Lucinski: Looking Past the Failings of Religion

By Dick Lucinski
Niagara Gazette
December 23, 2007

NIAGARA FALLS — The phrase "Happy Holidays" not withstanding, this is a religious time of the year. It is the time when Christians mark when their savior came to earth; when God became man.

If you're a Christian, that's a pretty big deal. Many theologians argue that Easter is the biggest event on the Christian calendar because that's when Christ proved his godliness, coming back from the dead. No one's topped that one yet. Even so, Christmas is a major religious event.

All of the secular stuff aside, presents, trees, holiday decorations; this is perhaps as good a time as any (and better than most) to think about religion in general; especially organized religion.

Quite frankly, organized religion these days has a public relations problem. And we're not just talking about Christianity here. But that's a good place to start.

Most are well aware of the abuse scandals plaguing the Roman Catholic church in the United States. Billions of dollars have been paid in reparations to victims of sexual abuse by priests, not to mention the psychological scars and shattered lives of the victims. That's not exactly the type of thing an institution dedicated to helping people is supposed to be doing.

Episcopalians are at war, figuratively speaking, with each other over the gay issue (are you old enough to remember when that word meant "happy?"). One faction has promoted an avowed homosexual to the post of bishop. Meanwhile a number of dioceses are in the process of breaking away from the main church in protest, saying the Bible specifically forbids homosexuality. It is an ugly, bitter split.

And fundamental Christians, from Jim Bakker to Richard Roberts (son of the founder of Oral Roberts University), have been known to dip their hands a little too deeply into the collection basket, diverting contributions to their respective churches for their personal benefit.

The Jewish faith has its own nation and its critics charge Israel uses heavy-handed tactics when dealing with its neighbors. The Jews say they're simply defending themselves from those dedicated to their annihilation, something with which they're all too familiar.

And then there's the image of Islam. It's one of the world's most adhered-to religions; one that's been hijacked, at least in the minds of non-Muslims, by radical nuts who seem to think that the way to honor Allah is to blow up innocent people. Not good PR.

The problem with organized religion is that it's organized by human beings. The shepherds are just as fallible as their flocks. That means while the masses look toward their religious leaders for guidance and a good example they don't always find it. Usually they do. Just not always. And that's the rub.

Locally, we have the example of the former Methodist minister Peter Del Rio. Last week, Del Rio, of Niagara Falls, was sentenced to six months in jail for using his church's credit card account for his personal use. The tab: More than $44,000, which he will have to repay.

Cases such as Del Rio's give a black eye to all of the good work done by the religious and by churches and synagogues and mosques in our communities. It's reminiscent of a story out of Greek mythology, the story of Sisyphus.

We might have told this story in this space before, but its lesson is worth repeating. Sisyphus was a Greek king who did a lot of evil things during his reign. He even found a few ways to cheat death, to keep out of Hades for a while. But eventually, as all mortals do, he crossed over. And, since he was basically a bad guy, he was damned to serve eternity in Hell.

But his was a special punishment. He was doomed to forever roll a large boulder up a hill. Just as he approached the summit, the boulder would get away from him and roll to the base. Then Sisyphus would have to start all over again. Forever.

The dilemma faced by organized religion is Sisyphusian. No matter how many good works and fine things religious people and organizations do, their boulder rolls back to the bottom of the hill when one, or a group, of their own exhibits human frailties.

So try to remember to wish a Happy Birthday Tuesday to the guy who started it all, at least for Christians. While his followers might not be perfect, he was. And if you need an example in your life when you start to exhibit those human tendencies, you might want to look his way. That's one fellow who knows how to keep the boulder at the top of the hill.

Dick Lucinski is the managing editor of the Niagara Gazette. His columns appear on Wednesdays and Sundays.


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