Can you judge a religion by its followers?

Can we judge the truth or merit of a religion by the attitudes, actions, and beliefs of its adherents?

Using Christianity as an example:
Look at greedy, fame-hungry pastors, sexual and mental abuse within the church, gossiping and cliqueish groups, divorce rates as high or higher for religious vs. non-religious couples, war/sexism/homophobia/intolerance in the name of God or holy book, division between denominations, etc.

Can the merits of a “life-changing” God and savior be judged by the lives not changed? Should someone say “I’m going to leave Christianity because of (insert group of people)”?

I was a fan of saying “Judge the religion by its tenants, not its people,” but I still wonder if you can make a decision about a religion based on the followers.

Take Islam for example… You may see Muslims saying “Islam is a religion of peace” but meanwhile extremists are bombing innocents in marketplaces and schooling children on the use of automatic weapons. Can one say “Well, despite all the killing and the intolerance, Islam is a religion of peace.” Can one overlook the evidence to the contrary no matter what?

Thoughts?

His right arm was smooth

It was the left that drew me in. Hash marks—perhaps marking the passage of time? Or is each raised, dull scar a memory of pain? Freedom from it?

The first thought in my head concerned his tank top. I don’t recall what patriotic beer logo may have adorned the front, but I do remember a distinct lack of sleeves. It felt like peeking in someone’s dresser drawers—into places a stranger should never go. His skin, freckled and rough from sun damage, was out for all to see. Naked, bare in more ways than one. I blushed. I stared.

Isn’t it normal to hide the evidence? Should he have locked it up so women on the beach, like myself, would not find their eyes fixed on the horizontal stripes that repeated from shoulder to elbow? It was the unexpectedness of his confidence that made my brow rise and my eyes follow as he strode past my settled patch of sand. What’s the story?

A month has gone by, but I still consider him and wander after him in my memories. I blush again; I’m certain I’ve been caught where a stranger should never go.

boys and girls

The question remains: can heterosexual males and females be (just) friends? Will there always be a waxing and waning of interest or sexual tension or attraction? Is that what holds some friendships together? Do some men/women just use opposite sex friendships to make up for a romantic void?

I suppose a lot of friendships are like that—filler until something better comes along. For instance, I was very close friends with one guy from high school and through college. We had wonderful conversations, thoughtful insights, and could be quite real with one another. To get it out of the way, I’ll admit I had tiny crushes on him on and off. But that didn’t cause or end the friendship. It was a side effect of being emotionally close with him, I suppose. As soon as he got married—poof—he was gone. I haven’t spoken to him in three years. It grieves me, but I don’t want to step on his wife’s toes. I don’t think she liked me very much anyhow. But I do miss our friendship very much.

Another male friend of mine and I seemed to connect out of our singleness. We’ve known each other since 2002 or so, and I admire him and enjoy him very much. We used to talk daily, if not multiple times a day for whatever reason. Somehow I think that was simply a placeholder until his girlfriend came into the picture. No word from him about it, just a lack of communication. And since I find it offensive to have to chase friends just to keep some sort of menial contact, I’ve basically placed him on the back shelf of “we had a sort of closeness once”.

Common theme, really. I get along well with men, but am soon pushed back behind the new, bright toy that lives freshly dusted in the front. That’s okay, I suppose, since one’s most intimate relationships require more attention and give more in return. I try to have understanding and empathy since I’m certain I’ve done the same to others when in a dating relationship. That doesn’t lessen my fondness for what I once had.

But I still wonder… should I even become close to male friends in the first place? Can I even help it? should I always expect an unceremonious end?