I enjoy religion. I also enjoy theatre and film and travel and sunbathing. I like wine and cheese and bubble baths and naps. I like late night cable television re-runs. I like a lot of things.
However, I believe there is a very real need to form community, encourage compassion and generosity, creatively engage in ritual, and mark the momentous occasions of life (birth, marriage, maturity, etc.). For me, many of these needs are met by religion. And so it is that I remain religious.
Social staple that religion is, it is all the same humanly constructed. I know there are myths about a god directly revealing religious truth to one prophet or another and that prophet's record of the encounter is understood to be the unaltered message of the god. This makes good literature, but I don't for minute believe that a Supreme Being delivered the Book of Mormon, dictated the Qu'ran, or became uniquely incarnated in a person named Jesus. I don't believe belonging to one religion makes one a better person or that not belonging to a particular religion damns one to an eternity of torment.
The bible that I love is a creative collection of human thoughts. It tries to find meaning in life, especially when life is difficult; and it tries to offer hope (especially when life is difficult). It is influenced by the cultures and languages that produced it and it often contradicts itself and makes claims that no rational person could take to heart in the 21st century. And yet, I love the sacred literature that I call the bible and reading it critically helps to activate my own imagination in ways that enrich and empower my life. So, the bible remains a sacred book for me even though I am fully aware that every word in it is of human origin.
I'm hoping that more people come to see their religion as a choice they are free to make. Such freedom will require a great deal of self-discipline on the part of the religious person. I mean, church building is easier when you can promise that your church has all the answers or that the other religious tradition is satanic or that people who don't hold your preconceived opinions are on a slow boat to Fire and Brimstone Island.
But I'm hoping for a world where people who choose to be religious do so because religion brings them joy. The pageantry, the relationships, the ritual, the arts, the affirmation of human potential are so attractive that people commit to a church (or synagogue or ethical society or coven or sangha or whatever) and support that progressive and life-affirming organization for the same reasons they support public radio, Amnesty International, the local humane society, cancer research and other causes that make the world a potentially better place. Religion not as a weapon to condemn the "other" nor as a guarantee of privilege but rather as one of many opportunities to spread hope and goodwill in the world: that is what I hope to see.
Others will no do doubt reject religion, and when I see the homophobia, misogyny, racism, war, child abuse and other desperately immoral acts that have been perpetuated in the name of (and often by the leaders of) religion, I can hardly fault them. But for the rest of us, I am hoping that we continue to work to redeem religion so that it is no longer used to divide, injure, control, manipulate, and terrorize people but rather to free them to think critically, love extravagantly, and express themselves creatively.
I believe that healthy religion is possible (though it has so seldom been tried). And so I will continue in 2007 to encourage thinking, open, inclusive religion. This will mean that fewer people worship violence (disguised as crucifixion or holy war, etc.) and that fewer people will choose to argue what to call "god" (or even to argue about IF there is a god). Instead, people will simply assume that life is sacred enough and every person has sacred potential that can be expressed without fear of damnation and without pretending to have certainty about a life beyond this one. Healthy religion will gather people together for the joy of gathering and will seek to export joy rather than fear, liberty of conscience rather that blind conformity, and real hope for the present rather than an apocalyptic fear of the future.
I dare to hope these new ideas can become common ideas as the 21st century progresses. I am committed for at least one more year to expressing these ideas so that others may consider them and possibly adopt them.