Bender: Losing my religion – InForum

It is said that more violence and oppression have been committed in the name of religion than for any other cause. Christian extremists in America, in their arrogance and certainty, apparently don’t understand that faith is not about coercing people, it’s about leading, and if people aren’t following, it’s time to re-examine the message.

A 2021 Gallup poll found that only 37% of respondents trust religious institutions, which in many cases have become increasingly corrupt and political. Moreover, according to Gallup in 2020, the faithful – 47% – are now a minority, a steep drop from 70% in 2000. Yet a small tyrannical minority have hijacked Christianity as a way to politically force their Puritan beliefs in medicine ( reproductive rights), the bedroom (LGBTQ issues), and public schools (prayer).

Like many Americans, I grew up in a church of good people doing good things, but otherwise minding their own business. In my life there have been a handful of pastors, mostly Lutherans and Baptists, whom I have called friends. The first, a young minister fresh out of seminary, revitalized our small Lutheran congregation and became a lake buddy. No strings attached. Fried fish, a beer and a prayer for dinner. Friendship and kindness were his examples.

The second was a Baptist preacher, a member of our team who demolished an abandoned railroad one summer. (In my experience, Baptist ministers are often poorly paid, so they need second jobs.) We discussed faith and railroad ties.

None of my minister friends, however, answered my questions about biblical contradictions, questions I asked early, questions that started my spiritual quest.

As a child, I had started working on angles. The original plan was to sin like hell and repent on my deathbed so I could enter heaven. Or Nirvana. Or Walhalla. Or Paradise. Christianity seemed like a lot. When I was 18 I had a near death experience in a car accident. A glimpse of the other side confirmed the existence of a higher power, reincarnation, and I spent the rest of my life with a remarkable blessing, freedom from the fear of death. He does not exist. It’s a sequel. Another dimension.

I used a library card to study religions throughout my twenties. I saw the parallels. I meditated. I have also spent much of my life as a publisher, understanding that books, including the Bible, are edited by fallible men and reflect the politics and societal mores of the time.

Finally, I discovered my truth. One command – “Be kind” – is enough. Karma is real. As you sow, you will reap. Both positive and negative energies exist, and prayer – positive thinking – is extremely powerful.

We each have our spiritual journeys. A character in my novel, “The Last Ghost Dancer,” said, “All roads lead to God. Some just have more detours than others.

The truth will set you free, but if it’s oppressive it’s not the truth, and it certainly isn’t liberating. If anything should be considered sacrosanct, it is the separation of church and state.

Sadly, however, there is a cheerful, bullying, petty spirit that drives an unholy brew of politics and Christianity in America today by extremists who ironically don’t see themselves in the mirror when they speak out against the oppression of other religions. Some fervently embrace the concept of Armageddon – the return of Christ – and seem willing to hasten it.

It is a dangerous thought.

And they are dangerous.

Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column for Forum News Service. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of this publication, nor the property of Forum Communications.

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