More Religion, Please, Not Less (#319)

“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” – Jonathan Swift

A common contention of many non-religious people is that we have too much religion in the world; that if people were less religious we’d have fewer wars between peoples and nations; that religion is a prime motivating factor in inter-tribal and regional conflicts. On the surface, this seems to make sense. After all, people who give affinity to a religion and then engage in barbarity in its name, appear to prove such contentions. But appearances are often deceiving. Just because people give allegiance to a religion doesn’t mean they’re faithful practitioners of that religion. Riffing on the Jonathan Swift quote above, these people have cherry-picked the part of their religion that justifies what they want to do. They’ve accepted just enough religion to justify their behavior, but not enough to be faithful to the whole of their religion. In other words, they have enough religion to justify hatred, but not enough religion to practice love.

Fundamentalists from every religious tradition ought to be the ones that take the whole enchilada and not just the tortilla of religion, but experience shows they’re the least likely to do so. Mohamed Atta, Eric Rudolph, Yigal Amir all used their religion to justify their actions. But these men were dabblers on the fringe of their respective religious traditions. Their politics and worldview were what informed the part of their religious tradition they used to support their actions. Their approach should’ve been the other way around. If they had delved deeply into the tradition and practices of their respective religions, then they would’ve been appalled by their actions.

Not enough religion produces not only terrorists, but also successful politicians. The 2016 U.S. election proved candidates only need to show their religion publicly in a limited way, but they don’t need to take it seriously. After all, most Christians voted for the “Two Corinthians” guy who publicly declared that his ghost-written book was second only to the Bible on the all-time list of great books. The Pew Research Center discovered from post-election polling that Christians who voted for him didn’t truly believe he was at all honest or serious about his religious convictions. That, however, didn’t seem to perplex these voters. It was enough that he kept up the appearance that religion in some way mattered to him. We’re very good at suspending disbelief.

We don’t need people to “cafeteria-ize” their religion to suit their already-held hateful convictions or to use just enough religion to get elected to public office. Rather, we need people to go more deeply into their religion and its practices. In other words, we need us all to drill one 90-foot-deep well rather than numerous nine-foot-shallow wells. As an old rabbi friend of mine from North Carolina once told me: “Scott, we Jews will never again be afraid of Christian violence against us if y’all do just one thing – take Jesus very seriously and do everything he says. If y’all do that, then we’ll be just fine.”

What we need now is more religion, not less, in this world.



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