If, as Ross Douthat says in his new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, “at the deepest level, every human culture is religious,” then what in the world is wrong with this world?
Religion supposedly gives us as individuals, the guide for living moral and right lives; almost every religion teaches that love is central to all things good. Religion teaches us, supposedly, that we as human beings created by an Other greater than ourselves, are mandated to treat each other as worthy of love and respect. Most of them teach that we are to forgive each other, we are to love even our enemies, we are to know that because we believe in God, however any given religion refers to that entity, that we are held to a higher standard.
And yet, the world is messed up, filled with way too many humans who are self-serving, and not service-oriented. In spite of the mandate to love each other, we use and manipulate each other and take advantage of each other whenever we can.
Dr. Martin Luther King mentioned, over 40 years ago, that the presence of materialism, militarism and racism were problems in American society which were eating away at the moral fiber of this nation, but it often seems like the moral fiber was skewed from the beginning.
Because capitalism and the free market system presupposes that some people will “have” and others will not have, there has been built-in, not only in American culture but in dominant cultures throughout history. Religious people throughout the Bible lived under economic and social oppression – from Egyptian oppression, to Assyrian, then Babylonian, Persian and finally Roman. In spite of a “living God,” people have dismissed the precepts and requirements of God continually.
So, it should not be surprising, what’s going on today. The history of the world is one of division and conquest; militarism in order to support imperialism; capitalism trumping over anything that might be called socialism, or an economic system which in theory makes sure less economic oppression is possible. There has been racism historically; America has her own unique racism, but in the Bible, the Greeks and the Hebrews didn’t get along; in early American history, the Italians and the Irish didn’t get along. Nations, including Germany and Bosnia and Africa has been a part of human history.
And my questions are two: ” Why?” and “God, where are you?”
I don’t think I have a fairy-tale expectation of God, but I am rather surprised that this God who made everything and everyone has not been able to do something drastic to make people act more civilly toward each other. I am surprised that God has allowed such horrible interactions between people He created. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is said to have said, “God put us on earth so we could learn to live without God.” Whatever for?
I have watched and listened with quiet horror and dismay the goings on surrounding the Trayvon Martin case. I have been irritated by the lack of people understanding the desire of another people to simply want justice for a child gunned down. I have listened to snide comments by people who most likely believe in God…and yet, there has been no “religious tolerance” or even an inkling of the type of love demanded of us by God.
Douthat says that in America, religion has been “steadily marginalized.” It seems that for many, the “rightful place” of religion is at a conservative core which has a fairly arrogant and exclusive of who is American and who is rightly religious. It would seem that few conservatives understand that for many non-white Americans, religion has been marginalized from the beginning. So many non-whites have been cast aside by “the religious” of this country, with the words of the Bible being used to justify such treatment.
The words of scripture have been used to justify everything from sexism to racism to militarism to materialism, to homophobia. God has allowed a sizeable portion of people He created to be marginalized in his name.
The answer to my query, “God, where are you?” would be succinctly and perhaps tritely answered in a nice, short sentence. “God is not absent; God is within us.” Seriously? Well, then, have we all tucked God away? Have we put God in a safe room, to keep him/her quiet until a moment of personal need or crisis?
Obery Hendricks, in his book The Politics of Jesus, argues that the Jesus of the Christians mandates that we “treat the needs of people as holy,” but we clearly do not do that. We don’t as individuals, we don’t as a nation, and the world doesn’t in general.
Christopher Hitchens, an avowed atheist, says that “religion poisons everything.” If that is true, then why is it? Could it be that in spite of claiming to be religious, that we religious types are really quite secular with religious leanings when needed? Could it be that it is because we really do not take God seriously, but know enough to use God when it suits our purposes?
I hold onto God, with every fiber of my being, because…because I need to. I hold onto God because I truly do believe in God’s creative genius. The world and all that is in it fascinates me, and though I attribute the accomplishments of science, I honor more the creative God who made the minds that made such accomplishments possible.
But I am disappointed with God as well, because I so dislike the state of this world full of religious people. There is enough food that nobody need be hungry; there are enough abandoned homes that banks could invest in so that nobody need be homeless. I am not pushing socialism; I am pushing mere humanity, a sufficient amount of which the world seems to lack. I cannot believe that God is pleased …and yet God does nothing.
I am not going to abandon God, though I feel like I turn from religion in a heartbeat sometimes. At the end of the day, God is the best answer, in my mind, for a world in which we as humans treat the needs of each other as holy, as Hendricks says, though historically, we have just never done it.
A candid observation …