I did the interview on Voice of Islam today. Basically, we were discussing how we explain that religion is not toxic. Unfortunately, time ran out and I wasn’t able to explain how I view this topic fully.
I have been listening to a lot of atheists on Youtube
lately. My heart often breaks. I cannot deny their experience at the hands of Christians. I cannot deny that there are Christians out there who rigidly
and blindly deny the facts of science. As much as I can't deny all of this, I also want to say - but we are so much more than what you perceive. We are not all as bad as what you have seen. There is depth and beauty to us as well.
First I am going to deal with what I think about religion being toxic. Religion at times has been used in a toxic manner by humans. As stated in my Facebook post about doing the interview. I live on Treaty Six lands. The church, of which I am a part, has done great damage on all levels – physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual etc. to the First Nations people. But that is not who God is. God is love.
In the late 1990's our then Primate - Michael Peers - apologized for our role in the residential schools. The Anglican Church took part in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A few years ago, the then Primate - Fred Hiltz - apologized for the spiritual harm we did to the First Nations of Canada. It is but a beginning. We have a long way to go yet, but being able to face and acknowledge the harm we did and our brokenness in doing so is a start.
I have long been an ally for LGBTQ… The Church has done great harm to these people as well. But, again, that is not who God is nor is it what God calls us to be. We, in our flawed humanness have got it wrong.
I have thought about this ever since I was asked to do the interview. How has this come about. God is a god of love for all God has created. How have individuals who worship God been so full of hatred and harm?
One of my father’s favourite verses is Micah 6:8 –
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?” NRSV
I do think humans believe that they are doing all these things. But there is at least one glaring flaw that prevents us from actually accomplishing them – “walking humbly with God.” We have placed ourselves equal with God. We have created God in our own image rather than learning to live into the fact that we are created in God’s image. We reject God’s image and instead create a God that reflects our own wants, values, desires. This God, who looks at all that God has made – which is everything – and sees it as good, is not to our liking. We cannot accept that God might well have created and loved that which makes us uncomfortable, that which does not conform to exactly how we are – monochromatic. As a result, in the sin of pride in our own sense of righteousness, our own characteristics etc. we have decided that God must be like us – hating part of God’s creation, seeing it as not good and therefore to be chastised, judged, and cast aside.
Through this sin of pride, we have continued to sin against God and against neighbour relatively unchecked, refusing to see how destructive this is to God’s creation. We need to acknowledge this before we can move into the beauty of religion. We cannot deny the harm we have done by pretending that religion has not been used in toxic ways.
The atheists and others of other religions are right to call us out. We cannot discount their experiences and perceptions. We need to take an objective look at them. We need to understand how they see us and why. Some – not all – of it is valid. Although not all of it is practised by my own Church - the Anglican Church of Canada - I cannot deny the fact that we have definitely contributed to some of it. We are not blameless. So often I want to respond to the atheists to whom I listen that they have it wrong. That what they are saying is not the Church I know. But I do know that there are aspects of Christianity, including in my own denomination, that do reflect what they are saying. We need to stop the very human reaction of automatically denying this and say – yes, we have failed on a number of levels.
That being said – I will not compromise on my faith. As ridiculous or as far fetched as some would see my faith – to me it is very real. My faith may not be based on objective fact but it is based on very real experience. It is my experience of many aspects of the Divine that keeps me moving forward, that keeps me trying to do better, that gives me an image to grow into to become more wholly myself as a part of this beautiful wonderful cosmos God has created.
All this being said – I want to spend some time on the beauty I have experienced in my faith. I have experienced great harm from individuals in Christianity. However, I recognize that these people are like me. They are struggling to make sense of a chaotic world. They are struggling with the sin of pride that would have everyone be like them – just as I struggle with this sin. Like me, they are broken people who are truly trying to live into their full potential. Like me they are afraid.
I have seen the good in these people. I have seen that their interactions with me do not fully define them. I have seen them reach out to others with care and concern. I have seen them give of themselves as much as they can. I have seen them strive for justice. Just because they got it wrong with me does not mean that they got it wrong completely. So many times, in other instances, they have got it so right. For these instances of kindness and compassion to others, I give them thanks for inspiring me to do likewise.
I have also seen the good in people that has been reflected in their treatment of me. Nowhere I have experienced this more fully than in Wainwright and Edgerton. I say these two places as they are they ones who received a very broken priest and were instrumental in healing her as much as she could be healed. It is not just the response and care they gave to me. It is the countless times I saw them reach out to others with love and care – others who were not like them. Others whose lives experiences were so far from what they experienced. Time and again I saw them giving of themselves in so many ways to consciously work to bring in the Kin-dom. They inspired me and helped me grow – the task of a Christian community to its members. Were they perfect – not always. Were they beautiful souls striving to live into the image of the One who created them – you bet. It is these people who have helped me keep my faith both in God and in humanity. It is these people who give me hope that the Kin-dom is possible. It is these people, I wish the atheists and others could see as an example of the possibility for good that is present in all religions. These people and others who I have been blessed to have in my life.