Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Fake Religion

"A Gentle Breeze"
- At the Desert Retreat House -


I hear a lot of talk nowadays about “fake news” - stories, postings, tweets and pictures in newspapers, in the social media and even on TV that purport to tell a “true story” but actually promote lies and falsehoods. Fake news is often used as a propaganda tool by various “extremist” organizations because, if something looks like a “real news” story it’s more likely that people will believe in the veracity of what is being reported.

Nowadays, a wise consumer of  the “news” must be careful to look for stories that have been fact-checked and verified by credible sources.

Over this past weekend, as I watched the heart-wrenching, relentless incidences of hate-filled violence perpetrated on the street of Charlottesville, Virginia, it occurred to me that these blatant acts of overt racism and violence were being perpetrated by people who actually professed to be religious, Christian believers. The fact is that members of the KKK are required to be white and they are also required to be Christian.  The official charter of the KKK (as well as other white supremacist groups) states that every member must publicly profess a “belief in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”

This weekend, vile, hateful racial epithets and acts of cruel aggression pervaded the City of Charlottesville - all performed by people who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As I see it, this is an almost perfect example of “fake religion.” On the surface, these people may “appear” to be religious (they probably go to church and study the bible and they wear crosses on their white-hooded robes) but they are as far from actually being a “Christian” as you can possibly get.

After all, Christians are “followers of Jesus,” people who pledge to live their lives in the “Way” of Jesus whose entire life and teaching was devoted to promoting the dignity of every human being. Jesus taught his followers to love one another and even to love an enemy. He taught his disciples to care for the poor and the needy, to reject no one and even to do good to those who hurt you.

In Charlottesville this weekend, those so-called Christians carrying assault weapons and espousing a blatantly egregious and vile message of hate and division could not possibly be farther from following the Way of Jesus. Like fake news, they professed themselves to be Christians but in fact they were they were “fake Christians.” They called themselves religious but the religion they professed was a fake religion.

As I see it, just as you can apply journalistic standards to evaluate whether of not something purported to be “real news” is actually "fake news,” so also can you apply a common universal standard to determined whether or not those who purport to be religious are, in fact, truly religious. Simply put, that universal standard of evaluation is the “practice of 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.
This core element makes them all profoundly similar.

Professor Armstrong also makes this astute distinction between “good” theology and “bad” theology. For me, it’s also a good distinction between “true religion” and “fake religion:”

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.

When a so-called Muslim invokes the name of “God” while beheading an infidel and cries out “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) while blowing up a building or when a so-called Christian wears a cross and professes faith in Jesus while denouncing and attacking fellow human beings because of the color of their skin or their ethnicity, you can be sure that “fake religion” is rearing its ugly head.

Those of us are who consider ourselves to be religious people and strive to be guided by the standard of compassion must take offense and resist all the many examples of fake religion springing up nowadays. Now more than ever we are called to promote and practice compassion and to profess a vision of “God” that makes us “kinder, more empathic and impels us to concrete acts of loving kindness” every day of our lives.

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