- in my meditation garden -
There sure has been a lot of talk about “religion” over the past few days. In this country we have been warned about the dangers of “Muslims” in our midst and advised that only “Christians” can be trusted. The thing is that in almost every story I have ever heard about Muslims or Christians, the stories normally have little to nothing to do with Islam or with Christianity. In fact I often find myself cringing when I hear words like “Muslims” or “Christians” so commonly used nowadays.
When someone cries out “Allahu Akbar- God is great” as they blow up a building or when an Imam incites his fellow Muslims inside a mosque to conduct a violent holy war against infidels, this may look or sound religious but it’s just a religious disguise. When “Christians”
sing a hymn at church and then lock their doors against “people of color,” or when an ordained “Christian” minister gets up in a pulpit and calls for the systematic execution of all homosexuals as his congregation nods in affirmation, this may appear to be religious but in fact it's just a religious disguise.
We often define “religion” as a system of beliefs, I actually prefer to think of religion as a:
community of believers
As I see it, if you are “religious” you commit to some core common beliefs which are always shared with your fellows who walk the journey of faith with you. And as I examine the core tenets of all the various communities of believers throughout the world I find some common elements - at their core all the major religions are grounded in the principle of compassion.
And so, the basic standard by which one can evaluate the authenticity of any person or group “claiming” to be religious or looking like they are religious is “compassion.” Is the community of believers guided by compassion?
Karen Armstrong, the well-know author and authority on world-religions writes:
Compassion is the key and the core in Islam and Buddhism
and Judaism and Christianity.
and Judaism and Christianity.
This core element makes them all profoundly similar.
Professor Armstrong also makes this astute distinction between “good” theology and “bad” theology:
If your understanding of the divine makes you kinder, more empathic
and impels you to concrete acts of loving-kindness, this is good theology.
But if your notion of God makes you unkind, belligerent, cruel or self-righteous
or if it leads you to kill in God’s name, this is bad theology.
All the horrible recent publicity about “religions” over the past days seems to have re-ignited contempt against all religion in general – bigotry and prejudice, violence in the world, wars throughout history, systematic genocide have all been blamed on “religion.” But quite honestly, I think the blame is often misplaced.
A community of believers who live lives that are kinder and more compassionate and dedicate themselves to serve the needs of others are religious by definition. Those people who are hateful, belligerent, exclusionary and bellicose are by definition only pretending to be religious—disguised in religious clothes.