Horrible things have happened in the name of religion. I am half way through the book A Concise History of the Middle East, and I could easily cite a hundred examples or more of atrocities committed in the name of Jesus or Allah. Before that book, I read Great Soul the biography of Mahatma Gandhi, which some could argue is more a chronology of carnage between Hindus and Muslims than anything else.
I understand why religion is creepy at best to many in our western world. I see clearly how charlatans and power mongers embed themselves in religious communities so as to control people and take advantage of noble traits like generosity and grace. I’ve seen how religious institutions grow, gain power and become corrupt. I’ve observed how leaders of religious organizations let success, fame, & popularity go to their head. These leaders become arrogant, pompous, and unloving. I’ve witnessed the stunning transformation of well-meaning religious people who become so fixated on a particular issue or moral standard that love and grace vanish, replaced with violent anger and rage.
Given these realities, is it suitable for us as a culture to embrace a phobia of religion? Religiphobia is a knee jerk negative reaction against anything that even resembles religion. The assumption of a religiphobe is that all things religious or even apparently religious should be continually marginalized, censored, & prohibited.
The problem with religiphobia is that is comes with an unwarranted presupposition against all religions and it fails to take into consideration the truth that every human is innately religious — especially religiphobes.
The unwarranted presupposition against all religions fails to consider what I call simple religion. Take Jesus for example. His conclusion on the whole matter of religion is to love God by loving your neighbor. That’s how Christians are supposed to practice their religion. So if a Christian or group of Christians want to practice the simple religion of loving their neighbor at a community centre or a local school by putting together a program or event that benefits the neighborhood they should be able to do so. But it’s simply not possible when religiphobia is in the air. If one wishes to practice simple religion by opening up his home to share meals and talk about life’s questions. The religiphobes send city inspectors to try to shut it down. For many who wish to practice this form of simple religion they could only do so if they jettison their faith, or masquerade as irrereligous. Even a hint of religion and doors slam tightly shut. Granted, if religious organizations were trying to manipulate people or hurt them that would be one thing. But this is not what the purveyors of simple religion are about. They are about helping make their neighborhoods better as an act of worship to a God they believe in. Why ever would we as a society frown upon that?
Secondly, every human is religious. To quote Yann Martel “Atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith…We all go as far as the legs of reason will carry us and then we jump!” Science can never retrace with certainty where we have come from or where we are going, or why we are here. The deep why’s, the ones that matter in our gut, will always remain unanswered by scientific rationalism and so we jump. All of us jump: some with lab coats on and some without, but we all jump. That’s faith, that’s religion. Everyone who is part of the human race, shapes their life around a story that they are believing. To me it’s culturally poor form to push to the margins certain faiths while at the same time upholding others. Somehow we’ve managed to justify this discrimination by pretending that some of the more secular explanations for why, what and how to live are not faith based. They are all faith-based. Religiphobes are the fundamentalists of this faith.
Perhaps we as a society should relax a little, take a deep breath. There are enemies out there that want to undo us, some in the name of organized religion some not. Practitioners of simple religion are not the enemy.