Tonight's TOP-ic (Thursday On the Patio) was "Bad Religion." People were wondering just what that was going to mean, which was awesome because I turned it back and asked "what is bad religion"...or what is it that makes for a toxic faith that does not promote the abundant life we know that Jesus came to give us?
I was trying to keep it away from particular religions, because the reality is that every religious tradition has bad and good, just like every person. And the further reality is that in the USA, our media covers the extremes of religion, not the majority. I recognize almost nothing of the Christianity that is represented in the media. I suspect the same is true for my Muslim friends--what they see on TV and hear on the news bears little resemblance to their faith tradition. I know it's true for my Jewish friends. And when you leave Abrahamic religions and get into the more "exotic" traditions, well, if they are portrayed in the media somehow, it's almost always poorly.
So the group tonight decided that the hallmarks of "bad religion" are attempts to control, excessive certainty, using fear, manipulating or isolating people, allowing one person to have too much power, promising material rewards. The usual suspects that you can find in the vast majority of people's perceptions of religion, in other words.
The question I wanted to ask but didn't was: when have we participated in bad religion? When have we, as individuals around that table or as a church community, perpetuated this pop-christianity or used religious words and ideas in such a way that they hurt people rather than lead to the flourishing of God's kingdom?
When we are unkind to one another, when there are cliques in the church, when our love is only for those who look like us, when we insist on our own way or bolster our own power, that's bad religion. When we use the words of scripture to wound rather than heal, that's bad religion. When we allow one person to hold the church hostage to their way of doing things, for fear they might leave, that's bad religion. (no, it's not the same as following a cult leader...except it kind of is, in a way.) When we focus on the building or a program or a historical moment at the expense of loving our neighbors who currently exist right outside our doors, that's bad religion.
I'm guessing very few people disagree with that.
But what about this:
is it bad religion when we hear someone claiming that Christians/Muslims/Hindus/Sikhs are (or do, or believe) _______ and we don't speak up about the stereotyping?
is it bad religion when we see someone in need and pass by on the other side?
is it bad religion when we have an opportunity to be a little bit of good news in someone else's life, and we don't take it?
it is bad religion when we hear someone using scripture to hurt and we don't chime in with another interpretation?
is it bad religion when we reinforce unrealistic expectations for our kids/coworkers/family?
is it bad religion when we talk about another church member, or a coworker, or a friend, when they're not around?
If bad religion is primarily about things that work against Abundant Life, aren't we all participating in it in some way?
And then the question I did ask: how can we be people of good religion instead? How can we be people of life-giving faith, of good news, of hope and love for neighbor? How can we show our love for God, and more importantly God's love for us, all the time? It's hard work to counteract this culture of toxicity. But the only way to counter it is to be like a shot of good news. Can we do it?