Whether I am ushered into the next world by a choir of cherubs or a bevy of trident-bearing imps, or whether I just compost quietly in nature’s great recycling system is not a matter on which I spend a great deal of thought.
I am, by genetic endowment half-Jewish, by upbringing Roman Catholic, and by choice, agnostic. I neither deny nor assert the existence of God.
I have seen the great comfort and goodness wrought by small churches of all persuasions in the small communities in which I have lived.
I also see the hell-born misery ultra-orthodoxies of all religious types wreak on people the world over. Be it the Taliban, ultra-Orthodox Jews, the far-right Christians or the Sunni-Shiite internecine wars, you name the orthodoxy, and history books and news archives will drown you in tales of persecution, torture and death.
Throughout history there have been oases of peace and sanity where Jews, Christians and Muslims or Buddhists, Muslims and Hindi have flourished in mutual respect. For four centuries prior to the 11th century, Jews, Christians and Muslims lived together under moderate Muslim rule in Cordoba, Spain. During the European Holocaust, Muslim Morocco prided itself on defying Vichy’s order to its French colonies to round up their Jews. The Islamic monarchy instead sheltered them from German and French persecution. But examples like these have been rare. And human carnage done in the name of various deities or “with God on our side” as Dylan sings, is common. The subjugation of women across all orthodoxies and the persecution of religious minorities and homosexuals is as prevalent today as the burning of non-Catholics was in the streets of Seville during the Spanish Inquisition.
The recent news coverage of Ultra-Orthodox Jews spitting on an 8-year-old girl and calling her a “whore” even though she wore the modest uniform of the orthodox school she attended resembles Puritan extremism. And the requirement that women in Ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods ride in the back of buses recalls our hard-fought civil rights battles here at home.
The slaughter of Muslims by former neighbors with whom they had lived in peace for decades in the former Yugoslavia, the genocidal rampages in Africa, the multi-century cover-up of sexual abuse of children in Catholic parishes, all in the name of religion must cause doubt about the existence of God or, at least, about his earthly designates.
I believe in a higher power. I am open, as I was as a young altar boy, to the loving and forgiving God who teaches that the meek shall inherit the earth.
But in observing the ongoing persecution and slaughter conducted on religious grounds, I can’t embrace or even trust religions managed by man in God’s name. I miss the spiritual discipline I knew as a child, but I can’t muster enough faith to forgive institutions willing to fight to accumulate earthly riches and political power — while at the same time perpetuating sexual subjugation of women and children.
This piece was first aired on Vermont Public Radio.