To be honest, it’s become something of a pet peeve to hear or read things like “I love Jesus but hate religion.” I understand why people say it and agree they have some legitimate complaints about the bad history of “organized religion.” Even so, I think that we can still love religion, including other religions.
When people say they hate religion they’re usually talking about the abuses of religion, the hypocrisy of religious people and misguided social definitions of how a ‘religious person’ should look or act. Like this guy’s rap, “What if I told you Republican doesn’t mean Christian…The problem with religion is it never gets to the core, its behavior modulation like a long list of chores…” What if I told him he doesn’t understand the definition of “religion”? Whether he likes it or not, this guy is religious.
Religion is how we know ourselves and our world in light of the presence of divinity or a higher power. It is the grand narrative we return to again and again for wisdom, guidance, comfort and knowledge. This definition includes all the world’s religions including atheistic religions. Science itself, when taken religiously, is also included. Therefore, religion speaks into the core of our being and about the core of reality. True religion, genuinely shapes our hearts and our lives.
Yann Martel illustrates this well in Life of Pi. One of the reasons I love that book so much is because it is a celebration of religion. Pi Patel is a devote Hindu, Muslim and Christian. It’s perfect that his first religion is Hinduism because it is a beautifully complex and paradoxical religion that is at once polytheistic, monotheistic and pantheistic. Therefore, it makes sense that he can reconcile devotedly following two other religions as well.
He follows each religion for a different reason. Hinduism is home for him, it is the smell and feel and essence of his home country. Islam is compelling fraternal and devote. Christianity…he just couldn’t shake it. Jesus on the cross for Love both confounds him and captures him. Each of these religions shapes Pi: he is a man comfortable with paradox, devote and brotherly, attune to suffering and loving.
I appreciate how Pi brings out some of the beauty at the core of these religions, and most of all, how he illustrates that all of these religions are not defined by violence, bigotry and hypocrisy.
Most of the awful events in history wrapped up in religion are examples of bad religion and the result of greater tensions already at work and unreligious motives masked by false piety. It’s so easy to fixate on these terrible examples, because they are often so large and so loud, but they aren’t the only examples. The Catholic Church may have opulent Cathedrals, but they also have humble monasteries. There were churches who sided with the Nazis, and there were Christians smuggling Jews to safety across Europe and if caught suffering alongside them. This list can keep going on.
Pure and genuine religion is marked most often by humility. It acts powerfully but often quietly. This is why you have to search harder for good religion.
Not all religions are the same, not everything at the core of every religion is beautiful, or healthy, or good. Feel free to critique these things at the heart of a specific religion, I certainly do. But let’s stop throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s allow ourselves to love religion when it is true, when it is noble, when it is right, when it is pure. Let us look for the moments when religion leads to excellent and praiseworthy moments and actions and lives. Because religion, when true, has much more good to offer than bad.