Bender: Losing my religion
"The truth will set you free, but if it's oppressive, it's not the truth, and it's certainly not liberating. If anything must be held sacrosanct, it's the separation of church and state."
It's said that more violence and oppression has been committed in the name of religion than for any other cause. Christian extremists in America, in their arrogance and certainty, seemingly don't grasp that faith isn't about forcing people, it's about leading, and if people won't follow, it's time to reexamine the message.
A 2021 Gallup poll revealed that only 37% of those polled have confidence in religious institutions which, in many cases, have become increasingly corrupt and political. Also, according to Gallup in 2020, churchgoers — 47% — are now in the minority, a precipitous drop from 70% in 2000. Still, a small, tyrannical minority has hijacked Christianity as a means to politically force their puritanical beliefs into medicine (reproductive rights), the bedroom (LGBTQ issues), and public schools (prayer).
Like many Americans, I grew up in a church comprised of good people doing good things, but otherwise, minding their own business. In my life, there've been a handful of ministers, mostly Lutherans and Baptists, I've called friends. The first, a young minister fresh out of seminary, revitalized our small Lutheran congregation and became a lake buddy. No strings attached. Fried fish, a beer, and a prayer for dinner. Friendship and kindness were his examples.
The second was a Baptist preacher, part of our crew that tore up an abandoned rail line one summer. (In my experience, Baptist ministers often are poorly paid so they need second jobs.) We discussed faith and wrestled railroad ties.
None of my ministerial friends, however, satisfied my questions about biblical contradictions, questions I asked early, questions that launched my spiritual quest.
As a child, I'd begun working the angles. The original plan was to sin like hell and repent on my deathbed to gain entry into Heaven. Or Nirvana. Or Valhalla. Or Paradise. Christianity seemed like a great deal. When I was 18, I had a near-death experience in a car wreck. A glimpse of the other side confirmed existence of a higher power, reincarnation, and I've spent the rest of my life with a remarkable blessing, liberation from the fear of death. It doesn't exist. It's a continuation. Another dimension.
I wore out a library card studying religions throughout my twenties. I saw the parallels. I meditated. I've also spent much of my life as a publisher, understanding that books, including the Bible, are edited by fallible men and reflect the politics and societal mores of the time.
Eventually, I discovered my truth. One commandment — "Be Kind" — is enough. Karma is real. As you sow, so shall ye reap. Positive and negative energies exist, and prayer — positive thinking — is supremely powerful.
We each have our spiritual journeys. A character in my novel, "The Last Ghost Dancer," opined, “All paths lead to God. Some just have more detours than others.”
The truth will set you free, but if it's oppressive, it's not the truth, and it's certainly not liberating. If anything must be held sacrosanct, it's the separation of church and state.
Sadly, however, there's a gleeful, bullying, mean-spiritedness driving an unholy brew of politics and Christianity in America today by extremists who ironically fail to see themselves in the mirror when they rail against the oppressiveness of other religions. Some fervently embrace the concept of Armageddon — Christ's return — and seem willing to hurry it along.
It's dangerous thinking.
And they're dangerous.
Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column for Forum News Service. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of this publication, nor Forum Communications ownership.