Faith makes so much possible; it keeps despair at bay and allows hope to thrive. We all do well to have something to believe in.
I grew up Catholic, then lapsed, then returned, then took up permanent residence at a distance. I remember with fondness today my earlier days of devout worship. I also accept the painful truth that while faith can truly inspire us, the human institutions that arise around it will invariably compromise it.
Every year during Holy Week, I recall the profound truths of Christianity, along with its powerful symbols. One need not believe in the literal death and resurrection of the historical Jesus of Nazareth in order to understand the transcendent nature of the human soul. One need not believe that this particular man of Galilee was the only son of God in order to recognize the divine presence in every human being. Indeed, if the crucifixion had never occurred, the cross itself would still represent what Joseph Campbell explained to be the intersection of the human and divine planes.
All of this, plus the most meaningful teachings of this itinerant rabbi represent something too vast to be claimed by a worldly framework of authority. Once genuine devotion turns to doctrine, the threat of dogma looms.
For any representative of faith to deny the sacrament of Holy Communion to any sinner would contradict the very truth of that sacrament–that all human beings are worthy of redemption. For any representative of faith to keep any worshiper at a distance because of petty proprieties related to lifestyle, politics, or doctrinal dissent would reject Jesus’s very example to welcome everyone into his blessing. The adulterers, the tax collectors, and the unclean of twenty centuries ago have their equivalents in the people most harshly judged in our society today.
Any institution of faith that denies the priestly ministry to anyone based on their sins, their gender, their marital status, or whom they love denies that very ministry the presence of the divine in the souls of the rejected.
And all of humanity would do well to reflect on the religious pretexts used for injustice, cruelty, war, and genocide throughout human history. Countless millions have suffered and died in the name of one interpretation of the Almighty being truer than another.
For all of this, however, I know well the good things that can result from genuinely spiritual pursuits, both on an individual level and through genuine, right-minded ministries of various spiritual traditions. Every desperate soul that comes to know its sacred self, every act of mercy or grace that comes about in this world has a value none of us can even comprehend.
But all of the faithful in all of the spiritual traditions of the world must practice discernment in carrying out what they believe to be God’s work. At the core of every religion reside the values of acceptance, compassion, and love.
In short, true divinity, while present in all of us, belongs exclusively to no one. This week, hundreds of millions of people will celebrate the death and resurrection of someone who suffered on a cross for this very principle.