When did religion turn into a system that retards society and culture rather than a progressive force pushing it forward? The thought occurred to me this week in a conversation about the lack of response from Christians to the atrocities committed by ISIS and Boko Haram towards women. As 10 and 11 year old girls are kidnapped, raped, and sold as sex slaves it feels like most Christian’s are more concerned about Donald Trump “restoring our Christian nation” to drive out the gays and atheists. Believers across the world and from across religious spectrums are seeking to bring society backwards to some golden era of belief. They seemingly forget that religion is what has moved us forward more than it’s held us back.
Without man’s belief in god much of the beauty and discovery we know today wouldn’t exist. The constant pursuit to understand god and to come into contact with he/she/it has driven man for millennia. The fine arts were once driven by man’s belief in something larger and bigger than himself. From the tales of the gods told around tribal fires to the artistry of the Sistine Chapel, belief in god inspired man to create unimaginably beautiful works of architecture, music, art, and storytelling.
Scientists in their awe and wonder of the created world were once driven by their belief. From the Mayans understanding of the solar system to Francis Collin’s work on the Human Genome Project, believers sought to discover God through the sciences. They weren’t afraid of discovery as each new discovery of the miracle of life simply proved the existence of god. Reformers from the prophet Isaiah to Martin Luther reached out to believers to almost shake them by the shoulders to wake them from a droll life simple existence. The way they had been living wasn’t what God wanted for them. They were not living a full life.
Today however, faith based art is a joke. Christian film-making is disappointing in both style and substance. Parents are appalled and would drape a cloth around Michelangelo’s David if given the chance. Scientists who believe in God must defend themselves as strongly to other believers as they do to unbelievers. Ministers are afraid to call their congregations into new ways of living with an ever evolving society around them. Pastors who challenge tired dogma quickly find themselves without a job. Even faith-based businesses such as World Vision who offered healthcare to gay spouses quickly felt the backlash as faithful believers would rather abandon the lives of 3000 children overseas than to see a Christian organization be progressive. We are once again in a fearful age where we would gladly excommunicate Galileo. Many today would even say Jesus would find himself “not Christian enough”.
However, I don’t believe that any religious system was designed to hold man back. Having spent my life studying the Bible and more recently other faiths such as Judaism and Islam, I’ve come to realize how crucial the prophets of those faiths were to progressing society. Whether it was Moses, Jesus, or Muhammed, they all came with messages bringing their people out of an old way of thinking and into a new enlightenment about their role in the world and with their fellow man. Take the Bible for example. While many disgusted with the acts of Boko Haram or ISIS will also point to the genocide called for and enacted in the Bible as equally egregious, they also gloss over the majority of what the Pentateuch did for improving the lives of the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 21:10-14 for example, God provided Israel with instructions for marrying female war captives. It included giving her time to mourn her husband that you just killed and also for providing her freedom if you changed your mind. This type of behavior was unheard of ancient times. This thought not only gave conquered women rights, but self-worth.
Laws are now being written across the United States to “protect religious freedom” by essentially creating a system of intolerance and discrimination against anyone who doesn’t believe like you do. Given the right administration the nation is footsteps away from a new era of dark ages when we should be on the verge of a new renaissance and enlightenment. This is wrong and I know personally I want nothing to do with that sort of belief system.
The faithful are now fearfully stepping backward when they should be moving forward. Their beliefs beg them to discover their god, not cower from him. It is this willingness to move forward against our fear, to make new discoveries, and come into new realities that separates us from the animals. If faith can’t do that, it will simply step back into extinction as society moves forward with new prophets.