Organized religion: For better or worse?
“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses…but don’t follow their example, for they don’t practice what they teach.”
- Jesus Christ, in St. Matthew 23
I recently asked a class I’m teaching on the History of Christianity to examine the question: “Did Constantine’s fourth-century initiative to Christianize the Roman Empire have a positive or negative effect on history? Why?”
It’s a question with no definitive answer thus class members spent an hour exchanging “yes, but…,” “I think you’re forgetting…,” and “how can you say that in light of…?”
If City View readers assembled to discuss the question I’ve posed in the title above, it would likely sound very similar to what I heard the other night: Has religion (organized or disorganized, you choose) influenced the world for better or worse?
Those favouring religion would be quick to point out its positive contributions: significant advancements with respect to global exploration, education, humanitarian initiatives, positing the meaning of life, and so forth. Detractors would hasten to fault religion for creating divisions, imposing guilt, effecting colonialism, launching wars, harbouring pedophiles, espousing vacuous notions, etc.
It’s curious that many Christians get very defensive in the face of critics of religion such as popular thinkers/authors Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. For, as the words of Jesus quoted above indicate, the Christ of Christianity was himself an outspoken critic of modern religion and its leaders. That reality sheds light on why the vigilante religious leaders of his day were so eager to “string him up” in accordance with the practices of the time.
Now, dear reader, doubtless you yourself as a law-abiding, hard-working, completely honest if consistently cranky taxpayer, would never think of stringing up any modern religious spokesperson. But, (remember - completely honest now), given some of the rhetoric originating from various religious sources today, you have too muttered “Gas-bag!” or “Lame-brain!” under your breath more than once, right?
Well, here’s a “gas-bag” who sincerely solicits your observations, questions, complaints, – hey, even the occasional bouquet – regarding your experience with, understanding of, joys or concerns about religion as you have experienced it in Canadian life. E-mail me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll attempt to usefully interact with submissions in this space starting in January.
Tim Callaway is lead pastor at Faith Community Baptist Church, Airdrie (402-948-6727).