What do you know about Harry Truman's religion?
Time to update your re-reading list

Are these the worst religious ideas ever?

As I was hop-scotching around the internet the other day, I found this 2015 column from Salon called, immodestly enough, "The 12 worst ideas religion has unleashed on the world."

Religious-doctrineThe author, Valerie Tarico, comes up with some notions that have challenged humanity for a long time, though naturally she puts her own spin on some of them. One result is that even the idea of an afterlife sounds terrible as she describes it: "an endless repetition of never changing groundhog days (because how could they change if they were perfect)."

At any rate, here's her list, though without all the detail. You can read the detail in the piece to which I've linked you:

Chosen people, heretics, holy war, blasphemy, glorified suffering, genital mutilation, blood sacrifice, hell, karma, eternal life, male ownership of female fertility, bibliolatry (aka book worship).

Well, now that she's offended lots of people of faith -- and no doubt meant to -- let's think about what good can come out of creating such a list.

First, this or any list like it provides an opportunity for followers of any religious tradition to acknowledge that over the centuries things haven't always gone right. Not only has lots of blood been spilled in the name of religion, but lots of people have been hurt in other ways, too -- along with many people receiving extraordinary blessings of joy.

Next, it's helpful from time to time to look at old ideas to see if they still make sense. Some of the ideas the author refers to have deep roots in history and some of those ideas may have made a lot more sense centuries ago than they do now. Honest appraisal of religious doctrines now and then isn't a bad thing, though that need not mean abandoning the essential tenets of any tradition.

A good example: Many branches of the Christian church have abandoned the idea that the Bible condemns what we today understand to be homosexual orientation. My essay on this subject is here. The condemnation of homosexuality that the church had adopted is based on a series of misreadings of scripture. Still, some branches of the faith have held onto the old thinking, and it has damaged the reputation of Christianity among many in our culture.

What would you add and what would you subtract from Tarico's provocative list? I'd certainly add the long history of anti-Judaism found in Christianity. It, too, has been deplorable, and it's not quite dead yet despite some important changes of attitudes among Christian leaders. My essay on the history of Christian anti-Judaism is here. And on the plus side of religion I'd of course make sure to include the idea that we are required to love one another. What else on that side of the ledger would you add?

If you're reading this through Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, comment there. Otherwise you may e-mail me at [email protected] to share your thoughts about Tarico's list.

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As faith communities imagine how they'll change once this pandemic has eased its grip on the world, here's a thoughtful column that might help. It's by Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-convener of the National African American Clergy Network. "The church," she writes, "has a critical role to play in abating the appalling level of human suffering, especially in communities that are underserved. We should be like the good Samaritan, who, despite not knowing the person in need, gave so much to bring about the healing of his neighbor." Surely that's a place to start. What do you think faith communities should do and be in the expected new normal?

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P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about congregations who treat their clergy badly -- now is online here.


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