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Sol Solomon: The failure of religion and a path forward

For the Monitor
Published: 12/30/2018 12:30:07 AM

According to National Geographic, the world’s newest religion is “No Religion.” At a time when the need for the comfort that major religions should provide is great, all are in decline.

I was 12 years old when I started to lose faith in religion. Rehearsing the text I was to read from the Jewish Torah at my bar mitzvah, I asked the rabbi to explain the meaning of the words. The rabbi said, “You don’t need to understand what you’re reading. You just need to know how to pronounce the words.”

His response added to the doubts I already had about Judaism. I didn’t like that men and women sometimes sat on opposite sides of the synagogue. I didn’t like all the references to the Jewish God being vengeful.

I worked at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing, N.Y., and visited every religious pavilion. I spoke with a Catholic priest about the church’s concept of salvation. He told me it was true that if a mass murderer accepted Jesus, the murderer would gain entry to heaven. This went against everything I believed in.

Nor could I accept the Old Testament notion of original sin, laying human failings on the shoulders of women because Eve took a bite of that apple. How could people believe such nonsense, I wondered, let alone that the world was created in seven days. Nor did it make sense that only men could be priests.

The teachings of Jesus, though, resonated as the truth. The rest of the Jesus story did not. Virgin birth? Rising from the dead? I wondered why these unbelievable stories became tacked on. I explored Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. Although I found parts of each religion to be appealing, none were a fit. All shared nuggets of the same truths that became buried in dogma and the quest for power.

Religion is our attempt to understand the divine, the unexplainable, the higher consciousness we refer to as God. Religion is our way of celebrating the creative intelligence that enables life on Earth. It’s a way for us to give meaning to life.

When religion loses its spirituality, though, it becomes the opposite of what it’s supposed to be. Religion without heart leads to oppression. Religion without spirituality leads to a world in conflict.

Religions need a facelift. The barriers against women being priests, or the need for women to cover their faces and bodies, or to be anything other than men’s equal, should end. The time for “phasing things in” is long past.

Religions would benefit from focusing on the here and now rather than the hereafter.

Unitarian churches have been growing in popularity because of their inclusiveness. Perhaps more competition wouldn’t hurt.

Maybe it’s time for new religions to form. A return to worshiping Gaia feels appropriate. I could get behind a religion that espouses respect for the planet and all the life it supports. Rather than sending missionaries to convert indigenous tribes against their will, we could learn how to honor and respect their connection with the natural world. I would go to that church.

(Sol Solomon lives in Sutton.)

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