Losing My Religion

I don’t like to rant, but I’ve got to get this out because it is stuck going around and around in my head. I’ve got to get it out in order to let it go.

It’s been a rough spell for religion. Was it watching Donald Trump’s spiritual advisor praying and speaking in tongues to get him re-elected, was it hearing that Pope John Paul II (who was canonized a saint) promoted Theodore McCarrick to Cardinal in the Catholic Church despite confirmed reports of sex abuse, was it the beheading of a teacher walking home from his job on the streets of France, was it Mike Pence congratulating Customs and Border Protection workers for their compassion despite the appalling conditions in immigrant detention facilities he was touring? Or is it all the people professing to be Christians, who won’t show concern and consideration for others by wearing a mask during a pandemic? Over 250,000 Americans are dead, and you can’t convince people who call themselves Christians to protect their neighbors’ lives and livelihood. How many of those deaths could have been prevented, and how is that disregard justified by religion?

Is religion a force for good in the world? These things tell is it is not…

“Holy wars. Inquisitions. Animal sacrifice. Human sacrifice. Superstition. Stultification. Dogmatism. Ignorance. Hypocrisy. Self-righteousness. Rigidity. Cruelty. Book-burning. Witch-burning. Inhibition. Fear. Conformity. Morbid guilt. Insanity. The list is almost endless.”       –M. Scott Peck, M.D., The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth

Some churches shield pedophiles, rapists, and racists. Some religions force young girls into sex, marriage, and childbearing against their will. Some churches are fleecing the flock, i.e. taking money from people who can’t afford it, not to do charity work, but to allow ministers to live like royalty. White supremacists burn crosses onto lawns to terrorize. Other things I find problematic – homophobia, black-and-white thinking devoid of any nuance, the unwillingness to move forward with an evolution in consciousness, the denial of science, and the hierarchy of most churches (where someone – usually an old, white man – is closest to God, speaks for God, is the infallible word of God, or is God on Earth).

I will have my own direct experience and relationship with whatever I choose to call God. I won’t rely upon any church to be my moral compass. Why would I, when religion has been the justification for violence and oppression throughout history? The United States was founded on the genocide of Native Americans and slavery, justified in part by Christianity. (1) (2) Religious violence continues to this day – confirmed by millions of Syrian refugees, the victims of a sectarian conflict with religious groups opposing each other. (3) The dictionary defines sectarianism as a form of prejudice, discrimination, or hatred arising from attaching inferiority and superiority to differences between subdivisions within a group, in this case a religious group. There are plenty more current day examples.

There are things I like about religion. I appreciate the ritual. I appreciate faith in something bigger than oneself. I appreciate the beauty of the monuments built to religion. I appreciate a community of people who help and support each other through life’s challenges. I love singing, chanting, and divinely inspired music. I respect churches that take the lead on social justice and equal rights issues, and work diligently to do good works in their community.

I deeply appreciate the spiritual experience of an electrifying energy coursing through my body – that feeling of intense love and profound understanding filling me up and pushing out everything else. Love. Oneness. Harmony. Perfection. I wish I could connect to that feeling more. I never experience that feeling in church, although the music often opens my heart, and I had good experiences when my daughter was in the children’s choir of one of Portland’s Unitarian Universalist churches. For me, nature is a good place for the spiritual experience, as is the creative process.

For me, spiritual practice is a different thing than adherence to a religious doctrine. My spiritual practice and beliefs help me make sense of a world full of pain and suffering.

I love and respect my friends who practice a diversity of faith traditions. I know they value their church and their religion. I also respect friends that have left religions when they could no longer go along with the doctrine or practices they considered unethical or intolerant.

I have a positive memory of religion as a kid. One of my best friends growing up was Catholic, and Saturday night sleepovers usually ended with me accompanying the family to church on Sunday morning. I had none of the religious instruction, but I did like the vibe – the Latin, the candles, the ritual (now you kneel, now you sit, now you cross yourself, now you pray, etc.). I became familiar with a traditional Latin Catholic mass and it really didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand a word. Maybe it was even better that way because I was left to my own spiritual musings while we sat in the pews. The biggest impact of the experience was seeing my friend’s family function as a unit by getting up and piling into the car and attending church together, then piling back into the car and driving country roads to her grandma’s house for supper. It was a healing balm in a scorched earth childhood, so maybe God was there for me. My parents didn’t trouble themselves to agree or disagree with Catholic doctrine; they were just happy to have me out from underfoot.

Now that I’m an adult, the intolerance in many faiths is hugely problematic for me. I don’t believe there is only one path to God. It is fine with me if you believe in one path, just don’t dictate your beliefs to others, encode them into law, or impose them on me.

I wonder if we will ever get past the narrow mindedness that leads us to believe one particular creation story, and one story of the path to higher consciousness, while categorically dismissing out of hand every other culture’s story as fictional nonsense. The story you believe seems more real and accurate and true to you because it is what you’ve been taught all your life. Every culture around the world asks the question “how did we get here” and every culture has a story to answer that question. Does it make sense that your version is reality, the one true and accurate story, while every other version is fiction? Plenty of people believe every single one of those stories is fantasy and fiction.

If you consider yourself religious, I hope you will step up and call out hypocrisy when you see it. I hope you’ll act with regard for the health and welfare of someone other than yourself and wear a mask during a pandemic. And if your church is fighting for greater tolerance and social justice, carry on, we need your work.

Now that I’ve got that out of my head I can start thinking of baking pies and cooking turkey. In this Season of Thanksgiving, thank you to everyone who is doing all they can to control the spread of Covid-19 and to help people in need right now. If you’re a person of faith, remember, faith without works is lifeless.


(1) Even more fundamentally, indigenous people were just too different: Their skin was dark. Their languages were foreign. And their world views and spiritual beliefs were beyond most white men’s comprehension. … all this stoked racial hatred and paranoia, making it easy to paint indigenous peoples as pagan savages who must be killed in the name of civilization and Christianity. — https://www.history.com/news/native-americans-genocide-united-states

(2) As America commemorates the 400th anniversary of the creation of representative government in what would become the United States, and the first documented recording of captive Africans being brought to its shores, it is also grappling with the ways the country justified slavery. Nowhere is that discussion more fraught than in its churches. “Christianity was proslavery,” said Yolanda Pierce, the dean of the divinity school at Howard University. “So much of early American Christian identity is predicated on a proslavery theology. From the naming of the slave ships, to who sponsored some of these journeys including some churches, to the fact that so much of early American religious rhetoric is deeply intertwined . . . with slaveholding: It is proslavery.” — https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/the-bible-was-used-to-justify-slavery-then-africans-made-it-their-path-to-freedom/2019/04/29/34699e8e-6512-11e9-82ba-fcfeff232e8f_story.html

(3) https://www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/syrian-refugee-crisis-facts

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