Good People Doing Evil Things
you would have good people doing good things
and evil people doing evil things.
But for good people to do evil things,
that takes religion.”
—Steven Weinberg, US physicist (1933 - )
quoted in The New York Times, April 20, 1999
The above quote was a Google quote of the day recently. Of course, I disagree. And yet, part of me, if I am really honest with myself, knows exactly what Weinberg means. If there wasn't the hope of an afterlife of redemption (with or without a plethora of virgins) would it be quite so easy to find a seemingly endless stream of young men (and now sometimes women) willing to blow his or herself up in the name of Allah? And can I point the finger at Islam without accounting for the great number of deaths that could be laid at the foot of the cross as those done in Jesus' Name?
The Crusades and the Inquisition are just the start. Some Christians even provided justification for the Holocaust in their preaching and teaching even if they didn't take part in or directly condone the attrocities commited by the Nazi government. Organized religion does have much tragedy for which it can be called into account. So religion is a problem. I think on that I will have to agree with the physicist quoted above.
This was true in Jesus' own day as well. Jesus' harshest criticism was always for the religious leaders who praised God with their lips and denied him with their actions. The poor, the outcastm the forgotten ones are those that Jesus lifted up. The high and mighty and holier than thou are the ones he sought to bring down a peg or two. And the word religion comes across in the New Testament as something of a bad word.
“Thraiskos” was the New Testament word for religion and its origin came from the island of Thrace whose inhabitants were known for their excessive religiosity. The Thracians were fanatics and the Bible's word “religion” means that you are “like the people on Thrace.” That's why it is used as a bad word.
The Book of James uses the word to point toward a better way to be religious: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
For scripture then religion seems to be a problem and the way to know if one has the good kind of religion is if their faith bears good fruit. If you are taking care of those in need and not getting tied up in the chaos and confusion of the present age, then you have true religion rather than just religiosity. So good people doing evil things in the name of religion are ones who are using religion as an excuse for their wrong actions. But those actions themselves do not come from God, even if the person doing wrong claims “God made me do it.”
This is the hard part to grasp for many people—even if all followers of Jesus get it wrong, it is possible for Jesus to still be right. He is not wrong just because we act wrongly while saying we are following him. In the ways we get it wrong, we give others an excuse to ignore the faith that is in us. But when we bear good fruit, we point others toward the rightness of our beliefs. Yes, Christians can be called into account for the Crusades, the Inquisition and much evil done in God's Name. But we also can claim the creation of hospitals and orphanages and much that is right in the world.
I know the Weinberg (quoted above) feels this good would have been done with or without religion. He may be right when it comes to religion. But I don't think this great good would have been done without the same Spirit working through those doing the actions that was blowing across the waters in creation and was present in Jesus' life and ministry. That is the creative and recreative Holy Spirit which has worked through flawed and failed humans to do much good in this fallen world.
That's my take. What do you think?
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor