Since the inauguration of a new U.S. president, there has been an upsurge in portrayals of religious bigotry, and the normalisation of hatred based on religion. Concomitant with this, has also appeared an acceptance that one religion is superior to another, and a sort of arrogance in identifying with American Christianity.
But really, is this the religion itself, or the lack of individual responsibility along with membership in a religion? It’s an individual decision to accept and conform to a particular religion’s tenets, and it’s also an individual who decides to hate, separate, or become arrogant and dismissive in the name of this religion.
I think firstly, people tend to take their teachings or the basis of their teachings (like a written document) too literally. It’s know well that documents such as the various forms of “The Bible” were written long ago in a different historical and cultural setting than today’s world. This necessarily means that judgements must be made whether old references are still applicable or needed today. Certainly we can see that references to killing entire populations because of their cultural differences, upholding slavery, and being left-handed are out of context today. And yet, there is this comfort in not having to discern and decide and attempting to take bits of the books as the literal law and charge of a religion. I base this on the phrase I read long ago where the Master Jesus said “You have heard it said …. but I say to you …” in which he clarified and interpreted meanings. He took the ancient words and placed them in context. Maybe that’s not a bad idea for today, too.
Secondly, there are religious sects that tend toward the authoritarian, in which leaders pronounce their beliefs and compliance is sacrosanct. This is an environment where living is black or white, and the wide area of grey is minimized and avoided. Individuals who are comfortable and treasure this milleau are often willing to do as they are told, believe as they are told and extend this expectation to society at large. This can be seen as judgemental pronouncements, bombings, and acts that are carried out in “someone’s” name.
A third individual decision that is affirmed by religious extremism is that judgement that people who do not believe the exact same way are judged, avoided, and marginalized, if not as far as spiritually damned by religions. Even the Christian apostles (who were Jews) James and John prayed that their God would send fire to consume others who didn’t believe like they did (James 9:54 if you didn’t notice it before). And yet the admonishment to not judge others is routinely ignored because it won’t advance the extremist cause.
Finally, I see that insular compliance and strict obedience also leads to group behavior (and individual decision to comply) with turning a blind eye and avoiding the education or familiarizing with the beliefs of others. This leaves ignorance and isolation as the twins upon which hatred finds a spawning ground, and fear closes minds. Even the Jewish elders were complimentary toward pagan Romans when the centurion was interested in learning out other religious traditions (Luke 7:5).
So, while there are religions whose teaching beckon to those who seek acceptance and don’t wish to shoulder the individual decisions to think things through and examine the relevance of religious teachings to living in today’s societies, it is ultimately an individual decision to submit to closed teachings, or to think critically about what they feel, and what they do.
We do not have to agree with everything, but that does not mean that we must fail to extend common courtesies and respect toward each other.
© Lizzie Bennett
Lizzie Bennett is a Registered Nurse and Ordained Minister of some years and owns Three Moons Medicine™ as her private counselling and coaching practice, a blog, educational forum, Facebook page, and outreach to support others on their journey.