In a candid column (not unusual) about his own religion (not as usual), the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof explores the current perceptions of religious ritual, dogmatism, interpretation and exclusion, in Christianity but also in Judaism and Islam.
Jesus never mentioned gays or abortion but focused on the sick and the poor, yet some Christian leaders have prospered by demonizing gays. Muhammad raised the status of women in his time, yet today some Islamic clerics bar women from driving, or cite religion as a reason to hack off the genitals of young girls. Buddha presumably would be aghast at the apartheid imposed on the Rohingya minority by Buddhists in Myanmar.
“Our religions often stand for the very opposite of what their founders stood for,” notes Brian D. McLaren, a former pastor, in a provocative and powerful new book, “The Great Spiritual Migration.”
Skepticism, hypocrisy, modernization, religious illiteracy and the struggle over Biblical literalism are contributing to the increase of “nones” – young people (primarily) who are nonreligious or “spiritual,” without a denominational affiliation.
It is not just Christianity, of course, that is grappling with these questions. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said that he sees a desire for a social justice mission inspired and balanced by faith traditions.
“That’s where I see our path,” Jacobs said. “People have seen ritual as an obsession for the religious community, and they haven’t seen the courage and commitment to shaping a more just and compassionate world.”
If certain religious services were less about preening about one’s own virtue or pointing fingers at somebody else’s iniquity and more about tackling human needs around us, this would be a better world — and surely Jesus would applaud as well.
Kristof admits that he is stepping out of his comfort zone to write this column:
This may seem an unusual column for me to write, for I’m not a particularly religious Christian. But I do see religious faith as one of the most important forces, for good and ill, and I am inspired by the efforts of the faithful who run soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
Read the entire column here.