06 August 2020

Don't throw out the Baby

Found on Facebook.  
I have no idea whether my target audience for this post will ever actually see it. That audience: people who look at the "Christianity" typically portrayed by white USA evangelicalism, and reject it. Sometimes, this skeptical audience seems to account for half of the Twitter comments on almost any religion-and-politics thread.

If by any chance you are among those who look at the graphic above and say, "Religion will be gone? Great -- who needs it?", I'm trying to connect with you. I'd like to make just a few points.
  1. You already know that Jesus is central to Christianity, and you might have some positive thoughts about him and his ethical imperatives, whatever your sense of his existence beyond his historical time and place. Hold on to that!
  2. Christianity, stripped to its bare essentials, identifies a way of gathering and organizing the people who follow Jesus.
  3. Whenever people try gathering and organizing themselves -- and each other -- they seem inevitably to screw it up much of the time. This is as true for any affinity group anywhere, except perhaps temporarily for some tiny group somewhere that I've never encountered. We are not immune -- sometimes this social dimension of Christianity fails miserably, but failure of this kind is not unique to us.
  4. Over and over in the history of Christianity, corruption prompts reforms and rebellions -- people who insist on returning to first principles, to a purer intention of following Jesus. They reject coercive gathering, coercive organizing, coercive enmeshment with secular empires. They throw out compulsory ceremonies and formulas that don't contribute to a life of following Jesus. (This was the rebellion chosen by the founders of the Quaker movement I belong to -- but we're not the only example, by far!)
  5. My challenge to you: look again at a Christianity stripped of authoritarianism, a Christianity that actually lets Jesus get a word in edgewise, and then consider whether the "Christianity" you've been presented is a credible representation of the followers of the Prince of Peace.
  6. You may not find this argument convincing at all! For example, you might say, "What good is a God-figure who seems unable to convince his own movement to avoid power-and-control tangents that he himself warned about?" Fair enough, but consider that the social movement itself, and its flags and symbols, are not Jesus' main priorities. His main priorities might be loving you, and giving you an intuition of him that is not controlled by the religion industry, an intuition that might draw you into a trust relationship that no external authority could ever adequately promise or describe.
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You have every right to be skeptical, even disgusted, by the pretensions of public religion that trades on the Christian brand to maintain its hold on power, leading you to decide, "Who needs it?" You might also not be persuaded that its Founder is exactly who he says he is, and who those of us who owe our lives to him say he is. But these are two separate decisions, and I ask, respectfully, that the first decision should not automatically lead to the second.

If you'd like to talk with people who already have some experience with these dilemmas and decisions, we'd love to meet you!

Related posts:

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Movie night with physicist Dominic Walliman. How important is it that films get the science right, and which films succeed?

Margaret Benefiel: Leadership, John Woolman, and our world's five current pandemics.

Rondall Reynoso: Should we topple the white Jesus?

By Young Friends for Young Friends worldwide: a 10-week series of five workshops on climate action, peace, and justice, beginning August 29. 

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Tom Smith said...

Well stated Johan. I have been known to say that "Institutional Quakerism" is an oxymoron. I think that might be extended to "Institutional Christianity." That is to say that once the Institution becomes the"goal" or the center then the "Light" tends to be blocked/walled off and the "ocean of darkness" (absence of Light) appears to overwhelm human interactions.

Johan Maurer said...

Thanks, Tom. It's amazing how institutions take on a life of their own, making their own preservation and extension the highest priority.