Religion is an ongoing investigation of the unfairness of life.
Religion looks at heroic humans who rescue strangers from floods and fires. It looks at others who murder, rape, steal and take pleasure in the pains of their victims. It looks at the brilliant and gifted, and at children born troubled. It sees the well-nourished and the starving and tries to understand why God’s standards sometimes seem to be lower than human standards.
Christians celebrate centuries of sermons, liturgies, sacrifices and praise by eliminating poor boxes because they attract thieves, and spending sums of congressional dimensions to pay off victims of abuse in churches, orphanages and schools.
Those who believe that God is Love are certain that God is not Hate, even though love and hate are both evident in the world. Christians famously denounce each other for thinking outside of catechisms and tenets. Christian homes are not always the cheerful centers of cooperation and forgiveness that faith might encourage. Churches have been known to explode in angry confrontations between people, lay and clerical, who despise each other in the name of God. What can be more chilling than that? It was people of religious faith who favored the death penalty for Jesus, crying out for capital punishment on the cross.
Scripture scholars, such as the late Father Raymond E. Brown, the brilliant Sulpician priest, have liberated venerable writings from some of the restraints imposed upon them by well-meaning guardians. They guarded the past, dragging their sandals as the past became the present. Customs changed, cultures developed, languages took on new meanings, but religion’s guardians kept it separate from life and froze it solid, right where it was many cultures ago. Although that attitude is described today as fundamentalist, it has little in common with fundamental, ongoing creation, symbolized as seven days by long-ago scribes, who did not copyright and lock up their scrolls after writing about the first day.
There are folks who think faith is a bad habit, like smoking. They dream of replacing No Smoking signs with No Faith warnings. Sometimes folks disbelieve in the same god, maybe the gimme god of creedal capitalism, or the god who permits waterboarding and decapitation, or the god kept in retirement. I began life in a country that “restricted” some clubs and neighborhoods from Jews and African Americans. Catholic priests risked being tarred and feathered.
Some states prohibited interracial marriage, even as many still prohibit gay marriage. Only five years before I was born, and one year after my mother and father were married, the U.S. Constitution was amended to say: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States of by any state on account of sex.”
One blessing of advancing age is its gift of interior sight, which is beyond the need for bifocals. I’ve seen members of a majority race battle in legislatures and in courts to assure equal rights for everybody, without reference to ethnicity or gender, or the sexuality given them at birth. These battles are not over. No effort for freedom of conscience is ever over.
God is more than father and mother. The scribes who wrote about Adam and Eve could not imagine them watching TV in an air conditioned home. Scribes are not the only ones who cannot imagine what remains to be learned.