Sunday, November 28, 2010

"As I find it, religion in America is characteristically atheistic or agnostic. Religion has virtually nothing to do with God and has little to do with the practical lives of men in society. Religion seems, mainly, to have to do with religion. The churches – particularly of Protestantism – in the United States are, to a great extent, preoccupied with religion rather than with the Gospel..."
William Stringfellow 

This is hard for the religious among us to accept - especially when we see personal stories of real faith and commitment in our own experience.

The quote was shared in a discussion class I attended and it was essentially panned and rejected as either a gross overstatement or just plain wrong.  However, the data is sadly clear that there is little moral difference in regular church-goers and those who don't attend church at all.

I wondered aloud if, had the citation  been recast as 1st century Jewish quote about religious folk of jesus' day, would it be received very differently? I think the class would have quickly leapt to agreement!

We find it so hard to see ourselves or
our institutions in the role of the Pharisees. We work so very hard to see ourselves as the righteous standing in judgement over the unrighteous - as the godly calling our the wickedly religious. Yet the clear evidence is that WE are the religious of our day - our institutions are often the self righteous, the affluent, the powerful, the elite, and the sectarian and divisive.

The truth is that this distinction is a common one to human experience. Like pride and lust, the need to architect institutions and systems of control - of differentiation and classification - is a common one. Humans, in our search for meaning and our fear crave security and a sense of control. We create the illusion of these things in a countless myriad of ways: wealth, physical fitness/accomplishment, sexual conquest, battle, racism, sexism, elitism, knowledge, and, frequently, religion.

At the root of this problem is nothing especially significant to religion in general or Christianity specifically. Anymore than eugenics or Nazism is a complete indictment of science or genetics or atheism. They are distortions of natural - perhaps even healthy - impulses. Distortions created not from within the thing itself but from within the people who grapple with these things and are manifestations of their own insecurity and fear and weakness.

We must, in every institution and every movement of which we are a part and of which we encounter, look honestly at the fruit produced - the real and outward behaviors and honestly judge this question. Movements and institutions are useful servants but horrifying masters.

It is this truth, coupled with the radical, unheralded message of the uniqueness and value of every single person and the accompanying ethic of agape love and charity and compassion, that makes Jesus' the monolithic prophet of human evolution and purpose and meaning.

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