In Defense of Organized Religion, Part 4

In Defense of Organized Religion, Part 4

by guest blogger Mark Derewicz

Every religious tradition on the planet can be broken down to its three main parts. Each one has a religion of God, a faith of God, and a Cause of God.

The religion part is simple. It’s a series of practices and beliefs. Muslims pray five times a day; they fast one month out of the year; they go to mosque every Friday. And they believe Muhammad was given a message straight from God. He recited the message, which was recorded in a book.

Same drill for Christians–pray, go to church, Christ is the Son of God who was born of a virgin, died on the cross, and was resurrected from the dead. Catholics and Baptists and Methodists, etc, have unique practices and doctrines. People organize around these practices and beliefs. If these practices and beliefs are kept private and used only as a means to a personal end, there would be no argument. Unfortunately, a lot of people let their personal beliefs run rampant over their egos. They start believing, “If I’m right, then they are wrong. And if they are wrong, we must do something about that.” Such simple thinking has inspired wars and terrorism and severely misguided souls protesting funerals.

The faith of God is nearly as simple, but not quite.

Every religion is composed of a bunch of principles. Christians find these principles in the gospels. Love thy neighbor, turn the other check, forgive people, have compassion, have faith, feed the poor, etc. If you would read the Quran or the Hebrew Bible or the Baha’i Writings or the Bhagavad Gita or the sutras and other books of Buddhism, then you’d see that they have very similar–often identical–spiritual principles. All these compose the Faith of God.

When religious people from different faith traditions gather for some greater purpose, you see the best of religion. I’m thinking of the interfaith gatherings that sprouted up after the attacks of 9/11. Dogma took a back seat to the spiritual principles inherent in each faith. People prioritized the eternal spiritual teachings of their faiths over the temporal teachings best left in their historical contexts. (If you were being chased from your hometown and across the Arabian desert by idol worshipers known to bury alive their newborn baby girls, then the Quranic verse, “kill the infidels wherever you find them,” would make perfect sense to you. But that verse has to be left in it’s historical context. Same with the Bible verses, such as the one where Jesus said he did not come to bring peace; he came to bring a sword. You can look it up.)

And that brings me to the Cause of God. The religious leaders who gathered after 9/11 did so for the sake of unity in the face of a crisis. They sought to create unity while the terrorists were sewing the seeds of division.

Unity, in a word, is the Cause of God.  Who am I to say this? I’m a reader of history, and a kind of lazy one at that.

Think of who rallied to Christ’s side, the downtrodden and marginalized Jews who may not have lived their lives to the letter of Jewish law, as stipulated by the Sadducees or Pharisees, but they loved Moses, the prophets, and God. Jesus spoke to their hearts. And they loved his message–the meek shall inherit the Earth!? Right on, Son of Man!

Greeks and Romans and Arabs and Turks and Kurds and others were also attracted to this message. And they listened. And they watched. And they saw Jesus do something amazing for that time. He stressed the deed of the Good Samaritan. All the good men, clergy even, passed up a chance to help an ailing man on the side of the road. All passed him by. But the Samaritan helped the man, and Jesus dubbed him the Good Samaritan.

But history shows that Samaritans were a loathed people. Jesus turned that notion on its head. He said that the traditional views of Samaritans  didn’t matter; the good deed mattered. In the course of decades and centuries after Jesus, His message attracted disparate peoples from all sorts of cultures into one faith and one religion. This is how the greater cause of Christ was unity.

It is incredibly unfortunate that his spiritual message has been so thoroughly corrupted. Too many, often loud, believers prioritize practices, dogma, and tradition over spirituality. Christendom splintered into a thousand pieces. And now many sects hate each other. What an ironic, horrible shame.

And lest you think I’m picking on Christians, Muhammed united warring Arab tribes and actually set up a constitution to maintain unity. He called Jews and Christians People of the Book and said they needed to be protected and not forced to convert. Then, mere days after His Muhammed’s death, the truth of this cause was corrupted by lesser men. They prioritized cultural norms and dogma and belief ahead of spirituality and unity. Islam, too, splintered into a thousand pieces, the two main groups–Shi’a and Sunni have been at some form of war for more than one thousand years. Yet, in Islam’s earliest days, when Muhammed had a chance to take vengeance upon the woman who tortured and killed a member of his very own family, Muhammed pardoned her. He forgave her.

What a horrific irony that any portion of Islam has become intolerant to the point of killing innocent people via terrorism.

To me, the greater purpose of religion today must be to organize along the spiritual principles inherent in all faith traditions in order to inspire us all to take up the ancient call of unity.

It seems all too obvious to me that peace and security will simply never be fully attained until unity is firmly established. This seems incredibly obvious. Unity first. peace second.

Okay. I admit it was easy to write that last paragraph. How could such a lofty–nay, idealistic–notion ever be achieved in reality?

Oh, I have a few ideas . . .

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