Can we judge religion by its followers?

My relationship with Christianity is very complicated for many reasons. One of them is the grim history of this religion.

My question of the week is this:

Can a particular religion be characterized by and viewed through the actions of its followers? Can we judge religion?

I would like to give it a “yes” or “no”, but I feel like splitting between the opposites.

According to Christianity, God is omnipotent. He is a perfect being – certainly the only being without fault. As far as I understand, God’s worshipers can never achieve the same state of perfection. The doctrine of the original sin implies that all people, even newborns, are contaminated by evil. It is possible to free yourself from sin by accepting Christ, but even the most righteous followers of Jesus, cleansed through His sacrifice, will never reach the same level of mental and spiritual development. They will never know what God knows. They will never be all-knowing, all-understanding. If God’s followers can never reach the same state of perfection, we cannot “judge” God by his followers.

Does it mean that we cannot characterize God Jehovah and Christian religion at large by the deeds of Christian people throughout history and today?

In this post I should leave the idea of relativity of “good” and “bad” aside. Personally, I believe that every known and unknown duality and opposition is a part of one Whole which embraces and balances all dichotomies without compromising Its own harmony, but in Christianity there is definite Good and Evil, Impeccable and Faulty. I have not met a Christian person who believed God to combine both the good and the evil in Himself. If I understand correctly, according to Christianity, evil is not of God, it is not a part of God. It repulses him and exists outside of Him. 

Even the best of human beings populating this world are not perfect, certainly not even close to the “perfect” of God himself, but we have our own, more earthly ideas of “perfect” in different aspects of life. A perfect mother, a perfect man, a perfect teacher… Maybe Buddha was perfect at the end of his journey, but not in the beginning. Maybe not. Was Gandhi perfect because he was a true pacifist, yet a fierce spiritual warrior? Was Carlos Castaneda a perfect pupil of the wise Don Juan, or was he a perfect trickster who fooled millions? Are Shaolin monks perfect? What about Mother Teresa? Schindler? I think people can be impeccable at certain moments of their lives, for some duration of time, but is there anyone impeccable on a regular basis, 99% of his or her life during this particular lifetime?

Is it possible to study, understand, and/or follow a particular organized religion separately from its followers? If it is, there might be some very lonely Christians out there walking their spiritual paths in ways which probably differ from those walked by the Church-goers and meeting attendees.

How can one get familiar with Christianity without actually getting in touch with other Christians (and why would he or she NOT want to be in touch with them anyway)? I guess the Bible is a good place to start, but the Bible itself was written by many people (even if dictated by God), translated, edited, modified… Plus, the Bible is constantly being taught to people by other people. It is discussed and interpreted by people. It is not direct, wordless, speechless, intuitive knowledge delivered by a Deity directly into one’s spirit or consciousness. It is a product created to be perceived and digested by the rational human mind. 

I think faith of one person can exist without the involvement of other people. One doesn’t need others to have faith. Religion, however, cannot exist without its followers. It needs people in order to exist. 

Do we characterize Aztec spiritual beliefs by the few records that survived to this day? Do we characterize their religion as bloodthirsty because of the practice of human sacrifice? Even if we do, no one claims that Aztec religion was peaceful and all-loving, or that their Gods were super-kindhearted.

Most Christians I’ve spoken to said that their God was kind and caring. I failed to see that during my Bible studies although I have to admit that I am very far from knowing and understanding the Bible even on a very basic level. So far, not unlike various gods from other religions, God Jehovah seems to me as a very hot-tempered, revengeful, and demanding deity. It doesn’t mean that He cannot be kind and caring at the same time, but it did shock me that in numerous places of the Bible he ordered to murder babies and children along with sinful adults who upset him. I have a very different idea of what “kind and caring” is because this sort of behavior of an omnipotent, all-knowing, and highly-developed Entity seems nowhere close to “kindness” in my understanding of the word.

I’ve spoken about it with some Catholic and Protestant Christians, as well as with Jehovah witnesses. I told them about my confusion, frustration, and inability to comprehend how a kind, loving God can order to eliminate children. There were many answers. People told me that it was up to God’s judgement. You cannot question God’s behavior, they said, because you are a mere human. He doesn’t have to explain Himself to you. You are in the place to love and obey Him, not judge and question Him. I wanted to ask how I could come to love someone who seemed unfair and mean, but didn’t dare to. At that point, I was worried that it would offend people who did love Him. At this moment, I see Christian love toward God as a very mysterious thing because it is not black and white even though Christian view of God seems pretty black and white to me. 

OK, I said to myself, I am frustrated, but let’s accept the idea that God is perfect, kind, and good. Then one should view Christianity as the best path. Why wouldn’t one want to worship a perfect, kind, and good God? 

Because of the bloody history! (and I mean “bloody” literally) 

Can I really view religion separately from its followers, especially if their number is great?

Can I see religion as true if it has imposed its truthiness throughout history by means and methods I find repulsive? Can I see God as “love” when thousands were tortured and killed in His name for being different, “savage”, pagan, for failing to obey?

The Bible itself is a spiritual book, but it is also a book of history, and history is inseparable from people. 

I met a very nice Christian woman the other day. We talked about religion, God, and raising our children. I asked questions, she answered. She was patient and didn’t seem insulted by my not very God-loving words. Today she passed by my place and brought me some chicken broth and herbal teas after finding out that my baby and I were sick with flu.

I want to characterize religion by people like her – warm, patient, kind, humble, God-loving. I don’t really know her yet, but she seemed like a truly “Christian” Christian, if you know what I mean.

Can I just discard the missionaries who imposed Christianity on people all over the world while causing irreversible cultural destruction? Can I forget about the deaths of millions of Native Americans? What about the Crusades, witch trials, Holy Inquisition, etc.? Can I focus only on good, humble, kind, and caring Christians who I meet once in a while on my life path? Can I just discard all that bloody history and focus on the positive in order to come in terms with Jehovah? I am not being sarcastic. I really do have these questions and I think about them.

What do you think – Can a particular religion be characterized by and viewed through the actions of its followers?

Let me know.

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