Do you react negatively to religious people?


Désolé, mes amis francophone, Mme est parti en vacances pendant deux semaines donc pas de traductions. 😦   

In my first post about the values problem“Houston, We Have a Problem,” I said, “Society in our developed, western countries is dazed and confused. We are pushed to be ‘tolerant’ towards anything and everything…except religious belief.”

Why are people looked at as a bit strange if they are trying to make their religious beliefs part of their daily life? And why is having clear values based on religious belief seen as being intolerant?

For question number one, part of the reason is extremists. The extremism of the Inquisition, the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants that tore Europe apart, the violent and bloody division of the Irish people between Catholics and Protestants (which is not yet completely healed), apartheid in South Africa and segregation in the US being justified on religious grounds, India being divided between Muslims and Hindus, and now Muslim extremists have become a great danger to the world and make everyone nervous.

Part of the problem might also be the development in the 1970s of a number of New Religious Movements which were controversial and led to the anti-cult movement. After Jamestown and Waco anything that was different was seen as a dangerous cult. Since any New Religious Movement is struggling to establishment itself, members are asked to make sacrifices. Society preferred seeing this as brainwashing and mind control. The members of these movements saw it as sacrificing for a worthy goal. And, don’t forget, every religion began as a “cult.” In Acts 24:5 Paul is accused of being a leader of the “cult known as the Nazarenes.

Another part of the problem is that, in the past 50 years, belonging to a church has become more of a social thing than a religious one. It’s nice to go to church on Sunday, as long as the sermon is not too long. It gives me the feeling that I am part of a community. But with the confusion in values that has invaded our society, many people feel that is incorrect to have strong religious values. We need to be tolerant; we need to accept that other people have different ideas.

It is true that we need to be tolerant and that we need to accept that other people have different ideas. But if we’re not careful, we start drifting and no longer live by the values that used to guide our lives. And we have come to the point that anyone who has strong religious values and lives by them is seen as some kind of extremist, if not a ‘dangerous’ extremist.

I know someone who was informed that a nephew had died in a car accident. He wanted to go the funeral to support the family. This family is part of the traditionalist Catholic movement, which follows the Catholic traditions in place before the Second Vatican Council from 1962-1965. This council modernized the Catholic Church deciding that mass would be given in the local language, the priest would face the congregation rather than the altar, women would not need to cover their heads when entering the church, etc.

The traditionalists felt uncomfortable with these changes fearing that they would weaken the church. They decided to continue the traditional Catholic beliefs and traditions.

To show how insidious the reaction is to people who take their religion seriously, these Catholic traditionalists in France are often not referred to as traditionalists; they are called fundamentalists. This is typical. We feel the need of finding a word with a more negative connotation so we can feel superior to those who are different from us. “Traditionalist doesn’t sound negative enough, we’ll call them fundamentalist.”

My friend had regular contact with his cousins and knew them to be good, sincere people. He had no problem with their traditional beliefs as they never tried to force them on others.

To prepare his trip he looked at the name of church where the ceremony would be held and then looked it up on Google street view to have an idea of what he would be looking for when he arrived. Google showed an empty parking lot. He went on the Yellow Pages site and looked at the list of religious houses of worship; it wasn’t listed.

He phoned his cousin to make sure he had the right address and his cousin said that it was the right address and in the back of the parking lot on one side there was an entrance to their chapel.

He arrived for the funeral and the chapel was full of families, many with young children. The women had their heads covered; the children were well-dressed and well-behaved. When the mass started in Latin, everyone could recite it, even most of the children. For people like my friend, the booklet made for the ceremony had Latin on one page and French on the opposite page.

As the ceremony got underway he saw a large group of priests and nuns and most of them were young. He was very impressed as the average age for a priest in French Catholic churches is about 70 years old. These traditionalist churches are alive and thriving while the ‘official’ Catholic churches are struggling to maintain themselves.

He was struck by the strong sense of community these families shared. When the ceremony ended and all the families left the chapel, the women uncovered their heads and these families seemed no different from other families.

These people have chosen to take their religion seriously. They have chosen to keep the traditions that allowed the Catholic Church to grow and develop for 2000 years. And for this reason they are looked at with suspicion and doubt. “These people aren’t normal. There’s no need to be so rigid to believe in God.”

Sorry to burst your bubble, but there is a need to be rigid to believe in God. That’s why we speak of spiritual discipline as a part of any religious life. Not just in Christianity but in most any religion you will find groups that insist on spiritual discipline. Spiritual discipline means being rigid with oneself. There is a danger when people start trying to force their spiritual discipline on others. But most people don’t do that.

Yet because of some extremists, anyone who is serious about his/her religion is looked at as dangerous. Come on people, get a grip on yourselves.

If someone becomes vegan, they’ve made a serious choice about the importance of what they eat. Does that make them dangerous? If someone is serious about sports and wins a gold medal, they’ve made a serious choice about the importance of making sports the center of their life. Does that make them dangerous? If someone is serious about music, they’ve made a serious choice about the importance of practicing music. Does that make them dangerous? If someone is serious about God, they’ve made a serious choice about the importance of spiritual discipline in their life. Does that make them dangerous?

I suspect that one reason people react so strongly about this is that those people have guilty consciences. Deep down inside they feel that they should be more serious about how they are living. Their conscience is telling them they should be living by the values they were raised with but they’ve been duped into believing that life is easier and more comfortable when living without values.

I’ve got some bad news for you…that’s false. Life is more difficult and more uncomfortable when living without values. You have to live 24 hours a day with a guilty conscience because deep down inside you know that what you’re doing is wrong.

So rather than looking down on and criticizing those who take their religion seriously, take time to look at your own life. Those religious people aren’t judging you, that is your conscience speaking to you.


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