Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why is it a big deal?

I glanced over a post in Sojourners this morning, about Christians disagreeing about stuff.  Not exactly new news.  The article made the point that as a community of people, it would be more surprising if we didn't disagree (which I think is true) but the author was concerned that the way we go about it is really the problem.  I guess I agree with that too - at least, that the unloving, point scoring, superior way Christians often go about disagreeing on everything from doctrine to politics to clothing, is problematic.  To put it mildly.  Actually, if you take the words of Jesus seriously, it's a sign that those who behave like this are not actually Christians.  (I'm not kidding - if "they will know them by their love" is true - there are a LOT of very churchy types who are in deep, spiritual trouble!)

But I digress.

People in "Christian circles" can get very heated and intense about all sorts of stuff.  Politics.  Abortion.  Contraception.  What "church structure" should look like.  The roles of men and women.  Music.  Clothing.  The list is pretty much endless.

But my question is this.  WHY does any of that stuff matter so much?  Why does "The Church" have to have a unified stand on it at all??  If it is really all about love and relationships - community - then there should naturally be room for diversity.  If it's not about the rules, then the rules shouldn't be the focus.

But I think it goes deeper than simply relationships versus rules.  There's a mindset behind a lot of the arguing, that "The Church" is somehow the authority for what is right, and what is not.  Well if it is, I suppose there ought to be some consensus - but where does that idea come from?  Conversations I recently had with some Christian friends about their opposition to legalising gay marriage in Australia really highlighted this for me.   The whole "God says it.  So I must enforce it" mentality seems flawed to me in a whole lot of ways.  Not least, because nobody can actually agree on whether God does say it - even theologians.

And if the whole Christian thing is about relationship and love, and no need for a mediator between any individual and God - then shouldn't there be room for the individual and God to work out where they stand on issues like this?  Love shouldn't depend on ideological or theological conformity!

But behind a lot of the arguing, is still this idea that it matters - critically - because the Church is the authority.  Hmmmm...  really???  Which Church?  And - over everybody???  Personally, if that's the truth - I think we're in BIG trouble!

Yet if the words of Jesus are any indication (!!!) "The Church" was never meant to be the model of correct anything.  It was meant to be the embodiment of love.  Doesn't that put a completely different slant on everything???  I really think it does!


  1. It is unrealistic to expect that any group of humans will act like angels. Just because Christians believe in God, does not mean that everyone will stop acting in some quite stupidly human ways.

    To expect the church to be the embodiment of love, is just as unrealistic. It probably is a wonderful aim, a goal, but no human group will ever obtain that goal. The best groups to belong to are teams with common goals, where every team member is valued.

    Desiring a church, of perfection, among humans, I think you are wasting your time, Kerry.

  2. Stu, you are quite right that no group is ever going to "act like angels". We are all human. But I can't help feeling that if people saw the church as being about love and community, rather than "right and wrong" - and especially - expecting "it" to be some kind of authority - there'd be a lot more space for people to just be people, and a lot less arguing! Ahh... perhaps I'm just an incurable idealist....

    1. Well if you are, then so am I. I think you're right, Kerry. And I think you're right, Stu.

      And I think that the messy, complicated, frustrating middle ground is what it's about. I mean, no community as large as "the Church" is ever going to act like angels. And no community as large as the human race is ever going to be devoid of starvation and poverty. But that doesn't mean I give up fighting starvation and poverty, and that doesn't mean I give up the idea of doing just what you suggest, Kerry - of trying to create a lot more space for people to just be people.

      It's a mind-boggling large and impossible goal... but I kind of think that's the point. A God with small goals isn't really one that I'd be interested in following. But a God with impossibly large goals that are all about forging something as wonderful as community in love... ah, there we go. Even if I never see it achieved, I still count that as a way of living that's better than anything else I can perceive. I'm in.

      And yeah, I think we'll always come up against this sort of frustrating mindset in many, many Christians. But as long as there are people like you, Kerry, and the Holy Spirit of the Living God, I think we'll be just fine.

  3. lol! Ask my rl friends if they could put up with too many more "people like me"!! (I think you'd get groans of disbelief and horror all round!! ;) But yeah, the thing I love about it is it all depends on a living God being in the middle of it. Not an institution or a set of rules. Something life-giving and present and powerful and real...

  4. Sorry, but haven't we missed the point here entirely?


    The church was not called to enforce the law,the Jews were already doing that, it was called to bear witness to the truth of the good news ,the Grace of Jesus. This is expressed in our love for one another.

    Jesus was very specific in his teaching on judgement, just don't judge others!

    We, as individuals are called to believe, and as individuals what we truely believe is unique .

    The Christian is not called to defend his belief, we have an advocate, that's the job of the Holy spirit, just tell the story,let God defend it.

    As iron sharpens iron, so we are to one another.
    Took a while for it to make sense but if we can openly listen to one another we allow the Holy Spirit to resinate on the dull edge of our own belief.

    An individual work in progress that Jesus is faithful to complete.

  5. Hey, Anonymous! Yes - so very well put!! Thanks for your thoughts :)

  6. It looks to me as if you are slowly coming to realize that religion in practice isn't about god or love... in spite of believing it to be so; it's all about authority.

    If you were truly concerned about love for other people and this world we inhabit, then you wouldn't need anyone's god (and its associated authority) to live such a way. Their well-being would be sufficient. The downside, of course, is that you would be accused of being one of these rather despicable characters known as a human secularist, which apparently comes conveniently packaged without any moral compass wrapped as it must be in nihilism. Before you know it, you would have to brush up on reading Nietzsche (and its spelling).

  7. lol! Tildeb, I believe your spelling is correct! - and, funnily enough, I'm quite interested in his thought. My understanding is that he was not against faith, as such, but against its subversion by authoritative, controlling religious structures. Mind you I am NOT well read about him... something I might have to remedy :)

    1. In a nutshell, Nietzsche proposes that what is important is not the courage of our convictions (the result of the ongoing struggle between the aristocratic mentality versus the slave mentality) but the courage to implement a self-administered attack on our convictions. This courage he calls a 'will to power', which is the choice to choose self-mastery (aristocrat) over safety (slave). In this sense he sees religion (as well as science) to be a slave mentality (going so far as to kill god to maintain the safety of it).

      But he uses the term 'spirit' all the time to indicate this dedication to exercise will in order to achieve power over others.

      It is in reference to this notion of obtaining power over others where we find misuse and abuse, nowhere more apparent than the effects of religious authority. Religious authority over interpretation of and literal instruction from scripture is a guaranteed way of maintaining this belief that we should submit to authority called 'god'. The term 'Islam', for example, means submission. But when push comes to shove, I have yet to meet a self-identified christian who does not eventually agree that the central tenet of his or her affiliated faith requires the same kind of submission of self to the authority of god. The atheist shakes her head in bafflement when no such headship for this authority can be shown to actually exist but whose wishes and 'oughts' and intentions and nature are always pronounced by human proxy... a human proxy always willing to take on the role of being that authority, making clear what 'oughts' are to be considered correct and just, stating what those divine wishes are, defining what that nature is, making decisions for others so that they won't have to fret about god's input. This is religious adherence in action: submitting to authority and avoiding personal responsibility for personal actions by fiat of membership to some pious human organization... a I-help-another-because-god-orders-me-to-do-so kind of slave mentality rather than the aristocratic position of I-help-another-because-I-choose-to. The same action with completely different motivations, which seems trivial when helping another, but the vastly different motivation explains how so many people can agree to practice misogyny and bigotry for religious reasons unsupportable by human secular values.

  8. It's an interesting notion - religion needing to "kill God" in order to keep control. Doesn't it sound a lot like the "Jesus story" to you? I find it very christ-ian (as opposed to christian religion, which I think tends to do the opposite - just as you are describing!) I agree that we need to be able to challenge and examine our own beliefs. Ann Lamott is credited with having said "The opposite of faith is not doubt - it is certainty" and I tend to agree with her.

    Personally, I continue to believe in Jesus of Nazareth, because for me he really does represent the antithesis of all that is wrong with religion. He broke open man-made religion, and I believe moved completely beyond it. I know that my atheist and secular humanist friends will argue that it is not necessary to have any "faith" in Jesus in order to live these values, & I agree, yet to me he embodies these values completely. I don't think it is at all necessary (and in fact, often it can be quite unhelpful) to belong to any organised religious system, or even to believe in Jesus, to begin to put love ahead of laws, people, relationships and community ahead of our ideologies. Yet I think that, whether we label ourselves "Christian", "Buddhist", "Atheist" , "humanist", or something else, when we break out of our "systems of thought" enough to live out love, we are beginning to also embody what he actually stood for. This is far more important than labels!!

    Thanks for the nice, neat summary of Nietzsche - I will definitely pursue his thinking further.

    God bless (or whatever version of that you prefer, lol!)


Feel free to leave comments - I love discussion, & diverse opinions! So comment, add your own thoughts, disagree - you are welcome.

Its okay to comment anonymously if you are shy, but I'd much rather know who you are, & always appreciate it when people "own" their own opinions. Look forward to chatting with you :)