“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples;
no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own
heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
Regularly irrelevant, judgemental, inaccessible… that is my experience of Christianity.
That doesn’t mean though, that I don’t see that for many people it is relevant, accepting and accessible. For some people, Christianity has saved their lives, and setting aside my own experience, I think that’s great. The thing is though, that I’m not just talking about Christianity. You’ll have to excuse me for referring mostly to that, because that is where my knowledge and my experience comes from, but what I am passionate about is that all religion should be relevant, non-judgemental and accessible to all people.
I was raised as a Christian. My father was a minister, so everything revolved around the church. At some point (as a teen) I made a decision that Christianity was my religion too, rather than being simply what my parents believed. That is, until I was 28 years old when I came to a conclusion that really changed my whole life. I think it was a bit challenging for both my family and my friends (many of them being Christians) too. I decided church wasn’t for me.
That was a radical change. For a long time I just didn’t want to know about religion. I felt I had been judged and deemed unacceptable by something that I had previously regarded as my life. It wasn’t just a ‘church on Sunday’ thing for me. It was a 24/7 way of life. I read my Bible everyday, I prayed, I was involved in a range of church activities. And I stopped it all.
I guess for me my mental illness was the deciding factor. My illness wasn’t accepted by some people, who seemed to regard it as a product of sin. I was told by people that my illness was because I didn’t have enough faith in God. I was also told by friends that using any type of psychology (I was seeing a clinical psychologist at the time) was evil. Actually I was even given a book telling exactly why I shouldn’t use any form of psychological medicine. I never read the book, and I have long since thrown it out (in the rubbish) because I couldn’t bear the thought of someone picking it up and concluding they were evil too. I was also told that because my maternal grandfather had been a Freemason most of his life, this was an evil influence on me and so my mental illness was his fault. Thankfully he had died by this time so he never knew of this because I know he loved me and he would have been devastated. By the way he was also a Christian. I’m sure other criticisms and judgements were cast my way too. I’m just glad I have either forgotten them, or never heard them
Because I was almost overly sensitive at the time, I took those judgements, from perhaps a few, as being from all Christians. That was hardly fair of me. But in the occasional times I have ventured back my sense of being judged was still there. If it wasn’t me being judged, it was other people I could see being judged, and actually that was even more angry making than what was thrown my direction.
When I see people being ignored because they’re different from the norm, when I see gay people told they’re not welcome or they can’t live with the person they love, when I see gay ministers being told they can’t minister anymore. I just think that’s wrong. When particular cultures are judged as evil, I think that is wrong. One thing I learnt very early in my experience of religion was to “let the one who has never fallen cast the first stone” (John 8:7). It’s not my place to judge, nor is it the place of any other human being to judge, because we have all got things wrong and none of us are perfect.
I know people who would scoff at my attitude, and that’s okay. The thing for me is that each person can believe their truth but they don’t need to criticise, or condemn someone else’s truth. I still believe in a Christian God, although it took a long time before I could accept it after the judgements I’d had thrown at me. That’s my belief but it doesn’t make anyone else’s belief in another religion invalid.
Some of what I see leads me to think that some of religion is not relevant. In my own city, which has been devastated by earthquakes recently I am struck by the intense arguments there have been over the demolition of Christ Church Cathedral (consecrated in 1881), and the subsequent arguments over replacing it with a temporary (10 year) building until they can decide what is appropriate long term. I have my own views on the arguments that are continuing and some of the crazy things that have been happening, but it makes me so sad that a great fuss is made of spending millions of dollars on a building for worship when the reality is that because of the earthquake damage we have a great shortage of homes. Some may say I’m being simplistic, but I don’t think simplicity is a bad thing. Surely we need to address the basic needs of the people before worrying about a building to worship in. The city has survived for about 16 months without a Cathedral, so why can’t we continue to survive without it and use the money to make sure people have housing. That would be relevance.
I worked for a charitable trust associated with a church a few years ago. I wasn’t involved in the church but was basically the front person for both the trust, which provided social services to the community, and the church, from Monday to Friday. Many people came in for a range of reasons but mostly it was to meet their basic needs. They needed food from the foodbank, a meal, and social activity and interaction. It seemed to me that not many people were too interested in the fact that this was a church, until their basic needs got meet, and they felt accepted. Interestingly a number of different religions used the premises for various activities that some might say weren’t Christian. I think it was great, although I admit that it took me a while to reach that conclusion, and that is because I had my mind trained to think there was only one true faith and everything else was evil. I don’t believe that now.
Having something to believe in is important, but I think that when you’re really struggling to meet your basic needs, barely hanging onto life, there just isn’t time or energy into thinking about that stuff. What matters is where my next meal is coming from, or how do I shut up the goddamned voices in my head. I think we are wasting time and effort if we think that those people are not holy, are not faithful (to which ever religion is relevant). Singing hymns just doesn’t cut it when there are real needs out there. And I don’t want a part of it.
That said, I know what I believe and will do my best to practise accordingly without casting judgement on others.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury,pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
(Prayer of St Francis of Assisi)
- The Passions Profile Challenge (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- What Dad Taught Me About Shoes (Passions Profile Challenge #4) (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- The Disappointment of Religion (fatherstephen.wordpress.com)
- Religious Stigma – An Opinion (philipdeane.wordpress.com)