Isn't religion just a disaster area?

How religious people often seem colourless, rigid and how faith is often a spawning ground for hatre

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My religious enlightenment began at the Windmill Theatre. It was Baron Corvo’s mythical Pope Hadrian 7th who turned to the Cardinals one night in desperation and said ‘You know I love the faith but I hate the faithful.’

And there it was, as simple as that, the answer. I was brought up in a left wing, enlightened, open minded family that also enjoyed practising Judaism, not so much the public, pompous, puritanical synagogual side of things but more the family, meals, Sabbaths and Festivals, spent together, preparing, singing, studying, debating and enjoying.

But every time I came into contact with other religious people they seemed so colourless, rigid, holier-than-thou, not at all the sort of people I wanted to mix with. My father told me to read ‘The Screwtape Letters’ by C.S.Lewis, that elegant defender of the Faith.

When junior devil’s having problems with his Christian he is told to get him, when he’s praying, to think about all the people around him in Church who annoy him and that will certainly put him off his prayers. And so I came to realize that it was the same with every religion.

In every religion the vast majority don’t really seem to care too much. They’ve been born into it. It’s like supporting Chelsea. You might not play the game yourself but you have the colours on your wall and posters of the players and you hate all Manchester United supporters without even knowing one of them first hand and the colour red makes you want to puke. And those who do take it seriously all seem to be xenophobic fundamentalists who actually believe they are right and everyone else is wrong. Not at all the sort of people you’d want to go down the pub for a pint and an enjoyable evening with.

When I went to University I came up against these types who knew who was a Christian in College, who was saved and who was damned. I thought it very amusing. So, John knows that I am not saved, that all Jews will go to Hell because we don’t think much of Jesus.

I may have this hot line to God but unless I go through a Jesus filter I‘m not getting the message.. He knows for certain. Like those Southern Baptists who smile at you and say ’I’m sorry, but come Rapture, you’ve had it!’ Nice. Actually I find it rather amusing, like those rabbis who say that the Holocaust happened because Jews were assimilating and seem to think they know the mind of God. And those who think the rest of the world is made of anti-Semites who have no morals, no ethics and hatred of Jews comes with their mother’s milk.

All Western religions say they believe in God, that God created the world and cares about all His creatures and that we ought to be good caring humans. Yes we all agree on the fundamentals. So you devote Friday to your God, I do Saturday and he does Sunday. The differences are really so minor, so cultural, so petty, it’s a joke. And yet here we are hating each other’s guts and utterly convinced the other is totally wrong.

Religion really is a disaster area, a spawning ground for hatred and mass murder. But hold on. Hasn’t anti religion caused just as much trouble. Wasn’t there supposed to be the Brotherhood of Man, the perfect society that Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot all wanted to achieve, equality and happiness for all? How many millions died thanks to them?

I just don’t understand it. The moment people come up with a way to make the world a better place they turn into homicidal maniacs, Jihad, Inquisition, hatred. What is it with us humans?
I’m not a Christian and I do not believe in ‘original sin.’ So why? Is it just ‘freedom of choice’ and we just keep on making the wrong choices? Is it an errant chromosome ? Perhaps the Christians are right after all, ( so long as they don’t insist that I am wrong)!

Jeremy Rosen is an orthodox rabbi who in addition to his pulpits has also been a Headmaster and Professor of Comparative Religion. He now travels and concentrates on writing.