Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter
From 4 October 2006 Issue
Pawprints, Footprints & Animal Chatter
By Judith Marie Gansen
Why I Left the Church
I believe in the right of an individual to choose or not choose a religion to practice. Freedom of Religion is very important and a basic right. I also believe that life is a journey and that our experiences influence the direction that our paths will take us.
It is a good thing to have a focus and direction in our lives--I believe one of my purposes is to speak for animals. I am a spiritual person but is being a good "churchgoer" the same thing as being a truly spiritual person? Can I consider myself to be a Christian since I left organized religion a long time ago?
As a teen I questioned the existence of God and I remember proclaiming for a short time that I was an atheist. I couldn't understand why a loving God would allow all the suffering in the world that there is. Not only suffering of humans and wars but suffering of animals and the senseless destruction and exploitation of our earth and Her resources.
As a child I had been exposed to religion but as a young adult I attended several different churches and read books on religion to try to find answers for a void that I felt was in my life. Eventually I became an Episcopalian. At one point I worked at a church of a different faith and I have discussed religion with countless people. What is the purpose of religion? Why do we need worship? Are there politics in organized religion? While I ran into many truly spiritual people, I also have encountered people who are in religion to impress their bosses or to look good in politics or believe it or not, to further a career agenda. Searching for spiritual answers has caused many books to be written. Really, no one has all the answers.
I noticed people I speak to seem to say they attend church as though the knowledge that they visit a building makes them a Christian or they are in with the "in crowd." While I am no spiritual expert and my articles only reflect my opinion, I believe these people are missing the big picture.
Here is a rundown of things that have upset me TERRIBLY and the reason I don't practice religion now. These are either my own experiences or those of trusted friends or were found in credible publications or news broadcasts.
1. A church secretary while reorganizing files came across paperwork written by the governing body of the church about how to re-circulate pastors who were known pedophiles (child molesters). Basically the church felt these people had just made a mistake and deserved to be put back into a church--just a different church maybe in a different city. The secretary quit soon after finding this information--how could a church not know that the recidivism rate (repeat offending) for pedophiles is very high--one report says over 90%. Shouldn't the first priority of any church be to protect our children??
2. I have seen and read about churches that cost millions to construct. They are architectural wonders and gorgeous buildings. One has a fancy winding concrete drive that must have cost a fortune. I wonder how Jesus feels when He sees million dollar buildings being constructed to supposedly worship Him while His children and His animals suffer and starve in this world?
3. A church employee listened in disgust as a pastor explained the importance of moving to a larger church--it was explained that it was an "important career move." The focus of course being on the career and not the reason for leading a congregation spiritually.
4. A woman being abused by her husband (who was abusing the children and pets too) was told by her church that she could divorce him but then the church could not bury her. Devastated, she remained in the violent relationship. A deeply spiritual person, she could not feel peace knowing that her church would not bury her. But hey, the important thing is that the "family" was kept together, right?
5. A church employee was shocked to find out how high the salaries were for church leaders in her religion--competitive in the private sector even-- plus they get a free house! Pretty nice deal!
6. More and more I am hearing people say they are sick and tired of the judging that Christians seem to get caught up in doing. When we judge others it makes us feel superior. Is acting superior part of being a good Christian?
7. A church had an open house to invite new members to join. The secretary noticed that the pastor kept leaving off a poor, unwed mother from the mailing list. After several reminders to the pastor she gave up. Could the conclusion be drawn that this unwed mother didn't have money to donate to the church and that was why she was left off the list? It seemed to the secretary that this young woman needed fellowship and spiritual guidance more than anyone.
8. A woman tried to start a vegetarian support group at her church. She was denied a meeting place and actually met with hostility because she had an idea that was too "out there" apparently. Another woman put a bumper sticker on her car that read "Kindness to animals is the hallmark of human achievement." She was asked to take it off because "we don't think like that."
9. The cost of religion--make no mistake, the products out there promoting religions make a ton of money. I am for free enterprise but get upset when I see an elderly woman with a fixed income paying $25 for a book about God she can't afford. Why can't teaching about God come in paperback or be downloadable off the net at a reduced rate? I have purchased religious items before myself and support free enterprise, but I take issue with the teachings of Jesus and spirituality being marketed and advertised like a fast food place.
10. The subjugation of women by religion - Never forget that women, people, hold up half the sky! We are more than something to look at and our talents include but go far beyond the ability to have a baby. We have wonderful brains and we contribute to the world in many ways, just like men do. Recently I read about a woman being fired who taught Sunday school for many years because a male preacher interpreted a passage in the Bible about women teaching and decided she couldn't do this anymore. Unconscionable! Intelligent people know that women's brains are far more important than our ability to procreate which really takes little talent.
11. Treatment of animals - One reason I liked the Episcopal faith is because they have the Blessing of the Animals which is wonderful. Some other religions, usually the more progressive ones, are more animal friendly. Religion is beginning to look at animal and environmental issues which is wonderful and long overdue.
12. Controlling the minds of believers--this is a personally a huge issue with me. A church leader should not feel the need to "control" the information coming into the brains of his or her congregation. If the job is being done right, true believers will follow because their spirituality is being enriched. The very sad thing about following those who preach the gospel or any religion without question, is that those doing the preaching may have different motives than following a noble religious ideal.
A "spiritually rich" church does not have to fear that a church member would question something. Debate and discourse is how we learn and grow and become better. Any time anyone from any religion tells me "don't read that" or here is "an approved reading list," I see a huge red flag that pops up and run for the door. It is disrespectful to my intelligence when someone thinks I can't sort out truth. Truth is always stronger than fear or ignorance. We become stronger in our religion when we are not afraid to look at the outside world or read something that we don't agree with because maybe the other guy has something intelligent that we can learn from. While we look to spiritual leaders for guidance we should not allow them to think for us.
I will continue to search for a church and work on my spiritual self. I don't mean to sound like I am bashing religion because I know there are many wonderful religions out there with truly enlightened followers whose focus is not about a fancy building, but about alleviating suffering in the world, which is truly God's work being done!
So if you choose to practice a religion, perhaps it is a good idea to question the accepted wisdom and question authority. Blindly following anything is a weakness. Many religions have been guilty of not practicing what they preach and using religion to kill, torture and steal. This includes the Christian religion during the Crusades sadly. So before getting involved in any religion, read up on it and visit before joining.
And to the religious leaders out there, please protect children, respect women and treat them as equals (because we are) and include animals more in religion because they surely matter. In addition, be tolerant of or teach that vegetarianism is a very positive, healthy and more peaceful way to live!
Staff: Animals in Print (free online animal publication)
Pawprints, Footprints & Animal Chatter (my editorials on mostly animal issues--if you email me please indicate in the subject column it is about one of my articles so it doesn't get deleted as spam--thanks)
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