I have but a moment to blog today, but someone asked me what I thought of the “big hit among Christians” video below.
As usual, my answers are never straight and simple. In a nuanced universe, why should they be? But my opinions are strong – so here goes.
Here’s the short answer, to Christians – his intent is good, he’s not bad, but he’s just wrong. This confusing line of reasoning sounds great to many Christians, but in my estimation, it is short-sighted and has a weak view of how God works in human history. In fact, it is a harmful way to approach not only faith, but the systems that make up what we call life.
Here’s the longer answer, to Christians – The guy wants to separate himself from anything that is not postmodern in its purest sense – here and now, relational, nondescript, non-institutional, non-hip, feeling-oriented, etc. It’s cool to be anti-establishment, especially when you want to distance yourself from those aspects of the church establishment you hate (and we all do) while you identify with, and snuggle up to, the ones you love.
I see a fear, or misconstrued sense, of how God works in historical process with broken human beings. As in a family, you can run away from all you didn’t like, but the reality is, it’s your story and you might as well learn from it. To associate yourself with a religious system is not to associate yourself with all that happens that is dark within it. It is to bear it, and from within, triumph in the opposite ways.
Align yourself with Wall Street or a political party and see if everything they are associated with meets your specs. And try running the world, or your home, without any systems for your bobsled life to run on.
While none of these ideas he presents seem directly problematic when integrated with a thoughtful vision of the cosmos and history, left to itself, the main idea he has left us with offers a confusing package to anyone who watches it and thinks they agree.
First, he is dividing between religion and faith, which is always good. But the “I hate religion,” in my estimation, is just silly and shortsighted.
Religion is the set of tracks faith runs on – any faith – it offers systems and ways of keeping faith alive over millennia. Anything that taught him about Jesus – The Scriptures, a spiritual leader, Cathedrals, boards of directors, meetings, lighting, heat, songs, liturgies and more are all containers for faith to run on. He is (without clear intention, I believe) denying his mothers and fathers, and the systems they created to deliver to him any faith worth having.
Hating your parents and anything associated with them. That always works out well for our psychological, emotional and spiritual health.
How will a faith that embraces forgiveness, that radiates transforming life in the people it authentically touches, expresses compassion to the poor and broken in society without relenting – over millennia, that incarnates the virtue of love in a way that actually empowers you to become the kind of person who helps end Apartheid with non-violence – be passed on to his children, and his children’s children, and his children’s children’s children?
Systems filled with art, beauty, repetition, substance, words, images, boards and fallen but majestic men and women will do the work for you – that’s how.
(I would add here that sometimes people have to lose their “religion” to find their “faith” again. Why would we get so bent out of shape over that? Sometimes the old brand of faith they were carrying needed to be lost, for them to find a new faith that’s living, pulses with hope and all that is good and right and true and loving and transforming, and is able to sustain them and future generations for a lifetime of marriage, war, divorce, success and failure.)
Secondly, religious systems can infuse faith with life and power, or become a distraction and disorient those who hunger for faith. Hating religion isn’t the point. It’s hating what we do with religion, with those tracks, that is the point. What he really hates is the human heart.
I actually think the Islamic response was stronger, though it’s goal was to extract the mystery out of Christianity and turn us toward the raw submission of Islam.
As far as my Christian readers go, let me just say, you can love Religion and love Jesus, and you can love Jesus and avoid any system that galvanizes resources to care for the poor, creates spaces to gather on a weekly basis to remember his teaching, or employs anyone to do anything in his name.
But our humanity can push us to serve Religion rather than Jesus.
Hate the human condition – which Jesus articulates more beautifully than any other – and leverage the systems that be to actually pass on your faith and actions beyond one generation.
I love Jesus, but I have a love/hate relationship with religion. Let it serve blossoming, deepening and impenetrable faith, but not attempt to replace that faith with its often helpful but sometimes divisive systems.