Religion: Good or Bad?

Religion can give us a higher purpose, a divine purpose, a cause worth dying for. Motivated by religion, we develop compassion, empathy, charity, and a sense of fairness. When religion is the impetuous for justice, great things can be accomplished. Emancipation, civil rights, medical care, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, etc.

But, when religion is amalgamated with empire disaster occurs – wars, persecutions, oppression. Globally dominant empires rise, expand, and maintain power with the assistance of religion. Religion provides legitimacy, moral justification, divine sanction, and makes people willing to sacrifice their lives. 

Empires claim to be ordained and favored by the gods. Their leaders claimed to be divinely appointed. Empires have been supported by popes, priests, imams, holy men (it’s nearly always men) of all sorts. Whether it’s Roman Pax Romana, British Manifest Destiny, or the Euro-American Doctrine of Discovery, empires believe they have a special calling from the Divine to expand, control, and rule. Killing for the empire makes you a hero. Dying for the empire makes you a martyr. National holidays and foundational documents are considered sacred. God and country are inseparable. 

Religions are seduced by wealth and power into supporting empires. Every major religion has at some time traded foundational truth for a share of might, mammon, and official protection. 

Look at Christianity. For 300 years after the resurrection of Messiah Jesus, his followers were mostly poor and marginalized. They loved others, served those in need, rescued the rejected, tended to the sick (even in times of plagues), refused military service, welcomed everyone, judged no one, fed the hungry, clothed the poor, and forgave those who slaughtered and persecuted them. They lived simple, nonviolent, noncoercive lives of loving service.

Then, in 313, Constantine issued the edict of toleration and the persecution stopped. In 380, Theodosius made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire. Suddenly, Christians had power and wealth. With the blessing of theologians and church officials, the Church not only supported, but declared it to be the duty of every faithful believer to take up arms joining the ranks of those who rape, pillage, and kill. The official church supported torture, theft, and slavery for centuries. 

In modern times, people claiming to be Christians infected and slaughtered native peoples, stole their land, worked the land with slaves, invaded sovereign nations, declared wars, and burnt villages. And they often did so with the blessing of their churches.

When Christianity became the state religion of Rome, it traded the God of Israel and God’s Messiah for the gods of militarism, mammon, and nationalism. In medieval France and Italy, it led to the Inquisition. In the first half of the 20th century, it led to the Holocaust. Today, it has led to Christian nationalism. Freedom, democracy, diversity, pluralism, and tolerance are all under attack. During Holy Week 2023 while Trump was in court being indited on 34 felony counts, Margery Taylor Greene was outside comparing him to Jesus. Christians are demonizing anyone who might disagree with them on social issues. It is not likely to end well.

Those of us who want to faithfully follow Jesus need to live by the Sermon on the Mount like never before. It is time to embrace the cross, serve the least, care for the broken and bereaved, wash the feet of the marginalized, welcome the alien and stranger, feed the hungry, heal the sick, house the homeless, and, perhaps above all, love, pray for, and forgive our enemies and those who despitefully use and persecute us. It’s past time we eschew wealth and political power, give up coercion, and lay aside nationalism. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God. We pledge allegiance to God alone. It’s time to show the world what a follower of Jesus looks like.

About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist, Jesus Freak, Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, spiritual director, life coach, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, writer, husband, father, grandfather, dog-sitter

Posted on April 25, 2023, in anabaptist, kingdom of God, social justice, Spirituality. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: