While I do believe that religions start with the best intentions, I do agree that they usually turn into something else. That “something else” depends on who is in charge and what they are trying to accomplish. People with religious influence will inevitably end up using it to impose their social views on others.
My belief system is currently a little bit up in the air. I am still trying to figure things out, so for the purpose of this assignment, I will examine the belief system I am most familiar with, Roman Catholicism, and other things I have observed in society generally and that have some influence on the world I live
I think part of the reason why I have trouble finding something I can truly believe in is the hypocritical nature of a lot of the religious discourse today. I have a real issue with people who claim one thing and judge other people harshly based on it, but who do pretty much the opposite in their own lives. Fairly or not, I associate this kind of behaviour with American televangelists, skewered so deliciously in song by Genesis with “Jesus He Knows Me” (1991): “Won’t find me practising what I’m preaching/ won’t find me making no sacrifice…./ God will take good care of you/ just do as I say, don’t do as I do.” These are the people who preach poverty while driving this year’s model, or who claim to be family men while cheating on their wives (and not always with women). It has been said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. I think it does not even have to be absolute power. A little power can corrupt too and when you have people hanging on your every word, I guess it is human nature to see how far they will follow you.
I also have trouble with some of the people who get their moral compass from the Bible (which, I want to point out, is not a bad thing in and of itself. I admit that “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” is pretty good advice and I know people who have lived very good, moral, and compassionate lives based on things they read in the Bible). The ones I have trouble with are those who pick and choose which parts of the Bible to apply based on other values or viewpoints they might hold. Let me illustrate what I mean.
For instance, I have never heard a good argument against gay marriage. By “good argument,” I mean something objective, grounded in statistics about divorce, or spousal abuse, or other empirically measurable factors. The only argument I have ever heard against gay marriage is “because the Bible forbids it / because my religion is against it.” While I can see both sides of other issues, whether gun control, war or abortion (meaning, I have my own opinions on a given subject but I can see that some arguments made for the “other side” have some validity, even though I choose not to side with them), I have never heard anyone speaking against gay marriage that made me say, “you know what, I may not agree but I see your point” (and before you ask, I do not have a dog in this fight, being heterosexual with no wish to marry anyone). Much like George Lundskow’s example of white Southern slave owners who broke away from the traditional Baptist doctrine to create a new denomination more in line with their own beliefs of white supremacy (105), I believe those who oppose gay marriage on purely religious grounds are guilty of a similar prejudice. Especially when they have no problem upholding this part of the Bible, but the part about selling your daughter into slavery is rightfully regarded as being outdated (Aaron Sorkin wrote a great scene that illustrates my point in the “The Midterms” episode of The West Wing). Making anti-homosexual statements a part of one’s religious views is corrupting the original search for answers with a little self-righteousness.
I think any particular religion starts with people who want to embrace their fellow men in a spirit that is pleasing to God. Then they have to decide what is pleasing to God, though to the best of my knowledge, no one ever asked God directly what He wanted (and those who claim they did are perceived as lunatics and are readily dismissed). Deciding for yourself what God wants is a win-win proposition; you cannot lose because those who do not agree with you cannot win –– nobody knows for sure. Is that not the whole point of faith? People justify their beliefs with religion and no one can argue, since the whole point of faith is to accept something without logical proof.
Religious leaders align their answers to the big questions with their own social agenda, and religion becomes corrupted to various degrees in the process. People want to keep owning slaves? Well, this eminent clergy member, maybe someone like Charles Hodge, has thought long and hard on the question, prayed to God for guidance, and God answered him by letting him know that He would save only white people and that slavery was “a natural and divine order” (Lundskow, 104). People feel threatened by homosexuality, and they think it is dirty and unnatural? Well, good news, because this guy’s God told him that it was indeed unnatural and he will teach you how to “pray away the gay.” These are not the only examples in history where people have used religion as spiritual justification for their bigoted social views. And sadly, I do not think that it is going away.
Pope Francis’ attempts to “welcom[e] homosexual persons” was vetoed by the bishops (Davies) and the institution of the Catholic Church remains as closed to women as it ever was. This opening towards homosexuals from the man at the top of the church hierarchy, as minute and short-lived as it was, while the “door is closed” (McClory) on women being priests implies that women represent a bigger threat to the social order of the Church than gay men, who despite their sexual preferences are still, first and foremost, men. Despite the fact that Pope Francis said that women “must be more” in the church than “altar girls or the president of charity” (McClory) the “constant and clear tradition of the church that makes the ban on women priests infallible” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) paraphrased in McClory) makes it equally clear that this tradition exists only because women entering the priesthood would threaten the patriarchal hierarchy of the organization. Sure, women can be more than altar girls, but they cannot have any real power in the organization, lest they destroy everything the boys have worked so hard to build. Their presence would be a threat to the male social order, and hiding behind “because it’s always been that way” is a reactionary response that might be comforting to some but does not make the tradition right or fair, or the fear of change more justified.
In other words, when the Catholic Church says “love thy neighbour as you love thyself,” then closes the door on women in the priesthood or on a greater acceptance of homosexuals, what are they saying, exactly? Is it that girls and gays do not deserve to know the answers to the big questions, or only that they cannot help look for them? Either way, it is corrupting the original purpose of religion with an agenda that has nothing to do with that purpose. People start with laudable intentions, but when they see opportunities for more (more power, more spiritual justification, more money, more, more, more), corruption ineluctably ensues.
Davies, Lizzy. (October 19, 2014). “Catholic bishops veto gay-friendly statements leaving Pope Francis the loser.” The Guardian. Retrieved February 28, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/18/catholic-bishops-backtrack-on-gay-welcome
Genesis. (1991). “Jesus He Knows Me.” Written by Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford. We Can’t Dance. Atlantic. Cassette. (also, retrieved March 7, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLNZjQ28tPE)
Lundskow, George. (2008). The Sociology of Religion: A Substantive and Transdisciplinary Approach. Los Angeles: Pine Forge Press. Print.
“Mark 12:31.” The Holy Bible, King James Version. Cambridge Edition: 1769. The Official King James Bible Online, 2014. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org
McClory, Robert. (September 16, 2013). “Pope Francis and Women’s Ordination.” National Catholic Report. Retrieved February 28, 2015, from http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/pope-francis-and-womens-ordination
Sorkin Aaron. “The Midterms.” From The West Wing: The Complete Second Season. Warner Bros. Television. 2001. DVD. (also, retrieved February 21, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1-ip47WYWc)