After three trips to Jerusalem over a 4 week period, the recent selection of Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to become Francis I, and the words of former senator and failed presidential candidate Rick Santorum at CPAC, I reckoned it was time for the annual Digganalysis of religion, faith, and spirituality. These opinions are my own and you are welcome to disagree with them, kind of like religions.
Firstly, my multiple trips to Jerusalem. I don’t care if you are the most devoutly religious person or the biggest atheist, standing at the Mount of Olives and taking in the view of the old city is equal parts breathtaking, inspiring, humbling, and troubling. To be able to see Holy Sepulcher, the Temple Mount consisting of the Golden Dome and Western Wall, as well as the other sites of the Garden of Gethsemane, Al-Aqsa mosque, The Church of Mary Magdalene, Church of the Dormition, and the Hurva Synagogue you quickly realize you in no other place like it in the world. No other place offers such a history lesson of man’s time on earth (visit the Tower of David Museum), the power and inspiration of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as a modern history of the region. On Fridays the hustle and bustle in the markets as Jews prepare for Shabbat and the rush of Muslims to the Temple Mount conduct their Jumu’ah prayer are something to behold as is the dozens of armed police and security forces to ensure there is no trouble. Yes the power of religion, nationalism, and tradition is all over and unavoidable. Nothing like it in the world.
This week the world witnessed the selection of a new pope, an event that is momentous, inspirational, and spiritual to Catholics around the globe. And while we tend to make jokes about the conclave, the white and black smoke, and the selection process, to 1.2Billion Catholics it is a serious matter and deserves our respect. Francis I, like his predecessor Benedict XVI , must lead a church facing ongoing scandals and a world becoming increasingly socially liberal. The church hierarchy has serious issues to contend with, but it has 1.2Billion church members that still remain faithful. The church isn’t the hierarchy, it’s its members and their faith.
Religion is a strange phenomenon. A dichotomy that brings out the best in mankind and all too often the worst. And yet we don’t understand it as well as she should, if we did we certainly wouldn’t behave as we do, and worst off we have little or no understanding of others’ beliefs. Is the Muslim who prays five times a day, a good Muslim? Is the Jew who fasts on Yom Kippur a good Jew? Is the Catholic who goes to church every Sunday a good Christian? How does one distinguish between religion, faith, and spirituality? Are good people turned in the wrong direction by bad leaders?
I have the greatest respect, love, and admiration for those that serve their fellow man, and so selflessly and without great fanfare. If they do it because they are guided by a religious teaching, great; if they do it out of a sense humanity, that’s great too. I guess what I am saying, the goodness isn’t measured by one’s attendance record at religious services, it is measured by deeds.
Conversely, I have seen religious leaders do the most unconscionable and reprehensible things. Inciting young impressionable and ignorant youth to become suicide bombers, the Spanish inquisition, and rabbis inciting the rabid into killing a Prime Minister for seeking peace. It is these deeds and dozens more that make people like me criticize religious hierarchies and question the legitimacy of organizations that preach fear and hate while covering up the very sins they allegedly oppose.
Rick Santorum, the man who wants to be Minister in Chief, claimed President Obama wants a Godless America by banning religion from the public square and felt JFK’s separation of church and state speech made him want to throw up. This is a common complaint from Christian fundamentalists; the same people who claim religion is under siege and in the next breath want to stop a mosque from getting built. The fact that no national religion should be established, per the 1st Amendment, enrages many and the fact that the creation of public school was the greatest single social development to improve education is indigestible. In fact, I wish more public school boards pushed for teaching ABOUT religion. Not religious teaching (that’s what I got at Hebrew School). I am talking about educating the ignorant so that we can understand one another. Understand one another so that we do not fear a mosque, we know the difference between a Sikhism and Islam, and we seek to find out what brings us together, not apart.
We come from different faiths, diverse upbringings, and various cultures. Some have religion as critical cornerstones in their lives, others not so much, some not at all. I don’t think attendance record at a church or synagogue or whether you pray five times a day makes you a good person. The person who understands, appreciates, and respects the rights of Natural Law and the concept of morality is what we should aspire to become . After all, isn’t that what being a good person is all about irrespective of religious belief? Maybe we should add that to the curriculum too.