by Stan Bennett

by Stan Bennett

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hatred in the Name of Religion


“A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:31-32).
 
It’s from the parable of the Good Samaritan, where the hated guy was the one who actually rendered aide to the injured man. 

Presumably, the two religious guys passed by the man because they were much too holy to defile themselves by touching someone who might be dead—they’d have been ceremonially unclean and then who would take care of the temple duties for the week?

I didn’t see it coming but I nearly lost control of my emotions this morning during the sermon. I started out with my typical wit and charm :). But then I asked the question, “Can our religion lead us to hurt people?

I answered that even now wars are being fueled by religion, but that’s a little too big for me to wrap my head around. So I said I could pick one of several groups of people that are the target of religious hostility but if I brought them up specifically, the tension would rise in this room, and if I got specific enough, someone could easily get mad and skulk out of the room.

So I picked an issue from a previous generation: divorce. It’s a painful thing with tears and heartache.  In the 1970s the divorce rate began to climb and churches responded by excommunicating anyone who got a divorce. Neither would they let divorced people join. They were all permanently barred. Religious people felt free to gossip about and judge them from a position of righteous superiority.  It was all quite shameful. 

But by the 1980s, most mainline churches realized they needed to change their perspective. However, the diehards continued to rail against the “evil divorcees.” In a church I attended, the leadership decided they were being too lenient, so they brought in a guest speaker to address the subject and set everyone straight. The guy was sort of a holy hit man.

He used the handful of passages in the Bible that address divorce to beat that congregation just as harshly as if he were hitting them with a club. By the time he was done, some people were sobbing as they fled the building.

“If you turn on the TVs on Sunday mornings,” I said to the people, “or look at sermons on the internet, you can see preachers speak hatefully about persons, ridiculing them, stating they are evil and they deserve to go to hell and so would anyone who is nice to them.”

This is where my emotions got away from me and I actually shouted (which I never do).

“And they will say these things in the name of the rabbi who told this story.  I’m standing here as the person assigned to be your pastor, and I’m telling you that IT IS WRONG!

And I was done. I stepped to the back so I could quit crying before we went to the next thing in the service. 

I have said before that when I leave the ministry and the church, I don’t want to be enemies. I’d just like to get away from them. But there is a pathology in churches, where religion fuels hatred and encourages respectable people to be mean and cruel, and then somehow feel justified for doing so.   

I know a lot of people who have left church and are quite angry about the brainwashing they received, and I often watch them swing wildly with their criticism and rage to retaliate.  Believe me I understand. 

I don’t want to fight organized religion. I don’t want to expose a lot of scandals. I don’t want to be engaged in heated debates with people who are too crazy to know when they’ve lost.  However, I would like to be a healing agent for those who have been wounded.  And if a cadre of crazy religious bullies decided I was their enemy and want to pick a fight… well, okay. If that’s what they want….


14 comments:

  1. I often wondered about the Good Samaritan parable. From what I researched, it would have been against the Law of Moses for the Priest or Levite to go near the injured man, for fear that he may have been dead. He was passing on the other side, not because he thought himself "too good" for this guy, but so that he would not become unclean. I can only assume that this priest did what he thought was pleasing to God.

    But therein lies the confusion. Jesus was not abiding by the law, the one he said not one jot or tittle would be done away with. Ugh. So much confusion.

    I saw your article on Clergy Project this morning. I'll be following your blog.

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    1. As I reviewed for the sermon, I read that it would have been acceptable for the priest and the Levite to render aid--everyone understood these things. Yes, they would have been made ceremonially unclean, but that meant they would be required to undergo ritual cleansing, which was maybe inconvenient but certainly worth saving a man's life. Actually, Jesus left us to speculate on the motivation of these two, probably on purpose, so we would think and discuss it.

      Thanks for the comment :).

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  2. Like Alice, I saw your interview on the Reasonable Doubts blog today. Just read through all your posts. Glad you're posting again after months of silence. Please keep posting.

    I turned apostate about 2.5 years ago after 40 years of believing. It was extremely painful at the time and it continues to cause me problems with friends and family. And I wasn't even a pastor. Hang in there. I'm rooting for you.

    Chip (not my real name)

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    1. Hi Chip. Thanks for the encouragement. I know some of the pain your talking about, and some of it I am still anticipating. I hope whatever problems you still experience will fade for you. It shouldn't be so hard to say what you really think, but that's where some of the pathology of religion gets its power.

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  3. I'm an active liberal minister and in my book you were simply preaching a prophetically impassioned and CORRECT interpretation of the Good Samaritan parable -- are you in a conservative church where that would not have been well received?

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    1. My denomination is liberal but my community is conservative. Intellectually my church would have no problem with what I was saying until I brought up LGBT people, or Muslim, or democrats.... I grew up quite conservative and at the time, all of the crap I've seen done in the name of religion came in on me.

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  4. Me too--I found you through Reasonable Doubts. I was never a pastor, but I was a lay person in the ELCA who was seen as a Christian to aspire to be like. As I came to see how nuts it all was, I experienced so many of the same thoughts and feelings that you have shared. I finally "Let it Go!" less than a year ago but only my husband and adult children know. The rest of my family would stage an intervention or put me in an asylum if they knew. Thank you for sharing your story. I'm sorry this has to be so hard for you and others like us. Please don't let yourself get too down. It will get better when this awful secret is out and you can live true to yourself. [I just had the impulse to say "God bless." It's really hard to get rid of some of that stuff!] I will be following your blog. Peace.

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    1. Lol! It's hard to let go of the language, isn't it. I hope it does get easier for me, and for you, too. You may no longer be a Christian to aspire to be like but I imagine you are still a person to aspire to be like.

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  5. I also come to you by way of Reasonable Doubts and have read through all your posts. I'm so sorry that you're going through this and I hope you can find a way out. I was raised Catholic and it always interests me to read about people who have lost their faith, because I never had it. The Biblical stories never rang true for me and it took into my thirties before finally stopped trying to force myself to believe. I even worked for a women's religious center for over a decade as a last ditch effort but it got to the point of where I could no longer say prayers and sing hymns to worship a being that I don't believe exists. I admire how you are managing to preach in a way that is consistent with who you are now, it's a delicate balancing act but it sounds like you are being as true to yourself as you can be. I hope that you can oon be truly free but real life does have to be dealt with, especially with a family to support.

    I have, at least for now and I'm hoping that it will stay that way, found a home with the Unitarian Universalists. I don't know if it's something that you have considered or if it would be right for you, but no belief in any god is required and I know there are UU ministers who are atheist. I find that most of the hymns are secular and there are no prayers. UU draws from a number of resources, including religious ones, and I find the discussions fascinating, even though I don't believe. If I did believe in a god, it would be one of peace where all are saved but until I have proof I consider myself an agnostic atheist. In a sense, we're all agnostics because no one knows for sure. The difference is that we also don't believe. I wish you the best of luck, you'll be in my thoughts.

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    1. Thank you for the encouragement. Yes, I have considered switching over to UU. But I think I am sick to death of church, and I'm pretty sure the dynamics of church relationships are the same there as others, no matter what religious views are expressed. I'm not criticizing the UU people, I'm just saying I would very much like to stay home and be quiet on Sunday mornings.

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  6. just visiting from rational doubt.

    re: good samaritan, an interesting psychology study about seminary students related to that:
    http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2011/06/from-jerusalem-to-jericho-on-hurry.html

    i think you might like the rest of his blog too. while i'm agnostic, and have been for several decades, he's one of a very small number religious people i read regularly. i found his expression of doubt as: "From a faith perspective I'm in a post-Katrina situation." to be quite interesting:
    http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2010/09/shipwrecked-and-catchers.html

    lastly, his series on why, after many years of not praying because he didn't think it did any good, he now prays because it changes himself:
    http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2010/01/why-i-pray-part-1-my-story.html

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    1. Hi sgl.
      I'll take a look at the blog you're referring to. In regard to his idea of prayer changing him, he has come to a place that C.S. Lewis described in the same way: "I do not pray to change God. Prayer changes me." I think that's from "A Grief Observed."

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  7. Replies
    1. Thank you brothers and sisters. And now if you'll take out your checkbooks and bow for the blessing for the offering...

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