Everything and everyone in human life has a shadow side. Our tendency is to ignore and deny our shadows. It can be uncomfortable acknowledging darkness wherever it may lurk, let alone attempting to address it. Willful ignorance has its appeal. Our treatment of religion is one huge exception to this. It has become popular to reduce religion only to its shadow and selectively shine a light only on the worst horrors of religious history. To many these days religion is all evil, and perhaps even the source of all evil. History shows religion does have a long and dark shadow, no question about that. So there’s plenty to draw from. Portraying religion as only evil requires presenting an extremely imbalanced story though, which can only lead to further misconceptions and mistakes.
It can be psychologically tempting to blame all of our shadows on religion and assume that everything else would be just peachy apart from its existence. Life becomes simple. Thine enemy is known. We can form a mental map of where the shadows are that helps us sleep at night. Willfully ignoring and displacing some of our shadows doesn’t make their presence magically disappear though. We’re still discomforted by some mysterious sense and feel compelled to blame the darkness—vague and obscure and dissociated as it is—on something or someone. Groupthink develops as people rally together reinforcing common enemies and illusions. Habitually blaming some simplistic external target can become a convenient strategy for eluding any personal responsibility for the shadows too. Hence “religion” become just such a target for most if not all of the blame.
Every single human affair inevitably has its shadow side, from religion to politics to economics to business to science to education to healthcare to medicine to families to relationships to sex, and the list goes on and on. To not see this is to have partial vision. Every human endeavour inevitably has the potential to cause good or evil, because every human being carries both light and darkness, as well as some degree of power to choose their own motives, actions, and ends. Seeing our shadows doesn’t have to be bleak either, as some might cry out with cynicism. At first it can be startling and uncomfortable. But it’s also realistic. We need to see our shadows if we truly desire to see all of what is real. And we need sober optimism, clear vision, and perseverance in the face of reality. For some this begins with developing a clearer and more balanced view of religion.