Scapegoating Religion

Updated: May 15, 2019



Look, I'm aware this is an Amazon Prime commercial, ultimately designed to promote Amazon and its products and services. The commercial ran during the holidays and went viral. The ad features a priest and imam having a pleasant conversation over tea. As the the imam prepares to leave, both men remark at their sore knees, share a hug, and part ways. Afterward, they both take out their smartphones and buy the other knee braces through Amazon Prime. The ad ends with both the priest and the imam kneeling to pray while wearing the knee braces they received from the other via Amazon Prime.

The sentiment I would like to carry forward from this commercial is that religion does not have to divide us as human beings. There is plenty to draw upon in all religious, spiritual and philosophical belief systems to find common ground for human kinship and a rationale for coexisting peacefully. Over the years I have written much in critique of religion's role in society. There's no question that there are some religious mindsets and ideologies that promote discord, hate and even violence. But it's also true that religion and spirituality inspires great acts and movements of love, compassion and human solidarity in our world. I am not against religion. I have friends of every religion, spirituality and philosophy, who are good, kind, caring and loving people. I am against the misuse of religion. I most commonly speak my mind about what I believe to be the shortcomings of Christianity because this is my own religious background and tribe. There are many Christ followers who I hold dear in my heart, who are truly being instruments of love, peace, compassion and justice in the world as Jesus was.

In my view it's unfortunate that on the YouTube page where you will find the above priest and imam Amazon commercial, you also find a "parody" of the commercial where the imam has a bomb delivered in an Amazon box to the priest that blows him up.

Why do we want to do that?

In my mind’s eye I can see a man that harbors resentment toward me because he attaches me to a religious label that he believes represents everything he is against in the world. I’m imagining coming upon the man along the everyday paths of life and feeling his bitterness. I carry God’s love for that man and the whole world within me, and so I say to him, “Sir, sixty-five hundred Africans die every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of medicine you and I can buy at any drugstore. One million girls every year around the world are forced into child prostitution because the will to stop it pales in comparison to the will to perpetuate it. Every day one hundred thousand American children are homeless. Right now in my community, fifteen families with small children live in their cars. If you don’t tell me your religious beliefs, I won’t tell you mine. Right now I humbly greet and honor you in that place where you and I are one, that place of God’s love for the ‘least of these.'

I believe people are fundamentally good. I will carry that conviction to my grave. I am a stand for that. I will defend and argue that premise until my last breath. It's not a naive belief. Through my travels with the International Justice Mission I have been a firsthand witness to some of the most gruesome, hideous and monstrous crimes against humanity. And yet, I have my reasons for believing that it doesn't have to be this way and that in our most authentic moments as human beings we care for each other and want a world that works for everyone.

So, I keep pushing to change our global discourse, sentiments, and actions about the power of religious, spiritual, and philosophical diversity for good. Every person can find a rationale and motivation within their religious tradition, spiritual interests, or philosophical views to be an instrument of goodness, peace, love, and compassion in the world, and affirm the inherent, equal, and unconditional worth of every human being. Every person has the right to follow their own inner guidance in choosing their own religious, spiritual, or philosophical views and practices. Every person can participate in a process of personal growth, self-actualization, and fulfillment of one’s highest beliefs and aspirations, and encourage the same for others. Every person benefits when each of us follows our own unique inspiration for building a world that works for everyone. All of us have something valuable to learn from each other, and that the future of our world rests in our willingness to work, play, live, grow, and be… together.

I use to think that religion was the problem but it's too convenient to scapegoat religion. I have discovered in every case of religion that there is something beautiful and fundamentally good at it's core, if people are open and willing to discover and embrace it. But in too many instances we have chosen to use religion in a way that divides us. Even those who hold no belief in God or higher power often pit themselves against people of faith. I consistently confront what I see are the misuses and abuses of religion. I have a spiritual direction practice that includes working with people who have been greatly damaged through their involvement in their particular religious group. But I have also seen how a person's religious, spiritual or philosophical beliefs draws out and lifts up what I believe is good and beautiful about every single one of us.


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