I have always been tolerant of religions. I think good comes out of them as well as bad. Besides, the religious impulse is a part of human psychology and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Live and let live, I say.
At least, I used to. My thoughts may be changing. I was at a young cousin’s memorial this month. The family was gathered in small groups, talking and reaching out to one another. A sad and dignified affair it was until a Catholic priest rose from the assembly to perform the requisite rites. He spoke of a loving God and of eternal life, as if we’d somehow forget that we were burying a 28-year old.
I was incensed. “How dare he stand there and spout such nonsense,” I said to a friend. “These people are grieving, for God’s sake.”
The poor girl had it bad. It’s an insult to her memory to suggest that she’d left sorrow behind; that the misery of her life didn’t matter any more. If I were looking down from her heavenly height, I’m pretty sure I’d feel ripped off. I’d want someone speaking up for me.
With automated incantations pouring from his mouth, the dreary little man in black painted his fable in sunny colors; he made preposterous promises; he made little eye-contact with his congregation, lifting his gaze from the missal only to stare into space at the abstractions he believes in. He knows as well as you and I that life’s as fragile as mist, but that takes second place to higher knowledge, which he finds reassuring.
He’s hooked on it, too committed to admit that knowledge is just as fragile as life. It would terrify him, which is why he’s a terrible role model.
Grief is hard, not bad. Anyone who encourages you to escape it at this most crucial time is simply irresponsible. As a matter of public mental health we need to speak honestly and openly with one another, without recourse to childish metaphors, without tolerating denial. The human race has never been more informed, or more exposed to the world. We’re all growing up. If we’re to move intelligently into the future, our religious leaders need to join the rest of us.
In memoriam: Chloe Ann Haboush
10 thoughts on “The Future of Religion”
Thanks Stephen. The last time I was in a Christian church was for my stepmother’s funeral. I remember listening to the sermon and wondering whether anybody could truly find any consolation in that pack of obvious mythology. Especially when one is grieving, the idea that life has been a set-up by an invisible, mute deity must seem either preposterous or inconceivably cruel.
But I have changed my thinking about religion. Despite it’s often-exploited potential for abuse, it seems to me that religious practices are a kind of technology of the imagination, useful for self-regulation, for grappling with the fact that our experience always exceeds our capacity for perception and understanding, and for cultivating our potential for kindness, compassion and love. These practices were developed and maintained because they address real human needs. Those needs haven’t gone away, and if we can agree that the efficacy of religious practice never really depended on actual supernatural beings, then we can look to those practices to understand how to engage the imagination to meet those needs once again.
Mark: I agree. Dismissing religion because it’s illogical is itself illogical. History, sociology, psychology and anthropology have shown its weight in human affairs. Deny your own religious impulse and it pops up in some other guise—the need for a way, a side or an explanation, logical or not.
When my father passed away, my born again christian sister, along with her new born again husband, blatantly attempted to leverage every possible opportunity to their financial advantage, using passages of the bible to justify their outrageous behaviour. I was speechless … It was a complicated succession, further complicated by their constant strategic interference … all premised on their religious and legal rights. Extremely disturbing discourse, which truly interfered with our mourning of the loss of our father, and shifting the focus away from his last wishes and desired distribution of assets … The funny thing being, that their religious beliefs never came to the forefront in any other contexts or discussions … I believe that religion may be used as a superficial substitute for real therapy or true reflection on one’s behaviour and values … and can truly distract, if not entirely hijack, opportunities unfolding in the process of such significant events, which normally draw families closer together in solidarity. Such dissonant discourse truly stands out by it’s divisive intent and adds insult to injury in such contexts … and one can only wonder how such teachings or interpretations can lead to the loss of basic humanity … entirely oblivious to the context and opportunity life offers in these moments of loss and change. It is very easy to use religion as a crutch, vindication, moral authority … to serve entirely inappropriate agendas … which rob us of any true presence in the business at hand. The forest for the trees as it were. Most religions cause more problems than they solve … which has absolutely nothing to do with the content of their teachings …
I agree Pierre. Systems that supposedly tell us how we should be tell their adherents to adjust reality to their needs, rather than their needs to reality. The result is hypocrisy.
It is too bad that this priest attempted to apply cold theological blather in such difficult time of grief. I myself also grew up Catholic and remember similar types of situations. There were some priests, however, who on occasion were authentic healers and could take the crucible of grief – or love, joy, longing, or what have you – and help mold it into something noble, something you could come to grips with, something to help you bear what seems unbearable or ineffable. Mark Knickelbine’s mention of the “technology of imagination” is an intriguing way to look at it. And I have to admit, now that I lead a secular and “rationally enlightened” life, I long for these ennobling religious experiences from time to time. Though I don’t have any deep desire to return to Catholicism.
Hi Brendan: I think everybody sooner or later struggles too with those feelings. We don’t actually have to explain or act on them to be ennobled; just know they’re there.
i was raised a Catholic, much later in life through the practice of T M i came to the conclusion that organized religion is like painting by the numbers and to have a spiritual experience is utilizing the higher levels of the mind
What can I add here of relevance? Not much any Catholic student wouldn’t already know. I was raised Catholic. In fact, I attended a convent for a number of years. I was the classic iconoclast,
constantly challenging everything taught, and thus, constantly being made to either scrub the marble foyer or pray until my knees were terribly calloused and sore (no padded kneelers back then!). There was nothing nice or kind about my “teachers”. They were bitter women, resentful of both their station in life and the lack of joy that followed. Talk about negative energy. The only exception to this was one Sister Theresa, who actually smiled on occasion, and yet her peers treated her as if she had dementia (she did not). She was as close to a human being with a heart that existed in that house or horrors. I have few if any, pleasant memories of this period in my life, except tying sheets together to crawl out of a fifth-floor window and then sneaking out to the monastery where the boys were. Now there was a little fun, thank goodness! What did I learn? Nada. They even glossed over the entire Greek history which later in a first year humanities class, made me look like an idiot when I humbly suggested there appeared to be homosexual relationships 🙂 They taught wth guilt, led with guilt, modelled guilt and never answered any of the real questions, like wouldn’t sex between Adam and Eve have been incestual? And their children as well? And why did I never feel better after praying, or doing the stations of the cross? The whole thing was morbid, sick…. and truly frightening, Imagining hell and damnation at a tender age does little to benefit a budding psyche. And a Catholic funeral doesn’t celebrate life – there is nothing positive about robbing anyone in their twenties of their right to three scores and ten.
I am a Hindu by birth. We don’t have rights to choose religion. We grow up with this but following religion is one’s choice. But after learning quite a little about every religion, I found Hinduism quite a bit flexible (may be because i haven’t seen hardcore religious people). There are millions of Gods in hindu depending upon the what kind of person you are. If you are too much into weed and all, there is Shivaji whom you follow. If you are vegetarian then there is Bishnu, if you are a non-veg, goddess Durga is there. Life is beautiful being a Hindu but when it comes about funeral, it is much cruel. You have to go through so many rituals and all. Then I think it is tough being a Hindu in the end.
Being a Buddhist is also not so bad. However, Buddhism is not a religion but a philosophy.
Buddham Sharanam Gachchhami