I am not sick to my stomach. I am sick to my soul.
The first job of any religious person is to try to make their own religion safe for the world. Every religion has a dangerous side which has at various times in the evolution of the tradition provided cover, sometimes even encouragement, to the most obviously horrible facets we humans are capable of doing to each other. Every king, thug, despot, gang leader and e-gazillionaire has a chaplain willing to cheer them up when they are sad and encourage them when angry. Every castle had a chapel, even when it did not have flush toilets.
As a follower of a Jewish man named Jesus, I am sharply aware that people have done, in the name of my religion, some of the same repulsive things done in Israel this week. Hamas didn’t do anything that the Crusaders hadn’t wraught a millennia ago on the very same land.
My daughter is married to a Jewish man, with both my grandsons raised to respect and participate in the rituals of Jewish life. We just built a Sukkah shelter together that we bought on Amazon. They are San Francisco moderns, sophisticated and proud of lots of things no longer believed. They let a Baptist sit in the Seat of Elijah for the circumcision. And those kids are more likely to go to Burning Man or a trance music festival in Israel one day than church.
I am sick to my soul.
This weekend a couple dozen authors and scholars from Africa, Europe and the US will gather at Wake Forest University to blend our thinking toward a book published next year about religion and health. We meet in sharp awareness that many would wish for no religion at all.
I can’t blame anyone who looks at history and concludes that we should try a culture with no religion of any kind. I thought we were heading that way, as rational secular science-based logic was all the rage way back at the end of the 20th century. It turns out that there is something in the human being that simply must tether beyond ourselves to ultimate meanings. Call it Spirit. Homo sapiens spiritus. We all have an ember that will flame for good or evil beyond all imagination.
Any of us brave enough to accept identity with one of the great traditions is responsible to see that the others of that tradition do not use that religious cover for heinous actions toward people of other religions; or those who are simply going about their life down the street in Hroza, Gaza or Winston-Salem. We say clearly that any religion—especially our own–that is comfortable with gross inequity in the distribution of things God intends for everbody should be rejected by the larger world as fraudulent. If one’s religion is not good for the whole world it obviously is not linked to the God who created the human species with nearly infinite variations of thought and imagination. Any religion that is not good for the whole world is dangerous to our small planet. Let us not leave that to secular people to say; it is our responsibility.
Practically, only a Christian can engage a dangerous Christian. Same for every other religion. This is not without risks, as some of the most virulent emotion is between people who share the same religious identity. But only an older white male Baptist can deal with the leadership of the minority group of older white male Baptists showing dangerous tendencies in public toward people within punching range. No Muslim, Jew or Sikh can sort out a crazed Baptist. That’s on us Baptists. And I’ll count on y’all to keep your extremists away from my grandsons.
The heinous savagery degrades all religion. Every faith favors humility, hospitality, kindness, generosity and peacefulness—especially toward strangers. And every religion violates every one of those time and again when it fails to hold itself accountable to its own teachings.
Today a kind of prayer beyond words lives in my soul, sick with sorrow.