For much too long religion seems to have become an excuse for intolerance, bigotry, prejudice and self-satisfied arrogance to the point that I have found it hard to accept the ideas that I learned in the church (Christian, Protestant) which I grew up in are actually supported by “believers.” Having done a little bit of looking into contemporary religious practices, it would seem that the values I learned in my church are all too frequently ignored by many “religious” groups, and this doesn’t seem to be limited to just those practicing (or claiming to practice) differing sets of specific beliefs.
It’s been noted more than once that there are a number of fundamental ideas which reoccur pretty much across the board in basic religious teachings. That is, there are ideas which are (at least mostly) supported in the teachings of pretty much all religions. One list of such ideas is listed below. It’s by Joran Slane Oppelt. I got it from https://integralchurch.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/15-great-principles-shared-by-all-religions/ but similar lists aren’t too hard to find.
15 Great Principles Shared by All Religions
1 The Golden Rule / Law of Reciprocity – The cornerstone of religious understanding. “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” – Christianity
2 Honor Thy Father and Mother – Knowing them is the key to knowing ourselves. The day will come when we shall wish we had known them better.
3 Speak the Truth – “Sincerity is the way of heaven, and to think how to be sincere is the way of a man.” – Confucius
4 It’s More Blessed to Give than to Receive – Generosity, charity and kindness will open an individual to an unbounded reservoir of riches.
5 Heaven is Within – “Even as the scent dwells within the flower, so God within thine own heart forever abides.” - Sikhism
6 Love Thy Neighbor / Conquer With Love / All You Need is Love – Acts of faith, prayer and deep meditation provide us with the strength that allows love for our fellow man to become an abiding part of our lives. Love is a unifying force.
7 Blessed Are the Peacemakers – When people live in the awareness that there is a close kinship between all individuals and nations, peace is the natural result.
8 You Reap What You Sow – This is the great mystery of human life. Aware or unaware, all are ruled by this inevitable law of nature. (This seems to me to be close to the “Threefold law” or “Rule of Three” believed by many Wiccans/Pagans. RSB)
9 Man Does Not Live by Bread Alone – The blessings of life are deeper than what can be appreciated by the senses.
10 Do No Harm – If someone tries to hurt another, it means that she is perceiving that person as something separate and foreign from herself. (This also seems to me to be closely related to the Wiccan idea of "An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will" RSB)
11 Forgiveness – The most beautiful thing a man can do is to forgive wrong. - Judaism
12 Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged – This principle is an expression of the underlying truth that mankind is one great family, and that we all spring from a common source.
13 Be Slow to Anger – Anger clouds the mind in the very moments that clarity and objectivity are needed most. “He who holds back rising anger like a rolling chariot, him I call a real driver; others only hold the reins.” - Buddha
14 There is But One God / God is Love – Nature, Being, The Absolute. Whatever name man chooses, there is but one God. All people and all things are of one essence.
15 Follow the Spirit of the Scriptures, Not the Words – “Study the words, no doubt, but look behind them to the thought they indicate; And having found it, throw the words away, as chaff when you have sifted out the grain.” – Hinduism
Now, I have no real problems with any of these ideas. Unfortunately, too much of what I seem to see (from “believers” espousing many religious traditions) doesn’t really suggest support for these ideas. It’s easy to point fingers at those “Fundamentalist Islamic terrorist types” who don’t follow the ideas of their (claimed) religion, but I seem to see some of the same attitudes from followers of other teachings. For example, take the passage in Matthew 6,6. This passage reads; “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica®.)
Somehow, in this day of “mega churches,” prayer on television, massive (religious) rallies (which all too often serve politics more than religion), putting little “Christian” symbols (like the fish) on cars, business signs, etc. it’s a bit hard to believe that these good “Christians” are following the words of Jesus very closely. To me, this feels a bit more like folks wanting to advertise their “CHRISTIANITY” to make sure that everyone knows that they are "good Christians." That seems a bit out of step with what I learned in “my” church, but I could let that go, even though I find it a bit hypocritical.
I become quite incensed, however, when political action is taken which encourages any sort of discrimination in the name of “religious freedom.” Such an action was taken today, March 26, 2015, when
"Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) quietly signed legislation Thursday that could legalize discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.
"The Religious Freedom Restoration Act would allow any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party. But many opponents of the bill, which included business leaders, argued that it could open the door to widespread discrimination. Business owners who don't want to serve same-sex couples, for example, could now have legal protections to discriminate.
"'Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,' Pence said in a statement Thursday. 'The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.'" (Huffington Post, March 26, 2015)
Somehow, I find it hard to accept that this sort of discrimination was intended by our Founding Fathers when they wrote the First Amendment. In fact, it doesn’t feel like religious freedam, it feels like bigotry. What may make this even worse, I believe, is that this law appears to allow a religious “defense” against almost any sort of suit. In an earlier Huffington Post article today, it was suggested that
"… if the bill passes, someone residing in a city like Indianapolis could claim a nondiscrimination law doesn't apply to them, said Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel for the ACLU.
"'This bill would give anyone the right to argue that they don’t have to follow state or local laws -- including basic civil rights laws related to employment, housing and public accommodations,' she added.
"The Human Rights Campaign, which opposes the legislation, said in a statement on Thursday that 'if signed into law, this bill could empower police officers to refuse to patrol the areas around synagogues or mosques [and] allow doctors to withhold medically-necessary information from their patients.'"
If this is true (as it appears to be), then “religious freedom” (previously used to justify a variety of forms of discrimination) could now be a justification for ignoring a variety of laws and excusing almost any form of discrimination. If I don’t wish to deal with gays, Jews, Catholics, “other” Protestant groups, Negroes, blondes, Germans, Arabs, Chinese, almost anyone; all I have to do is argue that forcing me to do business with them is a violation of my religious beliefs. That would appear to lead directly back to the days of segregation in schools, public accommodation, restaurants, public transport, etc. Anybody remember the signs for "Whites only" on restrooms? If the gains of the Civil Rights movement can all be overturned simply by claiming a “religious” exemption; what was accomplished by the turmoil of the 50’s and 60’s? The Women’s movement had better keep a sharp eye out….
It’s sad, but I have to point out that we have seen such attitudes before. We, as Americans have an unfortunate history of religious, racial and ethnic intolerance. It has been said that the most segregated time of the week is still Sunday morning because different races and ethnic groups still tend to go to separate houses of worship. Most people seem to choose not to consider that. The fact is, however, that using religion as a direct means of oppressing others is still around. Nowadays, the easiest, most familiar example used to be the Taliban. Given the recent actions in Indiana, however, I’m not sure that’s still the case.
I can’t (and won’t) support this sort of Talibanesque tactics in the United States. I believe that the Bill of Rights (I think [hope] most US citizens still support that) was intended to protect my rights in large measure by establishing that YOUR rights stop at the point where they interfere with MINE, as mine do in relation to yours. Thus, your right to declare your religion as superior to the law and your (its) beliefs as providing you with the right to ignore laws established for the common good would seem to violate the spirit (and the letter) of the Bill of Rights, not to mention the teachings of virtually all major religions.
Of course, it may be that the only recourse sane people have is to refuse to do business with bigots and to organize and take political action against the politicians who are looking to maintain their own political power by playing to the worst possible motives and prejudices of the least thinking in our society.
Personally, I call on the leaders of ALL religions to condemn this sort of action. Perhaps the next major motto for bumper stickers should be “Samaritan.” After all, Jesus made a hero out of a Samaritan (one of “those” people) at a time when the Jewish community did not view members of that group positively. Perhaps it wouldn’t be totally inappropriate for more of us to claim that we, also, are “Samaritans.” At least it might get the “Christians” to think a bit about the actions they wish to take to “protect” their belief in Jesus’ teachings.
And, by the way, Jesus was a Jew! Look it up. It’s not hard to find.