Religion has a spotty track record. I’ll be the first to admit that. It has been, and in many cases still is, used as an excuse to brainwash, exclude, shame or condemn people—sometimes all at once—and there is no denying that atrocities have been committed in the name of religion.
But… religion has also shown itself to be exceptionally valuable, both personally and culturally. It has produced a number of outstanding people, been a guiding light for peace and unity, created beautiful communities all around the globe, given purpose and meaning to millions, and encouraged people to tend to their spiritual side, to name a few.
Music Appreciation and Religion
Comparative religion author, Huston Smith, once said that religion was like music. He said that despite the fact that the world had, on average, produced more bad music than good music, music appreciation classes spent very little time on listening to bad music, that most music appreciation was about listening to, or, in some cases, learning to appreciate, good music.
Of course, deciding what is good or bad music is largely subjective, but the cream typically rises to the top.
Does that mean we should only focus on the beneficial aspects of religion and ignore the detrimental? The short answer is no. It’s helpful to know what bad music sounds like to appreciate good music.
Yet, on balance, we should probably skew towards the positive. We can be aware of the negative aspects of exclusion, shaming, aggression, and more—which, more often than not, go against the core teachings of said religion—but at the same time, we can allow ourselves to appreciate the religious aspects that lead to goodness and peace of mind.
Modern Criticism is Often One-Sided
Let me repeat; religion is not above being criticized. However, if that is all we do, if we willfully ignore the positive aspects and focus solely on the negative, then we have become a music appreciation class that only listens to bad music. Sooner or later we will no longer be able to see any point in torturing ourselves with such dismal sound vibrations and will stop listening to music altogether.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in a critical state of mind towards religion. As with other news, religion usually only gets media attention when something rotten happens. We don’t hear about the comfort and care people experience, the countless food drives, the homeless shelters, the peak states of enlightenment, the experiences of light… not in the news anyway. And we all get influenced, whether we want to or not. Critics become more and more vocal and religious people more and more defensive.
What if... ?
What would happen if we began treating religion as a music appreciation class? How would our relationship with it change?
If someone’s mind is already made up and they consider religion to be a negative force in the world, then nothing can change that. As Dale Carnegie used to say: “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.”
On the other hand, if people are willing to reconsider their assumptions, I recommend reading The World’s Religions by Huston Smith as a first step. It is a beautifully written book of religious appreciation.
Looking for Reasons to Show Appreciation
Even if a religion were perfect, man is imperfect. Therefore, we will never cease to see both the good and bad aspects of religion. All we can do is decide which aspect we want to focus on. If we focus only on the bad, then that is all we will see. However, if we focus mostly on the good, the positive aspects will enrich us and the bad will reveal itself by comparison.
Personally, in my role as the lead educator in an interfaith organization, I choose to focus mostly on the good. That doesn’t mean I won’t say anything when the detrimental aspects of religion scream at me like a splotch of mud on a white satin dress. All it means is that I am not scouring the news for bad religious news stories, rather looking around for reasons to show appreciation whenever I can.
And I can tell you that the more I engage with people in the interfaith arena, the more good I see, and the more hope I feel.
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