Friday, November 13, 2009

Oh, Religion.

I grew up in a religious (Catholic) family - we went to church every Sunday, participated in all of the sacraments, and were very involved in our faith and church. When I was in high school, I became quite religious myself - leading retreats for other high schoolers, reading my Bible, praying, and being a leader in our church youth group. I was always pegged as a "good little Christian girl" by my classmates. (Which was quite annoying as a 17-year-old, but in retrospect, was probably a good thing. Because they typecast me, I stayed out of trouble. No one was going to ask the Good Little Christian Girl to do Naughty Things.)

As a freshman in college, a coworker and I got into a conversation about religion, and he remarked, "Most wars are started by religion; religion does more harm than good."

My 18-year-old self was scandalized. Religion? Bad? He's obviously a heathen.

This conversation was followed by four transformative years of college (see: recap here). I've come a long way since my simplistic understanding of the ways that religion contributes both positively and negatively to our world. As I’ve become more balanced in my own personal faith journey, I’ve been able to see that there are, in fact, many negative effects of religion. Individuals (including the 18-year-old me) can become judgmental and divisive in the name of religion. Instead of being a tool to create a more loving, caring world - we can use religion to justify violence and hate.

In my opinion, the purpose of religion should be to inspire individuals to create a better world through bettering themselves; to become kinder, gentler, more open, and more generous individuals. Religion and spirituality should call us outward towards others, not just inward.

I think religion makes the world a better place when this happens. And it so often does.

Religiously-affiliated colleges and high schools more often educate about social justice and include service in their curriculum. Religious charities feed the hungry, care for the sick and orphaned, and advocate for the poor. I’ve met some of the most amazing religious sisters (nuns) dedicate their lives to working for peace and justice. They inspire me and make me proud to consider myself a part of their religion.

Plus, Jesus was all about loving your neighbor, not getting hung up on specific rules, and nonviolence. He was a pretty radical guy.

That’s not to say that the teachings of religions aren’t ever hurtful or harmful. I’ve personally struggled with this; it can be so heartbreaking. I’ve seen discrimination in this country that has angered and frustrated me. Someday, I’ll write a post about living in a country of Muslims during 9/11 and coming back to my own country, surprised and saddened to find resentment and unfounded beliefs about Islam running rampant.

I am, In fact, an unlikely defendant of religion. Even as I write this, I'm torn to be defending something that has hurt so many. But I'm writing about it, because I think when it's done well, religion can contribute to a better world.

But today, I want to talk about how you think religion has both helped or harmed our cities, our countries, and our world.

Me? I don’t think you need religion or faith to be a good person, but I think that religion has the potential to make the world a better place.


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