So how to start this one !! Religion is always a tricky subject- it's one of those topics that can be incredibly divisive. Not just about whether you believe or not, but also because of its nature and consequences. Wars are caused by it, terrorists are inspired by it, but in alot of people it inspires a compassion, grace and a love for fellow man. One thing is for certain- that those who use religion as an excuse for fanatacism are in the very small minority.
I go to church- I'm not in the slightest bit embarrased to admit it. In fact I'm incredibly comfortable in the way my faith guides me. If you'll allow (not that you have much choice!) let me tell you how I got to where I am.
I was brought up in the Catholic faith- went to Catholic schools both at junior and senior level, and then, like so many, I grew disillusioned with the church. Ultimately, I didn't know what to believe. Deep down I don't think I ever lost my faith but as a young man there seemed to be so many other things that got in the way. Girls mostly, but also there were other things that seemed to take priority- building a career, socialising, sport and a whole host of other distractions. Then I met my (now ex) wife and that pushed my life in yet another direction. When my son had been born and was growing up, and attending the same primary school that I did, I started reattending mass - something intangible was drawing me back. I still had my doubts- I don't believe anyone who says they never question their faith- but a ritual of worship seemed to make my life more complete. When my Grandfather was taken ill with a severe stroke, and was close to dying, it was the church and Jesus that I turned to for help and consolation, and the comfort that brought deepened my faith to the extent that I knew I'd never turn away again.
When I go to church and help with parish initiatives like the youth group and committee, I see a community that is united in the love and grace that Jesus teaches. Parisioners reach out to others- to those that are sick and housebound, to children, to each other. There's a wonderful sense of family, of closeness that unified faith brings. Everyone smiles, strangers are met with a warm welcome and generosity knows no bounds. This scenario is repeated thousands upon thousands of times across England, Europe and the rest of the world. Communities brought together by a common belief and doctrine, doing good works and helping their fellow man.
Of course, as we know form recent revelations, the church is not perfect. My argument is that in any institution, especially one so large as the Cathoilc church, is that there is always going to be evil somewhere- that's the way of the world. But that doesn't make the whole institution evil. None of us is perfect and religion helps us see that and try to right the wrongs we commit. It's all about learning how to love each other instead of loving ourselves. Whatever crimes are commited in the name of religion, we are taught that Jesus will always love us, and through the church I have complete faith in that truth. If that helps me and many others bring a little more love into the world, then how can that be so bad ?