Starting a New Religion or a neccesary facelift?

There is an interesting post and amazing conversation raging over at PomoMusings.  One of the most vitriolic comments came midway into the 103 responses (and counting):

This whole thing has grown tiresome…if you don’t like the Bible, and if you don’t like it’s Jesus (all of him Genesis to Revelation not just the suffering servent) why must you persist in even acting like it matters what the Bible says…Just start your own religion (or in reality be honest about the self worship you already practice and be done with it…) I would have a lot less issue with it. I have lots of friends who believe the Bible is completely false…But they don’t pretend like they are reclaiming the rue center of my religion

Now I thought that was rather un-generous…but it brings up an interesting point.  This person is clearly concerned with THEIR religion, Christianity. They feel it’s getting watered down, made into milk instead of meat by toothless sharks like PomoMusings author, Adam.  They’re hardly alone.  Even recently I was challenged as a Christian for posting a rather innocent series of questions meant to cause an honest reflection among participants.  Bible verses are thrown around to reinforce the “Christian perspective” which seems to be almost always understood as a certain narrowly defined set of programmed beliefs.

It reminds me of a conversation I had not long ago. It was with an agnostic friend of mine who candidly wondered WHY I still defined myself as a Christian. I expressed that I felt that Jesus was truly onto something, that in himself he offered the world the best hope of humanity and articulated the good dream of God in a way of beauty and truth.  They responded by saying that this sounded great, but what did I do with the doctrine and the dogma, the “basics of Christianity”? I asked which ones they meant.  They then rattled off the 5 tenents of evangelicalism which I smirked at and said I would have a hard time identifying with what I feel people mean by those statements.  Back to the beginning of the conversation, my friend again wondered how then I could call myself a Christian, this time by saying

Why not just start your own religion? I mean why call what you’re talking about Christianity, when it doesn’t agree with what has become Christianity?

So…not unlike what was said to Adam on his post, but from a much friendlier source.  In the end this person I was talking with ended up saying they admired my wanting to stay in my faith tradition but felt like I was just a glutton for punishment.

The problem with all of this mumbo jumbo is that it blatantly reduces Christianity down to one reductionist version of its relgious tradition.  When asked if I identify with Christianity, my instant reaction becomes: “Whose?” The one of slavers, crusaders, papal edicts, inquisitions, exclusion, consumerism, hate-mongers, and narrowly interpreted literalists? No, not likely.  The one of justice, mercy, inclusion, embrace, hopeful belief, experiment, metaphore, beauty, artistry/pageantry, and solidarity? Yes…that sounds like the Jesus I have known, see described in the bible, and understand from the message he proclaimed.

But it raises a set of questions doesn’t it? What if the same tradition actually holds both exclusion and embrace within its very genetic heritage? What if both of these ways of encountering God–narrow and open–are found and justified in the Text?

Still…I like how Alan Jones put it in his (amazing) book “ReImagining Chrisitianity”

If we take the time to explore and learn from Christianity’s terrible and wonderful history, we might discover that it is different from how we’d imagined it. Recent scholarship reveals that there was, for example, much more variety of belief and expression in the early church than previously thought. It emphasized the transformed life rather than acceptance of a belief system–an emphasis that many today are discovering.  Many spiritual seekers today are able to live with diversity of practice and a wide variety of doctrine…Christianity is a wonderful religion, it just fell into the wrong hands! Maybe Christianity has yet to come into its own. 

I’m reminded of how one person mentioned that they felt it might be more productive to just rename Christianity…to call Jesus “Bob” and start talking about this amazing fellow, which sought to introduce everyone around him to a beautiful sense of belonging and being invited into Family, inspiriing peace and hope, justice and mercy.  Bob sounds pretty great…and he comes with less baggage than his predecessor.  I wonder if someone a couple of centuries later will make Bob the central focus rather than the message he was sharing. I wonder if I would become Bob’s prophet and get celebrated over Bob. I wonder if someone would inspire armies to destroy others following Bob’s Word.  Who knows…maybe it’s less about the religion and more about people…ordinary people who hold both exclusion and embrace, hate and love inside…walking contradictions.

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17 Responses

  1. I personally think you should accept Islam for your salvation. Seriously.

  2. Thank you ummadam for your invitation–I do admire some aspects of what I know of Islam and feel I have a lot to learn, particularly from the mystical tradition of Sufism–however, my own faith finds its resting place in the person of Jesus, the tradition of the apostles, and the community of the Church.

    Jason, it is interesting how someone can read something and extrapolate something that is NOT found there at all–this should be testament alone to our completely interpretive experience of Reality. While you are correct, I did say Jesus is the best way–your are wrong in assuming that I was NOT saying he was the exclusive plan of God. Those words were not found anywhere in my post. Is he not the best way? Must I use every adjective to describe him so that he will not, in the end, feel offended by me? If you say he is the “only way” be careful to quickly insert “best” also lest he think you are only choosing him because he is the only choice and NOT also the highest choice as well.

    I use the phrase “best” because it shares a dear connection to the God of the Old Testament “Lord of Lords”, “King of Kings”, “God Most High (or Highest of the gods)”, etc…These are statements NOT of exclusion but rather of decision. They were made by people who looked at the market place of Gods and said–others are there but you are the only one for me.

    This statement will be difficult for any one who is single to understand–my wife is NOT the only one out there–she is however the only one for me. Which is better to say to her, “You, I choose, as the best of all women for me!” Or “You are the only woman out there!” The latter becomes a statement of fate–not love. You had no choice…there were no other contenders. God invites us to a radical commitment to him–one that acknowledges, yes there are others out there…there are other paths…but this is the highest, deepest, and one of undying love in MY heart.

    Still, that analogy has a double edged sword: even though both my wife and I know that other suitors are out there–that neither of us are irriplacable, we don’t wake up and tell each other that…Instead we both are committed to living in such a way that effictively states “You are the only one”. Similarly–I would not council a couple who had just lost a child, “Well…you can always have another…” Because while it is true–it wouldn’t be honoring their particular commitment to the child they had just lost. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I find myself in the situation where I’ve been waking up and looking at my faith committment and reminding her that others are out there. That is no way to treat your love.

    I am deeply committed to exploring and experiencing the love of God in Christ. I long to discover what that means in a great way than I have yet. And I committed to living into those realities, even if I don’t understand them yet–or even if they don’t make sense to me.

    Jesus is the best way. The statement is one born out of love–not out of waffling.

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