Before firing off that angry e-mail or scathing comment, wait just a moment.
All of the three have something at their core that can be useful and good. All of the three have also been horribly misused for absolutely awful things. Alcohol has led to debilitating alcoholism – and every good social occasion and celebration in modern American history. Guns have been used in the most horrific massacres and genocides – but were also used in practically every fight to escape oppression. Religion has been used for horrible violence and awful amounts of intolerance – but also used to spur people to make the world a better place.
Alcohol and guns – while sometimes blamed for the bad things that happen – are usually seen as tools. The items themselves are neither good nor bad – but can facilitate both. Religion, however, is seen as its own monolithic structure – some kind of capital-T Truth.
It’s rather silly to think that all faiths are equally correct and valid. (You can have one or the other…)Obviously, some of them are less correct than others. Some of them are arguably completely wrong. But whether your religion is right or wrong isn’t the point here at all.
Even if you think your version of faith is the only “real” one, it is impossible to ignore the good works and real faith shown by others in other faith traditions. Likewise, there is no faith tradition that is without oppression, prejudice, or violence somewhere in their history (or current membership). This duality is something also missed by the snarky pretentious atheists, who seem to forget the French Revolution, Stalin, and Mao.
Last weekend, two couples shared a table near me at a restaurant. They spoke of their faith – loudly enough that I could not help but hear them. They had a new pastor, who had revitalized their lives, and strengthened their faith. They had made donations, and even sponsored a charitable mission to build houses. And were also espousing their own not-very-forgiving values about downtown Dayton and the “different” (read: Black) people who were down there. This dichotomy annoyed the crap out of me. As I have pointed out elsewhere, why are some Christians getting worked up over gay marriage, but not over the sin of usury committed daily by “payday lenders”?
But still, I cannot pretend that those who are prejudiced would be suddenly free of their bigotry were they to become agnostics or atheists. I cannot pretend that hypocrisy would disappear if religion did. To paraphrase The Man In Black: “No good. I’ve known too many atheists.”
We must struggle to accept both the good and bad in others, and that the tools they use are not the persons themselves. When we recognize religious systems as tools – tools to do works, tools to gain faith – we can recognize that the outcome may vary from person to person. Hand two people the same tools and materials, and it’s rare that you’d get the same end results.
How dare we expect anything different from religion?