Religion is responsible for causing so much of the pain I see among people – throughout the world and in my own relationships. Over the past few decades, I have been harshly judged by religious fundamentalists, atheists, and so many people in-between who didn’t share my views. The mere mention of “God” can evoke a multitude of reactions among a group, ranging from: “Ooh, I want to get in on this conversation so I can enlighten you with my knowledge on all things holy” to “I don’t want to hear about that crazy talk because God doesn’t exist.” It seems nearly impossible for most people to separate their emotion from their ingrained thoughts about God.
I believe it is that God-related emotion that keeps us from arriving at common ground when it involves religious issues. I also believe it is that emotion that helps perpetuate animosity toward those who don’t share our personal views on spirituality. In order to avoid conflict, I tend to steer clear of meddling in other people’s affairs, but I will share my opinion when asked for it. Even though I am someone who prefers keeping my thoughts to myself in personal relationships, I have been on the receiving end of a lot of hatred throughout my adult life simply for being the spiritual person I was designed to be.
I wish we could just start taking emotional passion out of religious conversations by referring to God as something less inflammatory, like “Phil.” Without an associated emotional history attached to a name or a concept, conversations could potentially result in people being far less argumentative, less destructive, and more likely to listen to other people’s views. Instead of having conversations that immediately jump to impassioned divisiveness “in the name of God,” maybe a dialogue “in the name of Phil” could go something like this and allow for different vantage points:
Person A: Phil can’t stand transgenders.
Person B: Oh? The Phil I know hasn’t given me that message.
Person A: Well, that’s what Phil tells me.
Person B: How does Phil let you know his thoughts on transgenders?
Person A: My pastor has told me that he read the book that Phil wrote and that’s what it says.
Person B: Have you ever read for yourself this book that Phil supposedly wrote?
Person A: Well, no, not all of it. My pastor reads it for me and tells me what the important parts say.
Person B: Has your pastor ever told you what Phil’s book says from cover to cover so you can understand the entire context?
Person A: Well, no. He selects a relatively small passage that supports his own opinion each Sunday.
Person B: Then how can you be sure of what Phil believes about transgenders?
Person A: I trust my pastor.
Person B: Then would it be most accurate to say that your pastor believes that Phil can’t stand transgenders?
Person C: Hey, what are the two of you talking about?
Persons A and B: Phil’s thoughts on transgenders.
Person C: Oh, I don’t believe in Phil, so a conversation about his thoughts would be a waste of my time. But I would be interested in hearing what the two of you think about transgenders …
Then a civil conversation could possibly unfold. And maybe all three people could simply respect one anothers’ opinions and agree to disagree. If everyone engaged in religious dialogue in this way, then maybe our collective energy could go into building a better world instead of destroying those in it who don’t think like us.
It’s my opinion that Phil likes everyone equally, regardless of who they are, because we all look exactly the same to him from his vantage point.
(* If I have offended anyone who holds firmly to their preference to judge people in the name of God, I’m sorry.)
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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved.
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