Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Does Religion Make People Better or Worse?
Dennis Prager tells about a young man who attended a Jewish institute he used to direct. When this young man first arrived at the institute, he was a kind and nonjudgmental person - and completely secular. After his month-long immersion in studying the Torah, he decided to become a fully practicing Orthodox Jew. When Dennis met him a year later he found that he was actually less kind and was aggressively judgmental of his fellow Jews, including those who had brought him to Judaism in the first place. In one year he had become, in his own eyes, holier than the teachers who brought him to religion in the first place. The religion's emphasis on legal observance enabled him to count the number of laws his fellow Jews did not observe and judge them accordingly.
Within Christianity, faith in Christ can lead one to live a life of extraordinary loving-kindness and self-sacrifice, but it can also, and has, led Christians to place so much emphasis on proper faith as to neglect equal emphasis on proper behavior. When you evaluate your own beliefs and practices (and you must do this before evaluating the beliefs of others), ask yourself, “Has this belief or doctrine made me a better person?” or, “Has this belief or doctrine made me less kind, less compassionate, less rational, and more judgmental?” If your answer is the latter, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate that doctrine. I hate to beat this issue to death, but if your worship theology causes you to believe that someone will go to hell for worshipping God with a musical instrument, you have to re-evaluate that doctrine because it is not rational and it causes you to treat other believers in a disrespectful way. If you find yourself acting more like a Pharisee than like Jesus, then it's really time to rethink how you read and apply scripture, or how you engage sin and sinners in our culture. This is why Islamic terrorism is such a pernicious evil - it is killing innocents in the name of God. Their religion clearly has made them worse people! Faith has got to make us better people, not worse people – good and evil being defined by how we treat others.
“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).