As long as I can remember, I’ve always been a doubter.
Since I’ve been an adult, I’ve had the nagging feeling that religion in general, and organized churches in particular, have caused more harm than good. At the very least, I’ve felt that in the modern age, they’re a bit backwards and unnecessary.
It’s pretty easy to find messages of hate or something despicable coming out of modern religious institutions. All one has to do is turn on the news, and one can see televangelists blaming natural disasters on gay marriage, fatwas issued encouraging the murder of cartoonists, women treated like slaves, complicated cover-ups of banking scandals and sexual molestation of minors, and people protesting the funerals of downed soldiers.
One can look in the Old Testament and find a lot that causes offense. Rules that prevent women from holding authority, children being slaughtered by bears or killed off by horrible disease by an angry God, and innocent good men being tortured to prove how durable and faithful they are. And lots more.
If you’ve read the Old Testament, and you haven’t been offended, then you’ve just been skimming to the good parts.
I recently made some offhand comments on Facebook about the current Pope, and how I was a bit pleasantly surprised by a statement he made about how everyone ought to just get along, and that you don’t have to be a Christian to be good. More than surprised, I was impressed. I hadn’t been aware of any other major religious figure saying that sort of thing before, except for the Dalai Lama.
Wouldn’t it be great, I thought aloud, if all religious leaders did that sort of thing? I mean, instead of blaming someone’s sexual preference on natural disasters, or demanding large sums of money on TV?
It was pointed out to me that church pastors actually tell their flocks to be good and tolerant all the time, but those things don’t get into the news.
Is this true? Is my whole image of Christiandom wrong? Are religious institutions more moral and ethical than I imagine them to be?
I’m going to find out. In a very non-scientific, and highly anecdotal way, no doubt. But being that I live in Seattle, I’m going to have to limit my sample set to that city. It has a lot of churches, mosques, temples, and shrines, and I’m going to do my best to visit a decently representative sample of them, and grade them.
I’m going to try to be neutral and fair, but I’m a human being who is a bit biased against religion, so I imagine some of my bias will find its way in here. But this is going to be an honest assessment, using what I feel to be a fair and honest scale, and it’s the best I can do.
What I’m looking for is religious leaders (pastors, priests, imams, rabbis, etc.) who preach something that I consider to be ethical and moral, using the following criteria:
- Being good to your fellow human.
Being good doesn’t mean converting him or her to your religion. It means being nice, forgiving, reasonable, and tolerant.
Religious leaders who include this theme in their sermon will receive a point or two. Religious leaders who say something counter to this will get docked a point.
- Help your community
Helping your community doesn’t mean converting them to your religion. It means helping people in need, direct charity and work to worthy humanitarian projects. This can be either local, regional, national, or international, but should involve some kind of request for charity money or volunteer time. This can be to a religious organization (obviously) but not one exclusively designed to spread the faith. -1 to 2 points.
- Be good to yourself
Chill out, relax, enjoy yourself. I’m looking for messages of personal empowerment, self-help, the general idea that it is okay for you to be you. -1 to 2 points.
- Good and timely advice
Advice on how to be a moral, ethical, useful, and decent human being. I will accept anything at all as “good” advice, even if I don’t agree with it, except for “go convert others to your religion” and of course, anything illegal or in conflict with the other criteria. This might overlap a bit with the others, and if it does, I’ll do my best to parse it out.
This is a pretty small set of criteria, but I’m not looking for much, and I’m not interested in getting into dogma and ritual. If the sect I visit engages in communion or denies the Holy Trinity, I really don’t care. I’m looking for what I consider to be positive messages that, if followed by the flock, then maybe the world will become a nicer place.
Not through grace. I know that Christians like to talk a lot about grace, but I’m talking about deeds. I’m looking for a religious institution that encourages good deeds.
I’m going to visit a religious place or two each weekend, and write about my experiences.