By far, I would argue that organized religion has posted the biggest problems for God. Paradoxically, the very institutions that have grown to recognize God have done the most harm. A quick look through history will highlight many problems that the Christian Church has perpetrated in the name of our Holy Father:
- The Crusades
- The repeated persecution of the Jews throughout history
- The European Conquest of North America
- The Inquisition
- The 17th Century Wars of Religion
- The extreme prejudice that has faced scientific advancement: Galileo’s persecution comes to mind, as do numerous other barriers to scientific inquiry during the Enlightenment
- Silence by some in the church (many criticize the Catholic Church for not speaking out during WW II) in the face of such evils as slavery and the Nazi “final solution”
- Several types of abuse (sexual, physical) by Catholic Priests & the subsequent cover-ups to protect the priests
- Assassination of abortion doctors by fundamentalist Christians
- George W Bush’s “crusade” in the war on terror
I could go on, but you get the point. And this is only some of the problems that the Christian Church has contributed. Islam introduces a whole host of additional problems, most notably questionable human rights practices like intolerant laws (Sharia Laws that include stoning and cutting off of limbs), inequality of women and children and the quite visible violent fundamentalist actions of Muslim extremists.
For the record, I do not in any way support any of these actions in any way. In fact, I have subscribed to a Christian denomination (Mennonite) that is pacifist. Mennonites strongly identify with the peace teachings of Christ, and Mennonites hold that Jesus’ pacifist message requires that we turn the other cheek and that we avoid violence at all costs. For a more complete overview of my views on this subject, check out my four part series entitled, “What Are We Fighting For?”
Where does this leave us then? Organized religion has, and continues to, contribute to many of the problems facing the world today. And, it’s easy to argue that almost every war has been at least indirectly caused by religious belief. Does this mean we should get rid of organized religion then? That would be like saying that politics has led to plenty of civil strife so we should get rid of politicians. Or use economics: economics has led to the financial persecution of some poorer countries, most notably in Africa. Does that mean we should do away with economists or economic ideas as well? I’d argue no. Look around us. Organized religion can do a lot of good as well. Numerous religious organizations provide a great deal of good throughout the world. Organizations like Mennonite Central Committee, The Salvation Army, World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse all contribute a great deal to those in need. These and many others work toward peace and healing to people that nobody else feels the need to reach.
This isn’t to diminish the hard and effective work of the numerous secular charities that exist. My point here is to show that religious charities do contribute a great deal to helping those in need. This strongly contrasts the numerous problems that I mentioned in my opening paragraphs.
And further, the Christian Church has been, throughout most of recorded history, the main protector of much of the rich cultural heritage that we in the west have enjoyed. The artwork of Michelangelo, the writing of The Bible (arguably the greatest literary achievement ever) and the storage and preservation of almost two thousand years of history has been done by the Church. The Church financed the exploration and discovery of the New World (North America – for good and for bad). The Church supported the abolition of slavery. And the Church has stood up vigorously for human rights throughout the world.
But my point here isn’t to keep score on both sides of the organized religion debate. The pros and cons could go on and on all day. Instead, let’s talk about the “sociology” of religion.
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