Oh boy!! This is an intensely personal and a highly emotive issue but it needs to be talked about – openly. So here goes!!
First up let me state, clearly, that I am not a follower of any particular religion or faith. Nominally an Anglican or Church of England – I was baptised as one – there are beliefs held by Buddhism and Sufism that I find satisfying and meaningful, just as I enjoy some of the hymns associated with the English Church and I find the the ideas and language of the King James Bible quite wonderful. Likewise certain aspects of the Kabbalah (an ancient Jewish spiritual tradition) and the Hindu beliefs about life and spirituality I also find comforting. So I suppose I could be called an “all sorts” – and possibly be despised as such, even condemned by some for blasphemy and as an apostate.
No matter! What I have found is that all these different forms of belief have one goal – to direct a follower to God, no matter what God is called; God, Allah, Krishna, Brahma, Yahweh, the Absolute – there is only One God. So I really don’t believe it matters much HOW you believe as long as you DO believe. And how you believe is your personal choice, once you have reached an age when you can reflect, reason and choose accordingly.
What got me onto all this are three things: firstly, the recent resignation or abdication of the (now former) Pope – Benedict XVI. Secondly, the long running scandal – affecting ALL religions – relating to the physical and sexual abuse, by those entrusted with their welfare, of children and women. Thirdly, the apparent secularisation of the Western countries (by this I mean the more developed countries of the world) and the corollary of falling church attendances.
Now, I am not claiming that these three are directly linked in any way, it is just that the three go together. I’ll explain why:-
Trust is one of the most fragile of human feelings. And trust is a feeling – not an emotion – it is a gut feeling. Trust usually takes a long time to develop but can be lost in a split second. In the current environment how can trust be engendered when government officials, lawyers, accountants and clergy have been known to abuse their positions for personal gain? How can trust be engendered or maintained particularly when the clergy, imams, rabbis, priests – call them what you will – of any religious order abuse the very people they have been entrusted to protect, to educate and to lead on a spiritual journey to God?
Of a certainty only a minority of clergy are abusers – there are many very fine men and women helping many people. But I wonder if it is the system, the environment, that is the baleful influence and not as the saying goes, “that one bad apple can spoil the barrel” but the “barrel” itself that is bad?
When people, particularly young people place themselves in the hands of someone they view as “superior”; someone who is supposed to be a spiritual and life “guide”; someone who directs them on a weekly basis; someone who influences that least understood and most delicate of human attributes – spirituality, then almost unlimited “power” is given to that guide. Unconsciously this transference of “power” to influence and control a person’s thoughts and actions may damage both.
When a priest, imam or rabbi (as an example) is given this influence over a young person (for example), there is now scope for, shall we say, “ungodly” activities. When young men are influenced to blow themselves up and kill as many “unbelievers” (Christian westerners) as they can; when strict adherence to the letter of the Bible, Koran or Torah is demanded as a requirement to “belong” in a particular society or group; when “believers” are controlled to the extent that they are discouraged from socialising with those not of their “faith” then something is out of kilter. When Christians and Muslims kill Jews; when Jews isolate Muslims from their land and Holy places; when Muslims burn Christian churches; when Christians burn Mosques; when Hindus burn the places of worship of both Muslims and Christians; when Christians categorize all Muslims as potential terrorists; when Muslims consider all non-Muslims as unacceptable to God and legitimate targets for punishment (a jihad or “holy” war); when women are considered secondary citizens and denied basic human rights (by ALL religions); when people are harmed in any way and when there is injustice in any form, a crime is committed and trust is broken.
Why then should anyone believe in the “sanctity” of any particular faith or religious cause again?
Certainly with the Christian Churches, and the Catholic Church is the biggest one, I believe that the “system” is corrupt and broken. It is the current, broken, system that encourages priestly influence and authority over parishioners for money and “power” – the Catholic Church is an immensely powerful and wealthy organization.
The religious people involved in these crimes are showing themselves as diminished beings unworthy of trust. Knowledge of any abuse spreads like effluent through a community and many people, naturally, turn away from any such toxic influences lest they become poisoned. Church attendances therefore fall.
There is little sign of humility and adherence to the commandments that Jesus gave to his followers (King James Bible - Matthew 22.37 and 39):
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and,
“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”.
Remember Jesus also said (King James Bible, Matthew 6.21):
"For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also".