Monday, September 25, 2006

Christian Tolerance

Oh the marriage of your spirits here has caused Him to remain
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
There is Love, there is Love.

Okay, I admit that I have somewhat mawkish tastes, but when I was a kid, I loved the song "There Is Love." Unfortunately, though, I didn't know all the lyrics, and tended to fill in the blanks with words of my own:

"Oh the crushing of your enemies and their screams of pain,
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in his name...
There is blood...there is blood."

Yes, I was a man ahead of his absurdist, Catholic proto-goth in Fairfax county, Virginia, circa 1980. Good times...

Still, as much as I made fun of the song, I really liked the tune and the lyrics, and they made sense to me. Christianity was about pure, uncomplicated, and selfless love. In fact, as I grew older, I came to realize that most religions advocated the same concepts of charity and kindness. This, of course, made sense--regardless of the words God used, or the language of His followers, it was reasonable to believe that the message would remain the same. At least, this was what I thought when I was ten or so.

Lately, though, it has started to seem like my parody might have hit pretty close to the truth. Newsweek ran an article last week in which it explored contemporary atheism. The author, Jerry Adler, started by discussing the work of Sam Harris, an atheist, Adler wrote: "If, he reasoned, young men were slaughtering people in the name of religion--something that had been going on since long before 2001, of course--then perhaps the problem was religion itself."

That line made me think about religion, history, and society. Admittedly, the link between religion and violence shouldn't have surprised me too much--I've spent a lot of time reading about the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the violent conversions of the native Americans, etc. Still, I thought that Christianity had grown out of its forced-acceptance phase somewhere around the early 1700s. However, given Bush's religion-based rhetoric regarding America's conflicts in the Middle East, perhaps I was a little optimistic.

I, like most Catholics I know, am lapsed. In my case, this means that I tend to avoid spending time in Catholic Churches, and sometimes joke about the holy water smoking when I touch it to my forehead. Still, I consider myself Catholic, in the same way that I consider myself a smoker--I haven't lit up in a long time, but it's still in my system, and probably always will be.

Perhaps I'm a "recovering Catholic." Do you think they make a patch?

A big part of my current rift with the Catholic church lies in its lack of mercy, understanding, and love toward a wide variety of groups. The Church's attitude toward gays, Muslims, Jews, Democrats, and other outsiders just doesn't seem that "Christian" to me. I focus on Catholicism, because that's the religion of my youth, but the Church of Rome isn't the only culprit in our little worldwide Crusade/Jihad. I've seen this sort of violent, shortsighted, hypocritical idiocy it in pretty much every religion. This idea--that everyone outside of our little religious circles is hellbound--seems to go against the entire purpose of religion. Most of the creeds that I've studied preach tolerance, love, and charity, at least on paper.

So perhaps the problem is religion, as Harris suggests. Maybe it's because, just as Coke needs Pepsi and McDonalds needs Burger King, religions need each other to define their messages. Or maybe it's because fear feeds patriotism (not to mention boosting the weekly collections). Maybe something happens when worship becomes a business and churches become a franchise. Or maybe God just doesn't belong indoors. Regardless, I'd like to find a church that doesn't feel obliged to seek the destruction of every other faith. That just doesn't seem very Christian.

Who am I kidding? Even if I found the perfect religion, I'd still be a lapsed Catholic--addictions are hard to break.


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