I have been critical of evangelical religion. That is what I am surrounded by here in Steinbach. Some of my friends have suggested that I have criticized a straw man—i.e. a religion that is easy to attack and no one subscribes to any longer. I disagree.
In North America it a very large religious sector. That is particularly true in the United States, but in other pockets, like Steinbach, as well. It is also rapidly growing. A lot faster than the many more liberal Christian sects. It is also very influential. Evangelicals were a major source of support for Donald Trump in the 2016 American presidential elections, as odd as that sounds. Evangelicals are by no means a “straw man”.
Because I have been critical I don’t want people to think that I believe everything is bad about religion. Far from it. I don’t want to be a nattering nabob of negativity to quote Spiro Agnew. In fact, I think there is a better way. I refer to it as expansive religion, rather than exclusive religion. It is religion that has jettisoned the old beliefs in invincible superiority of our religion over all others. Instead it sees what is held in common by religions.
Religions are so many and so varied it is very difficult (but not impossible) to find what they have in common. Some religions have dogma; others have none. Some religions believe in an afterlife; others don’t. Some religions have a God; others subsist without one. Some religions have beliefs and those that do have beliefs, they vary widely, if not extravagantly. What then do religions have in common? I think you have to go back to the original meaning of the word “religious” for an answer.
Religion is based on an Indio-Asian word “religio” which basically meant connection or linkage. In other words, religion is what connects us or links us. To what you might ask? I think that what religion tries to link us to is first of all other people, but also other creatures, and even, ultimately, all life itself. What connects us is religious; what severs that connection is blasphemy. That is my fundamental religious belief.
My wife once had a pendant which she wore that said something to the effect that “if religion leads to hate it’s not religion.” I have likely mangled the exact wording. Yet the thought I think is clear and very important. It goes back to that original concept of the word “religion.”
So religion is closely allied to the concept of fellow feeling or empathy. If we have fellow feeling for others, or other creatures, or other life forms, we are acting religiously. If we don’t, we are acting irreligiously. That is because without fellow feeling or empathy we are no longer connecting we are dividing from each other. That is the opposite of religion.
Thus religion is based on fellow feeling. The most important part of religion is the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In fact, it’s interesting that almost all religions endorse that principle as a fundamental principle. I think it is the fundamental principle of religion. All religions! It is what connects us to others. Do unto them, as you would have them do unto you. If you do you are acting religiously; if you don’t you are acting irreligiously.
I am not a religious person in any traditional sense of the word “religious.” However, I feel that the so-called “religious people” have hijacked this word for their own purposes. I want to reclaim the word. I feel that many people have tarnished the word “religion.” They use it to divide people rather than connect people. In my opinion, they are sacrilegious no matter how many pious words they use. In fact, I think it is them that are not religious, not I.
I think these things are important. I resent those who in the name of religion try to disconnect us from others. I resent those who try to claim that religion is a matter of us against them. I particularly resent those that think that religion is a means of saying we’re better than them because our religion is better than their religion. That is the original sin. Worst of all are those who say those who believe like me are going to heaven forever, and those who don’t, are going to hell where they will suffer torment forever. That’s not religion at all. That’s the opposite of religion.
I intend to expand on these thoughts.