Having just written the title of this of this blog post, the question that comes to mind is whether there's ever a compelling story of religion gone good.
In my current atheist frame of mind, the answer is no. But during the 35 years I was a believer, Eastern religion variety, I would have said, "Of course there is, my chosen faith."
Problem is, everyone who buys into a religion thinks the same way. Their faith is absolutely great, almost faultless. It's those other faiths who give religions a bad name.
My wife and I have started watching Under the Banner of Heaven on Hulu, which is based on a true crime story involving the Mormon religion. The first episode shows the grisly murder of a woman and her child.
At first the husband is the prime suspect. But it doesn't take long for the Utah detectives on the case to realize that a lot more is going on involving a very large Mormon family. (Is there any other kind? Mormon tend to have many children.)
Several things struck me about what we've watched so far.
One is how religion does bind people together strongly. This can be good or bad, depending on the nature of the religion. When Allen, I think his name is, brings his girlfriend to a gathering of his Lafferty family, everybody there greets her warmly in a decidedly Mormon fashion.
They do so because she's introduced as a devout Mormon.
That makes her part of the religious club to which they all belong. So there's much talk of Heavenly Father this and Heavenly Father that. (So far, it appears Mormons don't use "God" very much, preferring "Heavenly Father.")
I used to enjoy this feeling of belonging when I was a member of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), an Indian religious organization headed up by a guru. I knew that I could go anywhere in the world and be warmly welcomed at a meeting of the group, especially if I said some magic words.
Not "Heavenly Father." Rather, "Radha Soami." That was an all-purpose greeting of the group. Also, a way of saying thank you with hands folded. Or a way of ending a talk. Kind of like Aloha, I guess.
During the many years I was the secretary/leader of our local RSSB group, my phone number was listed as a contact person for the organization. My wife, Laurel, wasn't a satsangi, as members of RSSB were called.
Often when the phone rang and it was a RSSB initiate on the other end, Laurel would hear "Radha Soami." She'd then say, "Hello." Typically the other person would repeat, "Radha Soami." Laurel would keep saying "Hello" until she heard "Hello" in reply.
I thought this was great.
Every religion has some cult-like aspects. Radha Soami was used as a phrase in much the same way the Mormons in the show we're watching would say Heavenly Father. It marked you as part of the in-group.
But my wife wasn't part of RSSB, though she supported me during the time I was a member of RSSB. So people didn't know what to think when they'd phone my number and hear "Hello" rather than "Radha Soami."
Of course, this wasn't a big deal. It just indicated how every religion has ways to tell the difference between those who belong to that faith and those who don't. Mostly those ways don't cause any real problems.
It'll be interesting to learn, as we get further into Under the Banner of Heaven, what caused some members of the Mormon religion to murder the woman and her child.
I suspect those who did this ghastly deed were under the sway of an extreme cult-like frame of mind, as opposed to the usual "normal" religious cult-like attitude.