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  • Writer's pictureDavid Horst

Religion, good and bad

As with all structures of power and authority, religion can be used for good or ill. With the rise of Christian nationalism and its alignment with white supremacy, we are compelled to ask, Are some religious beliefs good and others bad?

This question has been weighing on my heart and mind since the November presidential election in my grief and anger over how Evangelicals — sisters, brothers, and siblings in faith — have forsaken core Christian values to embrace authoritarian politics and governance.

Who am I — a liberal, marginal Christian in the Unitarian Universalist tradition — to make value judgments about certain religious beliefs and belief systems? No, the question is, How can I not?

I define religion as a coherent system of beliefs and practices, sacred stories, doctrine and symbols, and shared rituals that humans create, sustain, and transmit within their religious institutions and communities. Religion is a construct, a product of both our majestic human imagination and flawed human character. God does not create religion, we do. We aspire to the good but too often succumb to the bad.

I propose a religious code of ethics: Do particular religious beliefs accept reality, respect scientific inquiry, promote intellectual honesty, support political freedom and individual responsibility, teach deepening and maturing faith understandings, affirm a sense of trust and relatedness to God and the universe, honor and respect human diversity in all its forms, and encourage the feeling or intuitive dimension of life?

Let us try to avoid common divisive conservative/liberal religious stereotypes: Conservative beliefs can be expansive, embracing, and growing, Liberal beliefs can be blind, exclusive, and stunted. All religions in all faith traditions have their light and shadow sides.

Even good and healthy religious beliefs must be held with humility, knowing that God is ultimately unknowable and each of us in our religious tradition holds sacred truth only in part. My way is one path. Your way is another path. Our way has many paths.

Christian nationalism is a bad religious belief within the good religion of Christianity. We simply cannot abide the rise of Christian nationalism and it must be called out as unethical, unfaithful, and undemocratic. We are a nation with a multiplicity of faiths and traditions, which, on the whole, adhere to life-giving, life-affirming, and life-sustaining beliefs. Let us choose the good.

Photo: Joseph Perkins Road, Norwich, Conn.

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