How Religion Makes Us Better People

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I’ve noticed that as I grow older, I’m less likely to have
bouts of anger – something that in the past I’ve had more often than I care to
admit or recall. Though I may not find myself angry as often, I’m more
interested in the subject of anger.

One moment of enlightenment about anger occurred years ago
when I realized that anger almost always hurts me more than the person with
whom I’m angry. In other words, when I’m angry, I’m miserable.

So what makes people angry? It’s undoubtedly complex, but writing
in “Living City,” a publication of the Focolare Movement (https://www.focolare.org/en/),
Jerry Hearne recalls reading about an incident of road rage in which one driver
regretted his violent reaction and tried to analyze it.

“If the driver were able to catch even one of the avalanche
of thoughts that assailed him immediately before his anger struck,” writes
Hearne, “it could hypothetically be, ‘People always disrespect me’ or ‘Nobody’s
gonna mess with me….’”

Well-Worn Path
Fact is, we’re often stuck in a negative rut with our
thoughts. I imagine a well-worn pathway through our brain’s neural connections.
In certain situations – such as that of an angry driver – the same sort of
thoughts lead to the next, following the same negative, emotional paths.

Sometimes, these repeated thoughts reflect clichés and
biases about people and things. “That guy with all those tattoos probably has
no moral conscience.” “That old woman with a smudge of ashes on her forehead is
probably a religious fanatic.” “That Democrat probably stands for high taxes
and an uncontrolled border.” “That Republican probably has no compassion.”

The clichés and biases are often applied to religion.

A common comment in newspaper op-eds and letters to the
editor is, “Religious people are always trying to cram their moral views down
our throats.” So it’s OK to have, and express, opinions as long as they’re not
based on religious belief?

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Regarding abortion, you often hear something
like, “Those who oppose abortion are a bunch of old white guys trying to
control women’s bodies.” Never mind that there are questions of fundamental
justice involved, such as when a fetus becomes a person, whether the unborn should be protected and how to balance the rights of the unborn with the rights of the mother. Instead of negatively categorizing each other, we should try to figure out the
fundamental ethical and moral questions involved.

“Religion is the source of the violence in the world” is
another common quip. That’s a popular belief even though the greatest violence,
occurring in the last century, has been perpetrated by secular, sometimes
atheistic, governments and organizations. Nazism, Stalinism, and Cambodian
communism are examples. In numbers of victims, they make the Crusades, the Inquisition and
the Salem witch hunts seem like community festivals.

I understand the reluctance of people in the modern world to
embrace religion. Religion has its share of hypocrisy and craziness (which should make it at home in our world). We are a superficial people, often having interest in
things and people for the flimsiest of reasons and for the briefest of periods.
Famous people, including popes and presidents, can be extremely popular one
minute and trashed the next. Political polls can show great support for a
candidate or politician one day and show the opposite the next.


Thoughtfulness and Consistency
Religion requires thoughtfulness and consistency. Clichés
and biases won’t do. Like our atheist and agnostic brothers and sisters,
religious people have to face the issues squarely. Are there good reasons for
our belief? Is our faith rational? And do we expend the time and effort needed
to answer such questions?

Failure to do so makes us lukewarm and feckless.

The ace-in-the-hole for people searching for God is prayer
and care for others. Many Christians are observing Lent, a specific time to do
a spiritual inventory. Besides “prayer and care,” it may include fasting and
almsgiving, practices meant to get us into better spiritual shape.

And contrary to some clichés about religion, that makes us
better people – more peaceful, more loving, and less angry. 

    

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