the nature of religious fundamentalism is much on my mind these days. when i was growing up, i was part of a christian demonimation that stressed the "priesthood of the believer," that is, the idea that each person can approach God directly, seeking God's leading in matters of faith and practice. in this denomination there was room for wide divergence of belief, members could express doubts about traditional church teaching, and politics was never discussed as part of church worship. the central focus of worship was the teachings of jesus and how to live the christian life from day to day. as i matured, the denomination grew increasingly conservative and politicized. individual congregations that dared to take such "radical" positions as recognizing the baptisms of other denominations or recognizing that women could be called to pastoral ministry were forced to leave the denomination, and i watched as this expression of the church left me. as an adult i was forced by my conscience to become part of another denomination that allowed me the freedom to seek my own answers as i believed God was leading me.
i look now at the denomination of my youth and see a church filled with those who blindly follow their leaders, a church peopled by those who've abandoned thinking for themselves in favor of a letting their leaders think for them. i am frightened. if this sort of blind following of religious leaders becomes dominant, we will commit many grievous wrongs and do them in the name of religion. i was interested to read the dalai lama's suggestion that the correct path is to seek a spirituality that is beyond religion, and i think what he is saying is that organized religion often gets in the way of finding the right path. while i, like many, find being part of a group that is bound together by our common search for the right way to live life to be essential, i cannot abandon thinking for myself and seeking God's leading. i cannot allow organized religion to dictate the path for me, but it is helpful for me to know that i am part of a group where each individual is also seeking God's leading, knowing that individuals in my group may come to very different conclusions about what that leading is along life's path. that's ok. we are all different, we may be at different points along the path, seeing things from differing perspectives, or finding that our answers are different because we are different people.
this line of thinking has colored my thinking as i've watched the mob mentality that has unfolded in the middle east during the past few days. some have been quick to condemn all muslims for the behavior of these mobs, but my mind has gone to the not-too-distant past in my own country. i've been reminded of "christian" mobs who massacred mormons as they made their way across our country, of the "christian" who said of the murder of a mormon child that the killing was justified because that child would have grown up to be another adult mormon, of the massacre of members of a westward moving wagon train by mormons masquerading as native americans, of the lynchings of african americans by "christan" mobs. do such atrocties condemn either christianity or mormonism as religions? did every christian or every mormon condone these actions? certainly many muslims took part in the mob actions we've just witnessed and many others supported them, but millions of other muslims felt shame and expressed condemnation for the actions of their fellow believers. we cannot condemn all muslims for the actions of a few any more than we can condemn all christians or all mormons for the actions of those few in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
my prayer for each of us today is that we seek our spiritual answers thoughtfully, taking wisdom where we find it, and using that wisdom to live lives of lovingkindness. shalom