The future of religion depends on the choices we make in the present: let's let the light in.

Amber Lennox 13 April 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

Image courtesy of Julia Volk on Pexels

I know there’s the rule: ‘don’t talk about religion’, however, I’ve never been one for being told what I can and can’t do. It’s odd really, despite no obvious prohibition, religion seems to be a taboo subject. In the modern day, I can understand why; there are very few scenarios involving major ‘religious news’ that doesn’t involve some kind of uncomfortable topic, so of course, we want to avoid it. This is exactly why we must discuss faith and religion more.

I am, what some of the most conservative Catholics would refer to as “a bad Catholic”. Though I prefer the term modern, or progressive, it doesn’t negate the fact that I have struggled with certain aspects of my faith and many assume things about my beliefs that are not true. To name but a few things: I believe that the choice to have an abortion is a woman’s right; I believe that the LGBT+ community should have every right and opportunity that anyone else does, and I believe that contraception is a key part to anyone’s sexual health and enjoyment.

The thing is, I’m not a bad Catholic, at least not for the reasons that the dogmatists would have you believe. In fact, those who do not accept everyone simply in the name of Catholicism, are the true bad Catholics.

Recently, I listened to my priest explain how those individuals who have fought to keep the Gospel buried in the past are the reason that the Church is where it is today (heavily implying that it isn’t in a great place). He spoke of how the Gospel is alive and speaks to us regardless of the time we are in; to not accept someone because of their use of contraception, divorced status, or love for someone of the same sex, is wrong and abhorrent to the true meaning of Catholicism. The fact is that humanity is growing and moving forward. For many of us now, religion isn’t about a rigid set of rules, it’s a dimension of life that provides a spiritual connection with others and with ourselves.

It’s not just myself or other Catholics who are redefining their faith for themselves either. There are some 4300 religions in the world with billions of different people who follow them. I have friends who are Muslim who, like myself, by no means agree with certain teachings of their faith and who perhaps elect not to wear a headscarf, yet they still feel a connection to their community and perform religious rituals. I know people who are Jewish yet don’t plan to circumcise their children, however, they celebrate Passover religiously. I write this for them as much as I do myself, despite what some of our elders may have us believe, WE are the future of our faiths.

Most people likely have minor, or even major, things that they perhaps disagree with their religions on, but that doesn’t stop them from having faith! It simply means we find ways to uphold our own values and morals through different interpretations of what our faith teaches, allowing us to be true to ourselves in all aspects of our lives. Faith, after all, is like Wi-Fi, you can’t see it but it’s always there, and different people use it for different things; so long as you’re not harming anyone else, there’s no right or wrong way to have or practise faith.

Many people believe that the world would be better off entirely without religion. I disagree. The main argument tends to be that religion brings nothing but discrimination, violence, and conflict. This is not true. Faith, as a concept, cannot be said to be inherently bad. Faith itself is not an agent of bigotry or violence, it is those who appropriate it to notorious ends in its name that are the agents of violence. I am a lover of people and humanity, and I’ve a lot of faith in the human race. Sadly, however, there are those who perpetrate hate and exclusion on religious grounds, whose minds must open up to the wisdom of young progressive people of faith.

If you have ever had anyone tell you that you are not welcome, or that you are living your life wrong simply because of who you love or the choices you make for your own body, and that person is using religion for the grounds of their argument, let me tell you that, that person does not truly follow a religion of any kind, they are a bigoted coward hiding behind the pretence of religious beliefs to spread their message of hate. The core tenets of Christianity, indeed of any religion, are that of peace and love. Bigoted, extremist religious individuals do not represent their religion any more than Buzz Lightyear represents NASA.

It is not always so simple though. Some of the people who spread such bigotry and hate throughout religion are actually integral parts of the institutions themselves; the last pope, Pope Benedict XVI, was notorious for his strict views on homosexuality and birth control. Despite Pope Francis being considered the most liberal pope to lead the church, representing a step in the right direction, Catholicism is still rife with homo- and transphobia, condemnation of birth control and abortions, and rejection of people who don’t fit a prescribed set of rules. These issues are endemic in the Church, despite not being what Catholicism, at its core, stands for. These issues are endemic within most other religious communities, too, despite the rising number of people who refuse to discriminate on religious grounds. Yet, without inclusivity, the future of religion in the 21st-century is uncertain.

I love my church community, and my own priest is someone who champions the same things I do: love and peace. However, it’s not just enough to talk about religion anymore. It’s time the Catholic church— and other Christian denominations and other faiths— caught up to the young generation’s values of inclusivity.

Many religions have entered the 21st-century kicking and screaming, it is largely down to younger people who, like myself, wish to be able to practise their religion in tandem with their other beliefs, free from bigotry. Young people of faith must advocate for and represent the change we wish to see in our faiths. We have the power to do away with homophobia, and racism, and sexism that still plagues different sects. We are the present and the future of our faiths and we cannot stay in the past if our religion is to be a force of inclusive love and peace.

So no matter what your religion or denomination, religion is a bit like your favourite team sport – we may all support different teams but, ultimately, we’re all playing the same game, and those who start fires and drunken riots at any given opportunity, by no means represent the rest of us.

I understand why religion is such a difficult topic. It divides us and often forces us to face uncomfortable truths. While writing this I’ve come to understand that simply acknowledging homophobia, for example, is not enough. Inclusivity is never easy to achieve, and the first step to achieving it is to evaluate ourselves and our own biases and being open to other points of view. Only then might we be able to make active and conscious choices to understand and accept our differences and unmask the bigots that cast long shadows over the light of Faith.

I know religion to be built on core foundations of love and peace, and I feel as though I am a part of a generation that has the opportunity to partake in a “renaissance of religion” of sorts; in the sense that we can change the social and cultural functions of religion. We must create opportunities to cultivate love in spaces that still hold the hate of the past.

After all, everyone has faith in something, even if it’s a secular something. That is what unites us. We do not all have to believe in the same thing to achieve a world where religions finally stand for the love and inclusivity that they are truly built on, but we must be able to agree to respect each other’s identities and advocate for equal opportunities.

We are not only the future but the present, so why not start now?

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