|The intersection / Chuck Coker|
In 1775, just before the birth of the United States, and two years after the Boston Tea Party, British lexicographer Samuel Johnston declared that “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. Today, after hearing the modern day Tea Party, it appears that religion may the first refuge of the scoundrel.
The problem is that nobody actually knows the thoughts of the Almighty, but some people fancy that they have privileged access to this information. Take the invasion of Iraq. George Bush and Tony Blair, were guided by God to invade, whilst, those more traditionally considered to be on the receiving end of the Holy hotline were speaking out against such an attack. This included a cross-schism alliance of the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The obvious conclusion is that, either the Creator of All has a stranger and darker sense of humour than previously suspected, or some people confuse their own desires with divine instruction.
The latter is the more plausible. It has been said that the problem with religion isn’t that God made Man in his image, but that Man has the tendency to make God in his image. So often, people, especially those in the political sphere, find that they are doing God’s work, and that they are also living in God’s own country.
Who can argue with that? Not a sinful voter who went for the other candidate. There can be nothing more dangerous than a political figure who believes they are doing God’s will. Or are things slightly more complicated than that? The puzzle is that people react to faith in different ways. Martin Luther King Jr’s faith enabled him to act with great courage, not on his behalf, but on a moral crusade, the rightness of which is accepted by all but the lunatic fringe.
Is this the same faith that produced Oral Roberts, Jim Bakker or even Sarah Palin? A God who believes in big guns and small taxes? It appears that the religious sentiment, that once produced great reformers has now switched sides.
We can look at the main branches of the Christian faith in the West. Both the Catholic Church and the Church of England have spent the last few decades tearing themselves apart over... women priests.
The justification for this is an arcane reading of theology, derived from interpretation of scriptures. The rest of the world has moved on from these medieval injunctions.
In recent years various atheists, including leading top God botherer, Richard Dawkins, have argued the case against religion. How these books, or in some cases, polemics, are received is usually down to the reader’s religious beliefs. However, most of these books share a certain perspective.
The real target of the author’s ire is not the existence of a divine being, but how religions, sects and cults have placed a rigid interpretation on spiritual teachings and then imposed them on others, frequently by using violence or psychological manipulation.
For religious tolerance to thrive, what needs to happen is for those who claim to be pronouncing God’s judgement to learn a little humility and to understand that they could be wrong. After all, they have been proved wrong on many issues already, just ask Galileo.
As Martin Luther King jr said, “There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
When we understand this, the spiritual journey becomes something that unites us, rather than dividing us.