexplained coincidences” come to mind.
If there were no mystery to life, life would eventually become a bore.
Finally, some non-believers accuse believers in doubting their faith. They say how can there be a God if they doubt? If their faith were strong, they shouldn’t doubt.
But most religious doubt. Even Christ doubted when he was being crucified: “My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me?” (Math 27:46)
We all have our “agnostic” moments where we struggle, question, even doubt. It’s how we learn and grow.
I’d rather be around a religious person who doubts than one who believes with absolute certainty.
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One of the biggest stumbling blocks to God is the problem of evil. Non-believers feel if God is all powerful, why doesn’t He fix the ills of the world?
Let’s look at evil.
God didn’t create the problems. But He did create us to fix them. And He gave us the tools to fix them. But he also gave us free will to ignore the problems.
We have the resources to fix most, if not all the problems. For example, there is enough wealth and other resources to resolve poverty. But because of free will, many of these problems exist.
And many of the world’s problems are caused by Christian communities. These people have hijacked their religion to justify their political agenda – i.e. wars, etc.
To fix the problems, he gave us compassionate, understanding, the Golden Rule, empathy, love. But these are no good unless they are put into practice. For the record, atheists have their own Golden Rule but it’s of no value, too, unless put into practice.
God created us to fix these problems. Why does He allow suffering? A better question to ask: what suffering have we allowed? Our weapon is our silence, motivated by, in most cases, apathy.
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Finally, a word about disasters and tragedies. Disasters and tragedies are a shock. They are even a shock to God.
And where does God fit in AFTER a tragedy? God helps out when people extend themselves. It’s what people do after such a crisis occurs where God plays a part – i.e. when people comfort suffering families and friends. Or when people take a negative situation and turn it into something positive by finding a cure, establishing a medical charity, building a better world, etc.
But more than a shock, disasters are an insult to God since many are preventable, particularly the man made ones, using the tools and gifts that God has given us.
The evils and sins of the world that are caused by despair, loneliness, anger, frustration, fear that could have been prevented if only the religious individuals had reached out to love and to serve as their faith commands.
Just as a husband offends by making a vow to his spouse but doesn’t keep it, the religious offend by saying pious prayers and asking to be servants – i.e. the Lord’s Prayer, Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, etc., and not keeping them by not putting their faith into action.
Faith without good works is dead. (James 2:17)
Ken works as a security guard. He’s a struggling writer of sketch comedy and pieces on spiritual issues. He wants to set up a non- profit comedy troupe for the community, entertaining in hospitals, drop-in centres, etc. He has established a troupe for psychiatric and physically-challenged communities to participate in. He is also interested in the plight of psychiatric patients and other poverty-related issues. Ken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org