“God told me to break up with you,” he told her. She cried. He left her house, climbed in his car, and called the girl he’d been flirting with behind her back.
Have you ever had someone use religion as an excuse to do something bad to you?
You don’t have to go very far to find evidence of religious wrongdoings or to find people who are completely opposed to religion because of it. When you lay all of the hurts from history and personal experiences on the table and examine them as a whole, it’s easy to conclude, “Religion is wrong. It’s the root cause of so many of these horrible instances, and we’d be better off without it.”
For instance, you know the term, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid,” actually came from a religious group that was led to commit mass suicide by drinking poisoned Kool-Aid. Their fearless leader, Jim Jones, relocated the group from the U.S. to a remote jungle in South America, and when they were about to get caught for multiple cases of abuse, Jones pulled the plug and led 913 people to commit suicide.
Another instance: the first of the Christian crusades was ordered by Pope Urban II and lasted 176 years, racking up almost 2 million deaths by the time they ended—all in the name of “God”.
These instances notwithstanding the more relevant personal experiences most of us have had or have heard of from people we know whose hurt has been justified behind the shield of religion. Abuse, judgment, rejection—some of the deepest pains come from religion because of the expectation of “trust” and “faith” it asks us to offer on the front end, only to be righteously betrayed when we are most vulnerable.
But what if religion isn’t the actual problem? What if religion is just one context people use to rationalize their own selfishness?
Wrongs in “religious” settings:
- Jim Jones was unable to face the pending consequences of being found out and publicly crucified as a fraud, a liar, and a disgusting man, so he led his followers to commit suicide because he was afraid to lose control of his disguise, not because of God.
- Pope Urban II believed his perspective was objective and superior, and his shortcomings of reasoning with and influencing others was replaced with force. His actions were more a reflection of his greed for more followers, land, and power than his faith.
- Pastors who abuse children hide decades of secret addictions, have broken sexual pasts, and cave to their temptations to obtain pleasure.
- Religious leaders who judge are insecure people who find comfort in comparing themselves to others.
- Christians who break up with their girlfriends are scared to take ownership for breaking her heart.
Now, compare these to the same wrongs in “non-religious” settings:
- 7,000 Nazis committed suicide following the suicide of their fearless leader, Adolf Hitler (who was also directly responsible for the deaths of up to 20 million other people).
- Approximately 4 million people were killed or wounded in the 3 years of the Korean War.
- 6.6 million children are abused physically, sexually, and otherwise per year.
- Bullying happens to one of every four students.
- Most of us have been broken up with by some other lame excuse like “It’s not you; it’s me,” and many other common breakup phrases that absolve our ex-significant other from the blame of breaking our hearts.
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The same wrong can be found in both religious and non-religious contexts. In other words, bad things happen everywhere, whether religion is present or not. The only common factor in all of these cases is that humans are the ones who do it. If you really think about it, religion never caused war; uncooperative people did. Religion never raped anyone; sexually-broken people did. Religion never judged anyone; insecure people did. For that matter, religion has never caused any wrong in this world; selfish people have.
If your past has been littered with resentment towards religion, I hope to free you from that fruitless anger. Being mad at religion or at God for the pain that people caused to you is mistargeted. The bad breakup, the betrayal, the lies, the intrusion, the judgment, the pain, the arrogance, the humiliation, the trauma, the gossip, the insults, the harassment, the guilt, the shame—it was a selfish human being that perpetrated those wrongs on you.
And you deserve an apology from that person. What they did to you was unjustifiable. I know it might not mean much, but I’m sorry that happened. You didn’t deserve that.
Part of the human experience is dealing with humans. And the truth is: humans can suck sometimes. We’re imperfect, and we make wrong choices that hurt others. Everyone does it. You’ve done it, and so have I. But the good news is that when we come to grips with this reality, we can hold people accountable for their actions, and we can grow together. We can learn responsibility and forgiveness. We can resolve past resentments and reconcile broken relationships. When we don’t confuse the cause of our problems, we can actually go about solving them.
The future for humans will be so much brighter when we start taking ownership for the wrongs we’ve done and take responsible steps to helping each other be better.