Opinion: How do we bring religion into the 21st century?

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Credit: Theo Ghosh

WSPN’s Genevieve Morrison discusses the issue of faith and reconciling modern beliefs.

Genevieve Morrison

Christianity has gone through fragmentation after fragmentation, splitting into hundreds of different factions, levels of conservatism and new-age radicalizations. Many are unrecognizable from each other, teaching almost opposite doctrines, but they are all in the name of the same man.

With this in mind, I’ve had a different religious experience than many of my peers. As a patron of the increasingly hippy-dippy environment of the Episcopal church, I’ve found it difficult to relate to the strict Catholic culture that is so prevalent in Massachusetts. I’ve often heard stories of strict teachings and unrelenting guidelines to live by, which are unrecognizable from the free-form self teaching approach to faith formation which I have enjoyed.

With such different interpretations of Jesus’s message, it’s hard to fathom that they could all be in the same religion. It’s unbelievable that one man, who supposedly was the picture of radical inclusivity, could also be the symbol of restriction and hatred that certain sects have painted him to be. So who’s right? The answer isn’t simple.

It’s unbelievable that one man, who supposedly was the picture of radical inclusivity, could also be the symbol of restriction and hatred that certain sects have painted him to be. ”

— Genevieve Morrison

To explain, let’s look at the six antitheses. These are passages in the book of Matthew in which Jesus refutes a commonly held understanding with his teachings on the issue. These include such revered standards as “eye for an eye” and “you shall not murder.” They are included in the famous Sermon on the Mount and are regarded as a strengthening of the very 10 Mosaic commandments.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Matthew 5:43-45

Arguably the most revered antithesis, “love thy neighbor,” is one of the points where all the different denominations of Christianity can find common ground. With that said, its significance is vastly more emphasized in the cushy progressive church, who have interpreted it as a call for inclusion. It’s referenced to love all races, sexualities and genders. This is an idea that many can get behind, even those who don’t consider themselves religious.

Another antithesis lays out Jesus’s teachings on a different taboo.

“It has been said, ‘anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife… causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”

Matthew 5:31-32

This one is a little more polarizing. But it’s hard to ignore. It’s not just a random, out-of-context quote. It’s not vague, or really up to interpretation at all. Like “love thy neighbor,” it’s comparable to the 10 commandments. So if divorce is an explicit no-go, how can we reconcile the fact that so many Protestant branches have done away with this idea?

Firstly, divorce is a fact of life. In 2017, over 700,000 legal divorces took place in the U.S. In light of this fact, church after church has given up the anti-divorce dogma. In 2015, six out of 10 Catholics said that they believe those who have been divorced should be allowed to receive Communion. Even Pope Francis, the leader of the supposedly conservative Catholic church, stated an open policy in 2016 to those who have divorced or remarried. This seems like a direct violation of a canon of the Bible. Maybe it is. But, it’s also the right decision.

In the most literal of senses, it would be sacrilegious to ignore this teaching. But it’s blatantly unrealistic to stick by it.”

— Genevieve Morrison

In the most literal of senses, it would be sacrilegious to ignore this teaching. But it’s blatantly unrealistic to stick by it. How can we, in the 21st century truly believe that divorce should damn us to hell? Many of us agree that this idea is outdated. But by that logic, can’t everything in the Bible can be tossed away, labeled as out of touch?

Not exactly. Progress doesn’t mean the Bible is irrelevant. This uncertainty, this constant search for answers is exactly what the purpose of Christianity was. The fact that we have broadened our horizons to consider other points of view means that message is still alive. It also means that we can extend Christianity to accept other sins.

This is not an easy thing to come to terms with. It’s confusing, and it can even drive people away from their faith. It’s an eternal grapple that many religious people avoid, instead choosing to remain comfortably in the faith of their upbringing. I urge you not to do that.

Whatever it is that brings you back to religion, despite this struggle, hold onto it. Maybe, it’s nostalgia for too-long sermons on yawning Sunday mornings, or the comfort of a dusty church basement or the community of overly kind acquaintances and old ladies. It could be faith. It could also be a belief in something bigger, so big that that Sunday service is the only way you know how to talk to it.

Whatever it is that brings you back to religion, despite this struggle, hold onto it.”

— Genevieve Morrison

You won’t lose that if you pivot your beliefs in the direction of progress.

The Bible isn’t a rule book to adhere to at all costs. Rather it’s a collection of lessons that are meant to prompt questions, ones that no one truly has the answers to. If we lose a lesson or two along the way, then so be it, because there is so much more to be found than one stance on an issue. There’s no objectivity in a book written two thousand years ago. There’s no objectivity in religion at all. If we got bogged down in every single dated take in a religious text, progress would be impossible.

So if they’re right, and we’re right, and they’re wrong, and we’re wrong, there’s really no us vs. them. Every denomination disregards some portion of religion or another, so it’s impossible to criticize each other for “manipulation” of the Bible. After all, faith is what you want it to be.