Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Word on Faith

There is a great deal of religious hate in our world. Maybe that's always been true - we know it killed Jesus - but it's impossible now to go even a few hours without hearing a judgment on one religious group or another. We're coming to define disagreements by religion, lumping people together by hate rather than hope.

This is coming off a comment I read yesterday on Facebook where some ignorant individual in our society wrote that "of course something terrible happened to the [Malaysian] plane...there were four Muslims on board." Not that long ago, in the heat of the gay marriage debate in my state, anyone who stood against gay marriage was derogatorily named a Christian, whether or not that person's objection was faith-based. We have these things that we believe about different religions, and it's easy to fall into the stereotypes, particularly when they are blasted all over the media and propagated by the culture.

It just makes me sad. And it's all got me thinking: what is it that we hate so much about religion?

And here's the answer: what we hate about religion is the inevitable moment that it dashes our hope.

That's it, really. Religion is a desperate man's last hope. It's the thing he turns to when he doesn't have anything left in himself to which to turn. (Sadly, it is also the thing many faith-based people turn to when they run out of other options. It is why many Christians are surprised when someone asks, "Have you prayed about it?" Because we haven't. We aren't that desperate yet.) Man's entire life, his very flesh, centers around the hope of making himself better. He's always striving to make improvements, to change things, to get ahead. Religion is founded on that very thing - it's designed to make a man better.

Religion is supposed to answer the questions a man is asking. About his worth. About his purpose. About something bigger than his meager life. About a hope for tomorrow and an answer for yesterday and something to hold onto in the present. That's what religion does. In Christianity, the answer is Jesus. The answer is grace and mercy and forgiveness, purpose and presence, and above all, love. In Judaism, the answer is promise and hope, the foretelling of a better day when God answers all of this, with also a way for a man to connect to God now. In Islam, the answer is obedience and respect, that a man can live his best life by deferring to the wisdom and the plan of God. In Buddhism, the answer is in self, in centering and detaching from the world not necessarily so that it doesn't suck, but so that it doesn't bother you. The list goes on and on, and of course, not being a practicing Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, these are oversimplified ideas, but you get the gist. Religion is supposed to fill in the empty spaces of a man's life and make him, and his existence, better.

The problem, then, is when a man looks at religion and doesn't see anything better than he sees in the mirror. It's when he looks at Christians filled with venomous hate and can't reconcile that with their God of love. He understands what they believe, but the evidence of their lives says different. He is not a man filled with such hate, rather he has greater peace and tolerance and love. So he can't see how the Christian God is supposed to make him a better man. And he hates Christians for it. It's when he looks at a Muslim who flies an airplane into a building for no apparent reason and, knowing perhaps that this comes from a faith based on respect, wonders how such disrespect for life comes about. He can't see how the Muslim Allah is supposed to make him a better man. And he hates Muslims for it. It's when he looks at a Jew who is cunning in this world and can't make sense of how the man has so much hope for tomorrow but works so hard for today. So he can't see how the Jewish Yahweh is supposed to make him a better man. And he hates Jews for it.

What a man finds in religion is, sadly, the hypocrisy. It is the tension between the fallen man and the faithful God, but a seeking heart usually only sees the man. And he can't understand how it is that religion adds anything at all, anything worthwhile anyway. He can't see how religion makes things better, how it could make him better. That stings to the core of his searching soul. If there is nothing in this world to make him better, what is he to say to himself when he looks in the mirror in five years, ten years, twenty years and sees a man he still thinks has missed out on something, somehow? If there is nothing in this world to make him better - nothing inside himself, for he's run out of ideas, and nothing outside himself, for he's run into hypocrisy - how is he ever supposed to hope?

So a man runs out of hope and fills the gap with hate. Ironically, it is hate that does the very thing he's been searching for all along - his hate makes him feel like a better man.

His hate of the Christian hypocrite, who speaks love and lives hate, makes him better than the hypocrite because it feels somehow righteous to hate the man who has fallen short. The man who looks no better than him. His hate of the Muslim hypocrite, who espouses respect and lives destruction, makes him better than the hypocrite because it feels somehow righteous to hate the man who contradicts himself. The man who looks no better than him. His hate of the Jewish hypocrite, whose success speaks to his work in this world even though his words seem to hold on to a world to come, makes him better than the hypocrite because it feels somehow righteous to hate the man who cannot embrace his own hope. The man who looks no better than him. His hate of a religion that has dashed his hope that he could ever be a better man...makes him feel like a better man.

You know this is true. Have you ever heard someone say a derogatory word about a person of any religion without hearing the undertone of superiority in that person's words? Of course not. That's the basis of it all. Man is constantly looking for a way to make himself better, and if, as a person of faith, you show him a double-edged sword, a battle of flesh and faithfulness that doesn't always look better, he will make himself better simply by feeling like he's better...than you. And everyone "like you" - all Christians, all Muslims, all Jews.

The sad truth about all of this is that overwhelmingly, most persons of faith are quietly getting it right. Most Christians are quietly loving - serving their neighbors, their families, their communities. Holding out hope with an open hand. Embracing the tension well, espousing grace, and doing their best to love. Most Muslims are quietly respectful - openly talking, engaging, dialoguing with the people around them. As a chaplain, I have had the opportunity to interact with many Muslim persons and families, and without exception, they have been loving, accepting, and respectful. As a neighbor, I have this opportunity every day. And you know what? My Muslim neighbors and I share a love of dogs...and of faith. I have also heard this from veterans coming back from Afghanistan. Most Muslims are true to the word of their faith, obedient to the will of their God, and respectful of those who disagree with them - as long as you firmly believe in something. They value your belief system and respect you for it, hoping you will do the same for them. Most Jews are quietly hopeful - diligent in today but preparing for tomorrow. Believing in the promise of the Messiah and the covenant of God. Overwhelmingly, persons of faith are quietly getting it right.

Which is why it breaks my heart to see people so vehemently hateful toward a person of any faith. Those are the anomalies. Those are the few. Those are the radicals. Don't judge us by our worst specimen. Because here's the truth:

Your gay marriage is safe in the hands of a Christian because, although he may disagree with you, he also loves you and that love trumps all.

Your airplane is safe in the hands of a Muslim pilot because he is a respecter of life.

Your business is safe in the hands of a Jew because he understands how to work for today while preparing for tomorrow.

Your life is safe in the hands of any person of faith who is quietly getting it right. In fact, your life may even be better there.

And isn't that what you were hoping for?

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