In Defense of Organized Religion, Part 1

In Defense of Organized Religion, Part 1

Mark and Offspring

Beginning today, we’re bringing you a series by guest blogger Mark Derewicz that was originally posted on his weblog, which he calls Mark Derewicz’s Weblog. Mark describes himself as someone who likes to write and says that he has “lots of ideas and opinions, mostly about religion and myriad lesser and sillier things.”

Here, without further ado, is Mark Derewicz, guest blogger.

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In the past I could lash out against organized religion with such a vengeance that you’d think the Pope had sold me a defective toaster that burnt my house down.

Adam, Eve, Apple

From the get-go there’s a major problem: a woman is more or less blamed for original sin. Man’s favorite scapegoat—the wife. Skip ahead a few thousand years to the Zealots of the pre-Christ Jewish state who were keen on assassinating those who differed theologically. Then, a few hundred years after Jesus was martyred the Church simply decided on what was Canon and what was not. The four Gospels were deemed divine. So were books entitled Romans, Acts, and Revelations. But there were many that the Church simply decided to not include.

The Inquisition, the Crusades, witch hunts, the KKK, Kashmir, and most recent, Bin Laden, the Taliban, and John Hagee. Some form of organized religion spawned them all. And, I have to say, I can’t blame any Catholic who is furious at the idea of organized religion in light of certain atrocities perpetrated by priests.

And that about wraps up this post.

Oh. Wait a second. I was supposed to defend organized religion.

Right.

King

The way I see it, organized religion is like organized anything. It involves people who are less than loving, people were simply  born into a belief system, others who joined a religion to be part of a community, and of course the saints, those grand souls who are beacons of spiritual light–Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa.

Stalin

The thing is that pretty much the same thing can be said for every organized group on the planet. Think of governments. I have a problem with even the best governments. I think they are more or less political machines that involve some very good and very bad individuals. You could say that they’ve caused massive wars and millions of deaths, way more than any organized religion could lay claim to. Think of the ungodly Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and the Khmer Rouge. Do we want to go without government?

I suppose the real argument against organized religion has to do with groups of people organizing around certain beliefs–say, the belief in some unprovable entity called God. And that these groups clash over these beliefs. I suppose right-thinking people say, “geez, why bother. Can’t we just go without these religions?”

I agree that it’s better to go without religion if it causes division. But religion doesn’t cause division. Believers do. For instance, two people can look at the same Bible passage and can come up with two vastly different interpretations. One can lead to hate and exclusion. The other can lead to love and unity.  When people say the Word of God is alive, they’re not kidding. It changes color depending on who looks at it.

Obi-Wan

Religion is kind of like The Force–it has a dark side and a light side. It can be used for good or for ill. I’m of the opinion that people who are antagonistic toward organized religion–again, I used to be one of them–simply ignore the spiritual power some people find in religion. Do you really think MLK would’ve had the resolve to accomplish what he did without his core beliefs found in the Word of Christ? Do you think Gandhi became steadfast out of thin air? Do you think Christ endured what he did out of some form of insanity? No. The spirit provides power.

Nugent

But I digress. Organize is what humans do in “modern” times. A lot of us seem to relish in community. We organize according the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We organize in defense of the environment. We organize to form fan clubs for our favorite rock bands.

With all these groups the problems are always the same–the members are human, and humans are imperfect.

At their worst, humans organize to form the Taliban. At their best, religionists organize to help their fellow man, to feed the hungry and cloth the poor and give money to the needy and council the grieving and inspire the downtrodden and on and on and on.

Gandhi

Religion, after all, is just the form. It is the template. It is the means to an end not the end itself. In other words, you pray and meditate and go to church and believe what you believe not because you’re supposed to but because it helps you progress as a spiritual being with the ultimate purpose of transforming society . . . slow though it be. The old Gandhian cliche is true: be the change you wish to see in the world.

When these organized religions teach hate or intolerance they should be called out. But, really, if an organized religion spreads hate or intolerance, they might be organized but they’re not religious. They’re not spiritual. They’re not of God.

I’d rather make this distinction than throw baby Jesus out with the bathwater.

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12 thoughts on “In Defense of Organized Religion, Part 1

  1. I pray for the day these organized religions Christianity, Islam, and the rest, die and disappear from the earth.

  2. Religions must accept that some people just don’t believe in fairy tales and myths. Show me the man of substance, that I believe.

    1. Ajatheist,
      i think the fact that you wrote what you did says way more about you than anything i wrote. i would like to have discussions with people who would indeed like to put fairy tales and myths in their place so we can talk about what’s really at the heart of spirituality and reality.

      i think you completely miss the point of my blog post, which is probably at least half my fault.

      I’m only defending organized religion because organize is what humans do. Time and time again, though, organization leads to spiritual stagnation. If you or anyone would like to talk about this and how to solve this problem, then I’m all ears.

      But to simply be antagonistic, arrogant, and condescending–which, let’s face it, is the M.O. of many atheists–then I’m sorry. This might make you feel better but I can’t say it helps. At all.

    2. ajatheist, while I suspect that part of the issue here is one of semantics (chiefly that you are defining religion differently than we are in our postings and comments) I also suspect you are aware of the following tenet of the Baha’i Faith, here enunciated succinctly by Abdu’l-Baha:

      “…the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh announce that religion must be in conformity with science and reason; otherwise, it is superstition; for science and reason are realities, and religion itself is the Divine Reality unto which true science and reason must conform. God has bestowed the gift of mind upon man in order that he may weigh every fact or truth presented to him and adjudge whether it be reasonable. That which conforms to his reason he may accept as true, while that which reason and science cannot sanction may be discarded as imagination and superstition, as a phantom and not reality. Inasmuch as the blind imitations or dogmatic interpretations current among men do not coincide with the postulates of reason, and the mind and scientific investigation cannot acquiesce thereto, many souls in the human world today shun and deny religion. That is to say, imitations, when weighed in the scales of reason, will not conform to its standard and requirement. Therefore, these souls deny religion and become irreligious, whereas if the reality of the divine religions becomes manifest to them and the foundation of the heavenly teachings is revealed coinciding with facts and evident truths, reconciling with scientific knowledge and reasonable proof, all may acknowledge them, and irreligion will cease to exist. In this way all mankind may be brought to the foundation of religion, for reality is true reason and science, while all that is not conformable thereto is mere superstition.” — from a talk given in October 1912 in Sacramento, CA.

      This is Baha’u’llah’s message, is it not: that we must listen to the Man of substance not our own promptings — that what passes in religion in this day and age is, in reality, irreligious? But here, I have to agree with Mark. Organization is necessary to any endeavor in order for it to have a sustained and widespread effect. We can not all climb to a convenient mountaintop to navel gaze and expect the world to get better.

      Baha’u’llah puts it very concisely when He says that “It is incumbent upon every man of insight and understanding to strive to translate that which hath been written into reality and action….” This rules out the possibility of standing meekly (or angrily) on the sidelines and hoping (or even praying) that things will just work themselves out.

      The Old Testament gives a couple of prophecies about the coming age of peace that illustrates the balance: it depicts a world in which we will have beat our swords into plowshares. The significant thing about this verse (Isaiah 2), IMO, is that it does NOT say God will beat our swords into plowshares for us. This transformation will come about, the prophet says, because we CHOSE to listen to “the Man of substance” and put what He taught into action.

      This reminds me of something detective fiction writer Lawrence Block said about the difference between a goal and a fantasy. “A goal,” he said, “is something you want and are taking positive steps to achieve. A fantasy is something you want. Period.”

      So, here’s a challenge for you, ajatheist. Decide whether a peaceful global commonwealth of human beings is a goal or a fantasy for you personally. If it’s a goal, great. Get to work. If it’s just a fantasy, then stand back and let others work toward the goal.

      Or, as my mom would say, “Cook or get out of the kitchen.”

    3. Religion accepts what you say, or at least religious people because Religion is not a person. And the opposite could also be said, Atheism should just accept that religious people accept certain texts as divine revelation.

  3. My only contention is that “God” is an outdated concept. Spirituality does not have to include a supernatural human-like being who has “perfect” attributes. There are the great teachings of Buddha and there is Confucianism and Taoism, which are not founded on this kind of superstition.

    Spirituality and the rejection of materialism does not have to be founded on a Judeo-Christian or Islamic worldview.

    1. Absolutely true. But the common conception of the “Judeo-Christian-Islamic” God isn’t what the Manifestations of God taught, nor is it a concept held by all Jews, Christians or Muslims and certainly not by Baha’is, who have been well-warned that any conception we have of God is a creature of our imagination. The reality is that while we are capable of showing forth the attributes of God, God does not return the favor. Our natural human tendency, though, is to imagine that if we are in some way like God (spiritually) then He must be like us (physically, or emotionally or whatever).

      So, I can’t agree with you that “God” is an outdated concept. But I absolutely agree that many of our conceptions about what God IS are outdated and even dangerous to our own spiritual and material well-being.

  4. Moreover, the potentialities of the Baha’i message are much greater than what individual Baha’is have forced the Baha’i “Revelation” into (I don’t mean you personally and I don’t mean the Baha’i institutions which have stood above the disorganized and corrupt authorities of our time). How can individual Baha’is, in general, proclaim that their Revelation is from an unknown/unknowable realm and then at the same time confine and imprison this same Revelation within a box concocted by their own individual ideas of true and false? Where is the Balance (see Aqdas) when we have torn it down and replaced it with our own judgment?

    ——————–
    Say: O ***leaders of religion****! Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book ****itself**** is the unerring Balance established amongst men. In this most perfect Balance whatsoever the peoples and kindreds of the earth possess must be weighed, while the measure of its weight should be tested according to its own standard, did ye but know it.
    ——————–

    What really is the difference between “defending” organized religion and “defending” drug cartel or a gang or Wall Street thugs? I don’t think there is one.

    I don’t think Baha’u’llah came to suffer so that the evil in our society would continue to flourish. Did Moses aim to support and defend the Pharoah? Did Jesus come to aid and protect the Roman Dictators? Did Muhammad come to pay his due to the Shahanshah of Persia and the corrupt Arabian and Jewish leaders of his time?

    ——————

    Baha’u’llah wrote:

    ——————

    And if anyone ask them: “For what crime were they imprisoned?”, they would answer and say: “They, verily, sought to supplant the Faith with a new religion!”

    If that which is ancient be what ye prefer, wherefore, then, have ye discarded that which hath been set down in the Torah and the Evangel? Clear it up, O men! By My life! There is no place for you to flee to in this day.

    If this be My crime, then Muhammad, the Apostle of God, committed it before Me, and before Him He Who was the Spirit of God (Jesus Christ), and yet earlier He Who conversed (Moses) with God.

    And if My sin be this, that I have exalted the Word of God and revealed His Cause, then indeed am I the greatest of sinners! Such a sin I will not barter for the kingdoms of earth and heaven.

    —————

    What a great SIN Baha’u’llah Committed

    1. Ajatheist:

      This is one of the reasons we have science – and why this website and your participation on it is so important.

      Baha’u’llah was a manifestation of God. We’re not. So, we have to use science to understand things.

      Stephen

    2. Honestly, ajatheist, I think you’re arguing at cross-purposes here and arguing personal semantics at that. I know very few Baha’is who wouldn’t agree with everything you’ve said. The issue arises around what Mark or any other Baha’i means when we speak of “organized” religion. The Universe is a very organized place. Our bodies, our minds, our societies are all organized — and with very good reason. Without organization none of these things exist. The entire universe — poof! — without organization.

      Individuals and societies make no progress without organization. The issue is what do we organize around? Do we organize around our greed? Our power bases? Our political parties, tribes, or inane ideas about what a directly unknowable Being means when He says we must love each other? (Weigh not the book of God, indeed.)

      You wrote: How can individual Baha’is, in general, proclaim that their Revelation is from an unknown/unknowable realm and then at the same time confine and imprison this same Revelation within a box concocted by their own individual ideas of true and false? Where is the Balance (see Aqdas) when we have torn it down and replaced it with our own judgment?

      Most of the Baha’is I know are careful to say “This is what Baha’u’llah teaches and this is Kitab-i-Me.” Where they don’t do this, there can, indeed be problems, for we all bring our baggage into the Faith with us. I had a Baha’i of Catholic background tell me the Faith taught I should, having married, give up my calling to keep house and have kids. I told her that if she couldn’t find a passage in scripture that said, I had to consider that it was just her opinion. I learned the Faith in a community in which it was made very clear that even local or national assembly members — even members of the House of Justice — have no personal power nor can they make their understandings of the scripture binding on anyone else.

      Baha’u’llah came to suffer so that, as He put it, “ye might prosper and flourish.” And the means by which that flourishing will occur, He says, is for us imaginative human beings to “put what hath been written into reality and action.” That requires that each of us come to as clear an understanding as we can of “what hath been written” so that we can put it into action.

      When it comes to my personal concept of God, it’s just that — my personal concept of God. I cannot enforce it on anyone else, nor should I attempt to. An atheist acquaintance once asked me what that conception was. What did I imagine God was as I prayed? The answer is, I don’t imagine anything. When I pray, the “image” I hold in my mind most often is Abdu’l-Baha. Why? Because His is the set of human qualities I am hoping the act and attitude of prayer will help me acquire. Personally, I think this is what Baha’u’llah intended and why He discouraged the believers from having photographs or portraits of Him. I think He wanted us to hold an image of what we might become (which is greater than what we are) rather than an image of what God is not.

    3. I have another response to this comment “Moreover, the potentialities of the Baha’i message are much greater than what individual Baha’is have forced the Baha’i “Revelation” into”.

      This is a given, is it not? And most of the Baha’is I know realize that their perception is limited. But ajatheist, that’s the whole point of the revelation—to elevate us, expand us, edify us; to bring us more fully into being human. We are what we are. We are limited, embodied beings with a single viewpoint each. God is an unlimited being with similarly unlimited viewpoints. We can only perceive what we can perceive; right now that means we must use metaphors made up of words we invented to describe the indescribable. (Or as my friend Ursula has said, “to put into words what cannot be put into words.”)

      We are all (including you and me) ignorant of the reality of God, faith, love — even our own deepest natures. Abdu’l-Baha has suggested what our response to these limitations should be.

      Bahá’u’lláh has proclaimed the promise of the oneness of humanity. Therefore, we must exercise the utmost love toward each 270 other. We must be loving to all the people of the world. We must not consider any people the people of Satan, but know and recognize all as the servants of the one God. At most it is this: Some do not know; they must be guided and trained. They must be taught to love their fellow creatures and be encouraged in the acquisition of virtues. Some are ignorant; they must be informed. Some are as children, undeveloped; they must be helped to reach maturity. Some are ailing, their moral condition is unhealthy; they must be treated until their morals are purified. But the sick man is not to be hated because he is sick, the child must not be shunned because he is a child, the ignorant one is not to be despised because he lacks knowledge. They must all be treated, educated, trained and assisted in love. Everything must be done in order that humanity may live under the shadow of God in the utmost security, enjoying happiness in its highest degree. — Promulgation of Universal Peace

      So, I guess my question is, what benefit is derived from criticizing “the Baha’is”? Is that not to shun the child?

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