Monday, October 13, 2003

Thou Shalt Think for Thyself

The Freedom Rider is a Baptist who sits in a church pew nearly every Sunday morning. I obviously feel that religious belief plays a beneficial role in my life. When I think of the power of faith I think of people like Martin Luther King, Archbishop Oscar Romero and the Dalai Lama. This is but a small list of those whose search for the means of enlightened living have revolutionized our world. My image of the role that faith plays in our lives is one of furthering the cause of the human condition by challenging us to live lives of righteousness, addressing the needs of the poor and powerless, sharing ideas that are enobling and uplifting, and finding common ground for people of all faiths.

This past week has been a tough one as far as religious enlightenment is concerned. I knew that the Catholic Church, like most others, disapproves of sex unless it is between a man and a woman who are married to one another. It also forbids the use of any contraceptive devices, including condoms. So I am not surprised nor do I condemn the Vatican for speaking out against condom use. However, I was surprised to hear the Catholic Church telling people in countries with high rates of HIV that condoms increase the risk of infection. Needless to say, the World Health Organization and others were startled and angry that people at risk would be told not to use condoms. Vatican officials replied to the criticism by repeating the same statement. They insist, against all scientific evidence, that latex condoms are not impermeable to the AIDS virus. Strike one against organized religion. Lest I be accused of harboring anti-Catholic bias I will now move my lens to Protestants.

If the pastor of my church moved to another city I would wish him well, pray for his success and welcome the new pastor. I would also look askance at him if he asked anyone to move lock, stock and barrel to join him in a new city. Apparently there are those who disagree with me. Rev. Dana Carson, established a church in Austin, Texas and then moved on to Alvin, Texas, nearly 200 miles away. About 300 of 5,000 members of his congregation moved with him. The Rev. Carson had a good explanation for the willingness of people to quit jobs, sell homes, change their children's schools and move to another town.

"It's a cultural thing," Carson said. "African-Americans are more relationship-based. Whites are more analytical. When African-Americans have a relationship with a preacher, they stick with him."

I will bluntly say that this story scared the living daylights out of me. The commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" is apropos in situations such as Rev. Carson's. Are congregants worshipping God, or Dana Carson? I would also ask him to speak for himself. Whites are no more analytical than blacks, thank you very much. There are equally foolish white people who would relocate in order to stay with the same preacher.

Who's up next? The Episcopalians have not been doing too well lately. Ever since an openly gay man was confirmed as a bishop the Anglican Church has been at risk of dividing. It is not surprising that the confirmation of a gay bishop would be controversial, but would you believe that far right ring millionaires are funding the effort to split Anglicans? The same people who funded the effort to bring down the Clinton presidency are working to break up the Episcopal church. It isn't difficult to understand why Bishop Robinson's confirmation has generated so much debate, but I don't understand Christians aligning themselves with people who cynically use religion to fight political battles.

I always defend believers when I hear religion referred to as the opiate of the people. Well, there are a lot of drugged, sleepy Christians these days. I don't know how to reclaim the higher ideals of faith. Perhaps it is simple enough to say loudly that they need to be reclaimed.

I don't think that God would have given us powerful and complex brains if he didn't want us to think. So please think. Think a lot. Think long and hard. Ask questions. God is big enough to handle any questions or comments you may have.

Fight the good fight of faith.

St. George

Does the Associated Press think that the president is an angel?