Easter, the Christian observance of the death and resurrection of Jesus, takes place this week. Given that my last entry was about hedonism, I wanted to address religion during this week of holy reflection.
Personally, I believe God walked the Earth as Christ to make our redemption possible. That being said, if a person can find their way to compassion and tolerance, then they're my friend, and I don't give a rip if they read the Bible, the Tora, the Tao Te Ching, the Quran, the Vedas, the Book of Shadows, or the complete works of Stephen Hawking.
I wasn't sure what I wanted to say about religion until I heard two stories on the news.
First, a hate monger chose to go on a Jew killing spree, in Kansas City, right before Passover, a commemoration of their liberation by God from slavery, over 3,300 years ago. Two Jewish male victims, identified as 14 year old Reat Griffin Underwood and his grandfather, were shot in the parking lot outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park, where auditions for a musical were taking place. The shooter shouted, "Heil Hitler," then drove a mile away to Village Shalom Hebrew Retirement Community, where he shot and killed an elderly woman.
In other news, St. Alban's Episcopal, in Davidson, N.C., is displaying a statue depicting Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench. People are objecting to the statue, only identifiable as Christ by his stigmata wounds, saying the art piece insults Christ by associating him with the homeless. (The pictures of the piece are copywritten, thus I can't display them. However, you can view the statue on NPR's site.)
While the two stories seem dissimilar, they both reflect narrow concepts of religion.
Violence in the name of God is nothing new. From the Crusades to 9/11, and beyond, people have been killing in God's name. I read my Bible on a regular basis though, and I can't find the passage which recommends the murder of Jews during a community audition.
Granted, anti-semites point to Titus 1:10-11 ~ "For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.”
However, the verse in question chronicles Paul chastising false prophets who are teaching bogus doctrine in Christ's name. The quote is meant to be an indictment of heretics, not an entire race.
As for the statue protesters, it's true that many of us Calvinistically link holiness with prosperity in the back of our minds. However, whether one believes Christ was God, or not, the undeniable fact is the Jesus of scripture associated HIMSELF with the homeless.
Luke 18:35-43 ~ "As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
Scripturally speaking, it's completely appropriate to depict Jesus as living among the poor. He walked from city to city, mingled with vagrants and prostitutes, and taught the word of God. Yet, many of us don't enjoy being reminded of the less fortunate, so we try to hide reminders of their plight. Therefore, many people, especially the affluent, want depictions of God/Christ to be white robed and clean.
In the end, I don't think religion divides people, as much as people try to use religion to justify the divisions we create among ourselves. By my way of thinking, religion, Christian or otherwise, serves humanity best as an apparatus to bring people together, rather than as a wedge to drive us apart. Perhaps faith, genuine faith, lies within the ability to accept people for what they believe, and trust that God/the universe will sort it out in the end.