So many of us have experienced hurt or insult at the hands of organized religion. Stories of abuse by clergy even worsen the confidence level of woman who have been often disregarded and/or set aside by organized (and patriarchal) institutions. Beyond imperfection, organized religions have seemed to orchestrate problems. I don't need to recount any. All of us can come up with our own list. Add to that the anti-intellectual nature of many far right fundamentalist groups (across all religions) and it makes many people mistrust and depart organized gathering places of religious intent.
A recent survey by Trinity College indicates that 15 % of Americans identify as having no affiliated religion, or as atheists or agnostics -- up from 8% in 1990.
...many of the 750,000 additional American adults who each year identify as having "no religion" are reacting to...the "triumphalism and judg mentalism of the Christian right."
A full quarter of those identifying as "no religion" in the Trinity College report are former Catholics, many of whom were turned off by the church sex abuse scandals of the past decade. That helps explain why the Northeast now rivals the Mountain states and the Pacific Northwest—whose frontier beginnings established rugged individualist traditions that resisted organized religions—as the most secular parts of the country. "Despite the population growth, New England has lost 1 million Catholics" in the last decade..."
Other religious traditions feeding the "no religion" boom are Judaism and Asian religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. While people who leave mainline Protestant churches often find new spiritual homes in evangelical or nondenominational megachurches, the Trinity survey shows that former Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus are much more likely to abandon religion altogether. Nearly half of "no religion" Americans come from Irish, Jewish, or Asian backgrounds.
But does that mean that one leaves faith behind, because the institution could not communicate belief-in-action in a satisfactory way? I have heard over and over that some people have left their belief behind them because a minister or priest or rabbi did something absurd, or because a church did not do something that it should have. And I keep saying, "The organization is not the faith. The box is not the contents."
Oh, we poor broken creatures. It seems every time we20try to make an organization around a principle, we corrupt the principle. Look at democratic institutions, education, medicine. Yet we do not say, "I am giving up on democracy because the Senate is corrupt." Nor do we say, "Educational institutions are not doing well. Down with education." And we surely do not say,"Doctors have not always followed the Hippocratic Oath, so I am not going to get any more medical care."
I am not critiquing atheists. They have their position, and that is fine. It is a big world with lots of room for diverse opinion. If you are an atheist reading this, you probably won't find much in it for you except my good wishes. I am not trying to convert you.
I am suggesting, however, that faith is bigger than the containers that try to hold it. And I am saying that it is OK to believe in God without having to tie ones self to a host of dogmas that do not make sense to you. I know this may sound odd to some of you, but I have met people who, because they left a particular church, feel that they also have to leave their faith behind -- essentially in leaving they "buy" the tale of the church/synagogue that God lives only there. If they leave the structure, they leave the Deity.
This makes me very sad.
A friend once said to me, "I can't go back to believing in God -- in such a horrible judgmental figure who is so angry all the time."
Well, of course not. That figure was a projection of a very particular group. God is bigger than our projections. And kinder.
I think I am in a perpetual lover's quarrel with the church. The churches and synagogues and mosques and shrines and temples of the world have kept the story of faith alive. They have been gathering places for people who felt shut out. They have furthered education.
In fact a recent study in Canada indicated that suicide risk was lower among regular worshippers than among those who "considered themselves spiritual" but did not attend worship.They have saved lives, spiritually and physically.
It would be unfair to write this and not mention the many churches and synagogues, temples and places of worship that have provided real and sustaining community and that do express faith-in-action in a way that enriches without blemish. They have mobilized resources into compassionate effort. They have offered hope and often shelter when no one else could. And they have provided help and consolation and comfort.
At their finest, they have built deeply caring communities of faith.
Yet they have also let us down.
I suppose if I am asking anything of you, it is to retain an open mind. If you have left the church or synagogue or religious institution that you once called home, take a look to see what may be worth taking with you on your life journey.
And, on the other hand, if you are in a church that treats you badly, that wants=2 0you to believe that God is some arrogant judge who does not care for you unless you jump through impossible hoops -- then leave as fast as you can, but be open to envisioning God as kinder and more loving than you may have known.
Organized religion and faith. It is a thorny issue. It is more than a column-- it is a series of volumes. Perhaps you could tell your story here? Perhaps I am not the only one in the midst of this lovers' quarrel?
Shark Fu has a long and marvelous rant that concludes:
When did some religions and faith in general become the prisoners of certain religious people who use religion like other people use a Louis Vuitton handbag?
Even as I ponder that I long for the faith-based experiences of my youth…for a church full of regular folks trying to find guidance and inspiration so that they can leave the world a better place and do some good.
And I fear for the brand integrity of faith…because the brand suffers when there are more faux Louis Vuitton knock-offs than the real deal.
Anita; i struggling to find her spiritual home and tells of her investigation of Islam, Christianity and others in her quest.
I found truth and error20in every system I investigated. I still haven’t found a surefire way to separate truth from tradition, fact from fiction. For the moment, there seems to be no place for me in organized religion. That could change in the very next moment. To those who claim that this or that religion just doesn't’ worship the same God as “we” do, I maintain that there’s only one to be worshiped. Perhaps God has revealed himself in different ways, in different times, to different peoples. I don’t have the answer. Just as my relationship to my son is different than the relationship I have with my daughter, perhaps it’s so with God.
And so I’ll continue to learn and grow. I’ll keep on reaching and searching, asking what I hope will be the right questions, and instead of asking who worships the right God, I concern myself with who serves Him best. My best guess is, we all fall short.
Angella; speaks of her faith history:
After two years of college I found myself in the big city of Vancouver. I bristled against the Rules and Regulations that were this faith that I knew. There seemed to be no Joy. Only guilt, judgment, condemnation. I still believed in God, and in Jesus, but they did not seem to mesh with this list of Rules that I was supposed to live by. I went my=2 0own way for awhile.
But I was missing something. Someone.
I started attending church again. I got to know the God of my youth. The Loving God. The Happy God. The God who wanted to be my Best Friend.
Mata H , CE, can also be found in lovers' quarrels at Time's Fool
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