These are not the best of times for people of faith.
Now I don't mean to say that those in the faith community should have an open door policy whereby they end up accepting any and everything that goes on. There has to be a line drawn in declaring that which is sinful and ungodly. However, that will be another discussion altogether.
My problem is with inconsistencies that I see amongst those in the faith community - inconsistencies that are painfully apparent to anyone who cares to observe objectively, and ones that are making the irreligious draw incorrect conclusions about our walk with God. But more to the point, it is also drawing people away from God especially those who have a deeper longing to be godly.
This dichotomy between what people say and do, and impose on others is nothing new. Jesus Christ experienced the same problems when He was on earth since majority of His detractors were the religious fundamentalists of His time. These were people - like the religious fanatics of today - who clung on to the orthodoxy of dogma that applied a rigid social structure of 'us and them,' who evaluated piety by how one dressed or behaved, who insisted in a hierarchical pattern that was sustained by patronage, and who bullied the weak and vulnerable into a lifetime of servitude.
St Augustine famously said, 'do not judge a philosophy by its abuse', and this remains - in my opinion - to be a very important guideline in how one assesses faith communities worldwide. I am aware that each and every faith or religion is based on strictures or dogmas that aren't necessarily complementary and that genuine differences do exist. However, this is not the place to discuss those differences and perhaps it requires another essay altogether.
What I believe that this guideline should help us do is to make us study each and every philosophy and/or religion in detail before any conclusions can be drawn. Instead of rubbishing every member of the faith community as regressive because of outlandish claims made, it's better to study claims and evaluate them in the light of their dogma and scriptures. And then, make further evaluation based on historical and textual contexts to see if the crazy talk is 'scripturally' based or just plain ranting from a religious nutcase.
And yes, this is relevant not only for those who are irreligious but also for those who are in the faith community and end up making wrong conclusions about people from other religions. It's important to study what people believe and then see if their language and actions match their doctrine, and if not, call it for what it is - an error!
However, these are not easy times and am aware no one is going to bother going through the trouble of studying doctrine. And am aware that there will be people who will continue to rely on their preconceived notions no matter what, but there's nothing we can do about those who remain obstinate in their positions.
I do feel that St Paul has possibly one of the best responses to religious pride and arrogance. His words written in a letter to a church in Corinth that was full of people who didn't walk the talk highlights what is - by and large - the most important benchmark to evaluate holiness, piety and spirituality: