I recently had someone who I dearly love tell me they were no longer a Christian. They are in a phase of their life where they are questioning their beliefs, questioning the world and trying to convince themselves that whatever they believe is ok.
First, I got upset. Then I prayed. Then I cried (yes really). Then I prayed again. I asked him to help me find the words, to help me find his message and to be an instrument of his will. Then I left it in God’s hands and went to bed. It’s 5:30 am now and I woke up a few minutes ago, got down on my knees and thanked him for giving me the words and helping me to see what I needed to say. Now, all that is left is to say it.
There is a tendency today to preach the religion of secular humanism. People want to turn away from God or from Christ. They want to believe that people are inherently good and left to their own devices they will do good and grand things. They trot out all the evils that organized religion has done and use that as an example of why religion is bad. What they fail to do is to present a fair and balanced account. They fail to even attempt to balance the scales with all the good things religion has wrought in this world as well.
Yes, people have done horrible things while wearing the mantle of religion… Christianity is not the only religion that has suffered from this. However, religion has also clothed and fed billions of people. In the name of religion, people have trekked across the world to vaccinate, cure and feed billions of starving children. Religion has provided a safe harbor for refugees during wars or strife and it has also provided safe harbors during the casual violence of everyday life. Religion has driven people to the streets of Calcutta, the horrors of the Molokai leper colony, the backwaters of Africa and the urban sprawl of New York to combat disease, pestilence, famine and poverty. Religion has provided food banks at local neighborhood churches for when there’s no place else to turn. Religion has driven people to provide clean water for isolated villages, to build schools, to eradicate diseases. Religion has inspired men and women across the world to give of themselves in order to ease the suffering of lepers, of AIDS victims, people burnt and blown up in wars, people born crippled or blind. Religion has driven people to their knees to give thanks to their creator for the gifts he has given them so that they might share those gifts with those around them who have fallen off the edge of society and into homelessness, prostitution, poverty or a million other ways to be ignored by the mainstream society.
Religion has staffed suicide hotlines and given people hope where they had none. Religion has made strangers stop in the street and provide comfort to dying accident victims. Because of religion, people have quit drinking, quit smoking dope, quit beating their wives or children. People have reached out and reached up not because they have the strength themselves but because they have the weakness and humility to turn to something larger than themselves for help.
Let me be perfectly clear. I approach the topic of organized religion with trepidation. I went through a phase in my life where I questioned it too. I never questioned God, though. I never questioned Jesus Christ and I never believed he was simply a “man with a message”. I doubted the church but I never doubted God and I never doubted that Jesus Christ, the only son of God, born of the Virgin Mary and become man, died for me and my sins so that I might be forgiven. I never once doubted that Jesus loved me even when I couldn’t love myself. Yes, I pushed him aside and refused to embrace that love but I never doubted it was real, only that I deserved it.
The truth is I don’t deserve it. None of us do. That is the central beauty of it, that we can fail to deserve it yet it is still there for us, more rich and deep and all-encompassing than we can ever truly grasp or comprehend. We can’t ever deserve it, all we can do is be thankful for it, acknowledge it and accept it for what it is… an unconditional gift of love, the hardest thing in the world for us as humans to accept and understand.
Secular humanists like to believe in the power of intrinsic good. They like to believe that left to their own devices humanity will self-motivate to be good. Again, let me be perfectly clear here. There is nothing good in this world that isn’t a gift of God. The most beautiful works of art and architecture, poetry and music to praise him are a testament to the power of God inspiring man. The most beautiful “secular” creations can’t even hold a candle to them. The “intrinsic good” in man doesn’t inspire people to anywhere near the heights that religion has driven people to. The “intrinsic good” in man doesn’t exist, the “good” in man is there because of God, ONLY because of God. Yes, some good things have been done secularly but these are pale shadows of the things that God has driven man to do and are simply but a reflection of the enormity of the emptiness of man, striving for something we can never deserve, never understand but only accept and embrace.
When the secular humanists can hold up examples that can stand up to the faith and gifts of Mother Theresa or Saint Damien of Molokai they may begin to just scratch the barest surface of what organized religion has wrought for good in this world. When they can point to the billions of people they have fed, clothed, washed, healed, educated or simply comforted without any sense or desire of recompense they can have the tiniest amount of legitimacy in the discussion. When they find the humility to accept that there is something out there larger than themselves, they can begin to realize the beauty of being able to give two loaves when they themselves only have one.
Is organized religion perfect? No. Organized religion is an institution of man and it reflects how screwed up man can be. It is like anything else in this world, imperfect, stumbling and occasionally falling in the ditch. Many people like to think this would be a far better world without it. Religion is all those things. It is also, however, a reflection of the beauty and grace of God in that even when it stumbles and falls, it gets back up and continues to strive for good. Any discussion of the “evils” of organized religion is incomplete and unbalanced without the discussion of the grace of God and the things he has done and continues to do in this world through the imperfect offices of man. Thank God for organized religion because without it, this world would be even more messed up than it is.
— Gary D. Foster