Friday, April 29, 2005

Religion is weird and religious people are weird

No, you didn't misread the title.

Reading over David Bercot's Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs it struck me how absolutely strange we religious people really are.

Here we are in the age of reason and verifiable fact and yet we speak in the language of myth and legend. Think for a second how disconnected it all is? Sure, you're born because your parents made whoopy, you die because your body grows old, nations rise and fall because of economics and military prowess, and outcomes reflect the concious interaction of intention, resources, and effort. Winners are those who have more and weild more power, losers are those who weild less power and have less. This is not difficult.

But for us? No. Instead we say that people can be born through the Holy Spirit, we say you die because of sin, nations rise and fall by the intangible will of God, and outcomes reflect all of the above mentioned.... and a completely unquantifiable dimension of providence from the almighty. Winners are those who did the Divine Will, whether or not it rendered unto them anything tangible - indeed they may be considered losers.

Think some more on it - we believe that we meet God by eating a little insignificant bread crumb and drinking a spoonful of watered down wine. We think that when we touch our shoulders, head, and stomach in a certain order that it guards us from evil. We sincerely believe that there are invisible spirits all around us, some benevolent and some malevolent, which are always seeking to influence us, guard us, harm us, or what have you. Oh yeah... and we think that by mumbling words into the air that we're affecting some part of this densely populated unseen spiritual cosmos - that's sane.

Our entire life is guided by ritual actions and symbolic understandings which underly completely unconnected things. Remember that what goes on for instance at wedding services or at funerals isn't just pomp, but rather we believe that it has an effect - it does something. We hold onto hope for a place we've never been, that noone has ever seen, and that if you do see it you can't come back to tell anyone anyway (and if you did no stable person would believe you). "He isn't really dead, he's just alive somewhere else that I've never seen and cannot empiracally verify." Try to get me to buy that one sometime.

So what's it all about? Well for one thing we're weird. Let nobody convince you otherwise. Religious people are strange. Normal people would not spend a day worrying too much about all of this hocus pocus. No well-balanced human is going to seriously consider giving up tangible facts for intangible hopes. It's simply irrational - be honest, it is. We voluntarily curtail our sex lives, eating lives, monetary motivations, and educational beliefs all for the sake of this "thing" out there, which we can't really define.

The only way I can synthesize all of this (read: explain myself) is by a mirror of experienced reality. When I have lived my faith, life has been more cogent... it has held together. Part of this is the morality of it all. When I live those morals blindly and faithfully, life just turns out a little different - a little more fulfilling. I read the actions and sayings of Jesus and I think "you know... he's right... this is what we're supposed to be like. This is how it really works."

Part of what is so convicting about the gospels that I find nowhere else is the dead on read of what we all know we should be and where we all know that we are. When we see the concerns and reactions of the Jews and other peoples in both testaments it's so full of flesh and blood. While this divine history plays out we can still recognize in its midst people we know, often ourselves. We know why they worship Ba'al. Ba'al's a nice guy. You give him $2 and he gives you a lollypop. He's the kind of God the rich and powerful want to serve. A God that wants to help you out to up your experience and to make you life "happy".

Scripture tells us exactly what people are like. None of this flowery yip-yap "you're really a good person deep down" that we hear from self-help gurus. Nono, we all know we're messed up. If you could read my mind I guarantee that you would never listen to another thing I said - ever. I'm sick and I know it, I'm broken and I know it, and I also know that I can hide it from people the vast majority of the time.... and I know that I'm not the only one.

We also know truth in God's anger and our fall. Look at the world - destruction, hatred, divisiveness, and the daily indulgence of inhumanity in so many sectors. No nirvana reaching here baby, we're off track.

So I guess that I only really subscribe to all of this Christianity business because I see it. History is the product of the winners and science always leaves out that one variable. We always think we know the answers and yet things never turn out like we planned. We try not to give our heart and committments to lost causes, but they pull us back time and again. We know that our way just isn't good enough.

When Jesus says to Peter, who is counciling him against voluntary death "get thee behind me Satan" it all becomes clear. What Peter is saying makes perfect sense! Right before this passage Peter had been proclaiming Christ as the messiah, and he knew what Christ was capable of. Slay the dragons! Throw off the yoke! Free the people from tyranny and give them their Universal Human Rights!

I can see a mild smile on Jesus' face rebuking Peter... men still don't get it. His ways are not our ways, God doesn't do things like we do, and oftentimes his answers look stupid to us... until they work. His ways are not our ways... and we know the fruits of our ways. His ways are not our ways... and they don't quite square with how we would have written the novel. His ways are not our ways... and that's the only kind of God worth bowing down to worship.

4 Comments:

Blogger Theodore Paraskevopoulos said...

Some o your best writing!

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really quite provocative and good. As I was readubg it, I was thinking I'd love to give this to my students you draw the reader in and then punch him (her) in the gut...with a deep truth. Thanks.
John Bostwick

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

*applause*

12:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Relgious people are weird, alright. And in my experience, the more religious they are, the more likely they are to be NUTS!

12:11 PM  

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