God Ignored?

English: South African Anglican Archbishop Des...
English: South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivered a speech at the first International Ethics Conference at the University of Botswana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Religion, says Bishop Desmond Tutu in his book, God is Not a Christian: And Other Provocations, “…should foster sisterhood and brotherhood, which should encourage tolerance, respect, compassion, peace, reconciliation, caring and sharing.” To the contrary, however, Tutu notes that religion “…has fueled alienation and conflict, and has exacerbated intolerance and injustice and oppression. Some of the ghastliest atrocities have happened and are happening in the name of religion,” Tutu writes.

Why in the name of all that is good is that true?

It sometimes feels that God is absent, or perhaps lounging, watching His/Her children be as completely human as they care to be – meaning, God leaves us to our own devices. In many ways, we are like the Biblical prodigal son, who insulted his father by asking for his inheritance while his father was very much alive. Such an act in Middle Eastern culture was unheard of, and should have driven his father to wild rage, writes Kenneth Bailey in his book, Finding the Lost Cultural Keys to Luke 15. Instead, writes Bailey, the father swallowed his hurt and insult, and granted his son the gift of freedom. He watched …as his son made a horrible decision, alienated his family and community, and went off to be as completely human as he cared to be.

In that story, the son “comes to himself,” and decides to go back home, and his father runs to meet him, which prominent men of that day did not do, lifting up his heavy robes exposing his legs so that he could run faster, again, something which was not acceptable for him to do. One did not run; one did not expose his or her legs. This father did both.

Stories like that serve as reminders that God is not absent, but that God really does allow us to be free – even if our being free results in oppression and intolerance and unkindness amongst ourselves as squabbling children.

It makes me want to say to God, “God, please, can you be a little more strict? Can you please cut down or cut back on this free will thing? Don’t you want a good world?” God allows us, as His/Her children, to take our inheritance of love and go to a “far land.”  Yes, we are free! But with our freedom, we are wildly irresponsible, causing so much chaos and pain.

Did God ask us to do things like love our enemy, or forgive folks, or …do to others as we would like done to us …knowing that we would never do it? That the way God wired us made it almost impossible?

Right now, there is a civil war in Syria – amongst religious people. Some of our lawmakers, like Sen. John McCain, seem to be pushing for our country to become involved militarily – like “boots on ground” involvement – in that country’s civil war. The Syrians are doing horrible things to each other, and some Americans want us to help them do it. Protestants and Catholics fought against each other in Ireland; Christians fought against each other in our own Civil War. In the case of Syria, I wonder if those who are fighting each other stop long enough for traditional prayers. My guess would be that they do.

What is it about religion that makes its adherents so incapable of doing what religion is supposed to foster, the things that Bishop Tutu raised in his book?

It seems that very few of us “get it.” The new pope, Pope Francis, seems to get it, that as a religious person, are all held to a higher standard. The other day he interacted with a young boy who has Down Syndrome, inviting him to sit in the pope’s seat in the pope-mobile. A small gesture, for sure, but one that made a profound impact on that young boy and probably changed his life. He’ll probably want to be pope one day so that he can pay forward what Pope Francis gave to him. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/19/pope-francis-down-syndrome_n_3465684.html)  He has said that “Christianity is incompatible with anti-Semitism,” and says that he is going to work to deepen and improve the relationship between Catholics and Jews. (http://www.religionnews.com/2013/06/24/pope-francis-christianity-is-incompatible-with-anti-semitism/). He is not being a reticent prelate, and his determination to be amongst the people is not going unnoticed. That kind of involvement with “the least of these” would probably help us all be nicer to each other. People have a need to be touched, loved and affirmed.

Is it that religion, in general, is reluctant to mingle with “the least of these” that helps breed what Tutu calls “ghastly atrocities?”

We have God, but we are not all that interested in worshiping Him/Her – if worship means to honor God by following God’s directions. We worship the Bible, wrote the late Rev. Peter Gomes, chaplain at Harvard University; in fact, Gomes said, this “bibliolatry” has superseded our desire and ability to connect with God. Gomes writes in The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Head and Heart,” that “in the absence of a visible God, the temptation is always near to make a god of whatever is visible and related in some proximate way to the real thing.”  Perhaps. Or perhaps we make a god of whatever is visible and related to our own ideologies and prejudices. Ideology kicks theology out of the game.

So, in the name of an ignored God, the late Osama bin Laden, purported to be a devout Muslim, plans and executes a plan to bomb the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, though that part of the plan failed thanks to the brave people on that flight. In the name of an ignored God, churches spew venom against gays and lesbians. In the name of an ignored God, racism, anti-Semitism, and sexism have flourished. So many times the oppression of people and groups have been the worst inside of churches and in spite of a professed belief in God.

God allows us to go to a far place …and stay there.

Maybe we’d do better with a little less freedom.

A candid observation …

 

 

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the biggest frustrations I have about being a Christian and using the Bible as my text of reference is that there is no ONE interpretation of the words written in our sacred book.

Peter Gomes, the late chaplain of Harvard University, writes in The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Head and Heart, writes: One of the greatest ironies available to people who take the Bible seriously is that they may be tempted to take it, and themselves, so seriously that God and the truths of God to which the Bible points may be obscured, perverted, or lost entirely.” (p. 35)

He continues by saying that there is a temptation to see, in the Bible, no further understanding of what we see which leads to an “idolatry of scripture.

I thought about that as I read an article this morning on the CNN Belief blog about the religion of President Barack Obama. It seems that there are a fair number of people “out there” who do not think he is a real Christian. They are troubled by what he has said and done and by what he has not said and done. Author John Blake says in the article that many say that the president is the “wrong kind” of Christian.

Talk like that drives me nuts, because I don’t understand what the “right kind” of Christian is. Is the “right” kind of Christian the one who believes that the poor should pull themselves up by their bootstraps even if they have no boots?

Blake says that the president is a “religious pioneer,” who is “challenging the Religious Right‘s “domination of the national stage.” (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/21/to-some-obama-is-the-wrong-kind-of-christian/?hpt=hp_c1)  The president is called a “progressive,” but according to clerics quoted in Blake’s piece, many believe that one cannot be Progressive and be a Christian.

The president apparently interprets the scriptures to mean that believers in Jesus are proponents of the social gospel, which compels the  “haves” to assist “the least of these.” But many from the Religious Right think that such a stand is not supported by the Bible and say that interpreting the Gospel to mean that government should help the poor smacks of socialism.

It is mind-boggling to me that all of us who read the Bible can and do walk away with such different and diverse interpretations of the words written, but that’s because I believe that since there’s one God, there is one way of doing things. Since God is love and God has no favorites, then this God would want those who have to help the least of these. That’s social gospel talking, through and through …but it is my interpretation. The Bible is not a mathematical formula; there is no quaint equation that mandates that everyone believe and interpret the same way.

That, for me, is a problem. How can there be one God and so many different ways of interpreting what God requires? And, even bigger than that, why doesn’t God step in and do something so that all the different interpretations will fall to the wayside?

For me, the way the Religious Right has tended to interpret the Bible is not acceptable. The Religious Right’s interpretation of scripture has left too many people out, left too many people marginalized.  That cannot be my conception of God; I could not worship a God who condoned racism, sexism, homophobia, militarism …God has to be better than that, has to demand better than that.

The CNN article says that the president’s article focuses more on community betterment than individual attainment. That, to me, sounds about right, but the people quoted in the article disagree. The attention paid to community and, more specifically, the “beloved community” talked about by Martin Luther King, has a socialist slant.

At the end of the day, though the president has a concern for the masses, and the communities of God’s people, he is still criticized by even those who believe more in the social gospel than in the fundamentalist way of the Religious Right. Many have criticized him for not doing enough for African-Americans, though he would argue that the Affordable Care Act really does address the needs of that community and other marginalized communities by providing them a way to get health care.

Some who have criticized the president for being the “wrong” kind of Christian say that they haven’t heard him say important things, like, for instance, that he was “born again.” They are suspicious of his Christianity because it is informed and influenced by all of the different religions to which he has been exposed.

But I shake my head. The “right” kind of Christian does and says what? The evangelicals I’ve read have not been very kind, not very merciful and certainly not very inclusive. The God I find in the Bible is all of that, and more.

At the heart of the discontent about the president’s religion, again, is the Bible, that marvelous yet troubling text which leaves so much open to individual interpretation. Gomes says in his book that people say “the Bible says what it means and means what it says.”  He quotes Matthew 8:12, where it says the wicked will be cast into outer darkness where “men shall weep and gnash their teeth.” Writes Gomes: “A toothless reprobate asked his hellfire-preaching pastor what would happen to those who had no teeth to gnash: ‘Teeth will be provided,'” was the answer.

The problem is that all of us put our own human, individual interpretations on words that I wish left no room for variable takes. Those who criticize the president for his take on the Bible have their take too. So, who decides who is “right” and who is “wrong?”

There is no answer…there never has been …and there will never be. But I think it’s wrong for any of us to make a judgment call on who is right and who is wrong. At the end of the day, none of us really know.  We can all think we are “right,” but at the end of the day, I have to believe that the God of the Bible is a God of love, mercy, forgiveness, inclusion and kindness, in addition to being an exacting God who demands that we do as S/He has asked us to do.

Just saying ….

A candid observation