With so much child-abuse in the Catholic Church and religious fundamentalism fueling ignorance everywhere, it is not surprising that people turn their backs on religion. And quite frankly, we all have very good reasons to do so.
Religion has become a business, so great and so powerful, that American missionaries have been able to influence Ugandan politicians to pass one of the world's harshest anti-gay laws. Fundamentalist Christians in the U.S have for years picketed military funerals with anti-gay propaganda, showing banners emblazoned with hate-speech and phrases such as "God Hate Fags".
Fundamentalist Islam is definitely another big problem. In the Middle East, Islam is part of the government structure and legal framework of many countries. Separation of church and state is a foreign concept, so foreign that it's not even on the table.
With so many good arguments against religion, can we still find enlightment and inspiration in religious teachings? I say we can, but we need to look beyond the evident and scrutinize the very essence of religion: the parables. One notable example is Father Anthony de Mello, SJ, a Jesuit Priest and mystic from India whose spiritual insights had nothing to do with institutionalized christianity.
There's an old parable from Indian culture that Fr. Anthony de Mello, SJ used to illustrate his outlook on wealth and poverty that is very relevant in today's increasingly consumeristic and materialistic world.
It's called "The Diamond".
The sannyasi had reached the outskirts of the village and settled down under a tree for the night when a villager came running up to him and said, "The stone! The stone! Give me the precious stone!"
"What stone?" asked the sannyasi.
"Last night the Lord Shiva appeared to me in a dream," said the villager, "And told me that if I went to the outskirts of the village at dusk I should find a sannyasi who would give me a precious stone that would make my rich forever."
The sannyasi rummaged in his bag and pulled out a stone. "He probably meant this one," he said, as he handed the stone over to the villager. "I found it on a forest path some days ago. You can certainly have it."
The man gazed at the stone in wonder. It was a diamond, probably the largest diamond in the whole world, for it was as large as a person's head.
He took the diamond and walked away. All night he tossed about in bed, unable to sleep. Next day at the crack of dawn he woke the sannyasi and said, "Give me the wealth that makes it possible for you to give this diamond away so easily."
As Father James Martin, SJ points out in his book The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life; de Mello's parable of The Diamond "suggests that not being controlled by posessions is a step to spiritual freedom, the kind of freedom that most people say they want."
True spiritual enlightenment lies not in going to Church every Sunday or believing in a specific set of dogmas, but rather in understanding how religious parables can be used to shed light on mankind's greatest challenges, as well as providing a simple way to understand seemingly complex problems.
But that requires an open heart -- and more than anything else -- ears to listen.