Friday, October 23, 2009

Public Religion

I have received an e-mail several times, directed to Christians, which I found spiritually and socially undermining. From my perspective it focuses on issues such as:
separation of church and state as a negative thing for Christians, as well as the USA being punished by God for not living as a Christian nation. The e-mail can be seen here.

I believe this perspective is myopic, as well as harmful on many levels. Below is my response. This is a multi-layered issue, which many have strong feeling about - I just begin to scratch the surface of the conversation.

; ) wendy

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Friends,

There are many points worth discussing. I will address one point, briefly:
There is a big difference between eschewing religious indoctrination by public and government agencies, and TRASHING God. It is a leap of epic proportions, IMO.

I love and serve God, as do many others. But, some folks see God differently than I do, probably you do. There are many names for God and different scriptures. Even Roman Catholics and Protestants have slightly different scriptures… IMO, this issue is not simple: WHOSE version of religion should we have publically and governmentally supported? I vote my version be The Way for all – please put me in charge... No? You want to be in charge? Now, I decline, politely ; )

In a pluralistic society, I don’t believe it is fair/right to impose my religion on you in an overwhelmingly public way, or to pressure the government to impose it on you either. I don’t believe you want me forcing my religious views and practices on you when you are trying to live your life, or deciding what laws I think should be written for your own good, or enforcing my beliefs and practices upon your child in school, etc.

From my perspective, it is our pluralism, our allowance for other valid points of view about God, that adds so much vibrancy to our lives and religious experiences in this beautiful country called the USA. And let us not forget, many of us are the children of those fleeing religious persecution, to this country where we can be free to follow our own spiritual path.

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Here are some things I notice about Jesus and ‘establishment of religion’:

Jesus (and the early church) lived, served God, and had incredible inner and outer spiritual experience - while living under highly oppressive, powerful political/military, as well as religious systems. All these systems were in active opposition to who Jesus was, his behavior and his message. Relative to the early church, my religious experience in the USA is 'a walk in the park.' It is comfortable and comforting for me to live in a society and under a government that is very highly supportive of Christianity. If this is not your belief, I request that you try walking in the moccasins of someone from a very different religious, philosophical or ethical system than your own, and then notice how our society occurs to you. It seems to me that Christians are spoiled by how easy and comfortable we have things religiously, and we take offense at small slights. I believe we can’t see how much is going our way - we have trouble seeing the forest for the trees. Also, some Christian leaders seem to profit from saying how ‘hard’ Christians have it in this society. I believe the opposite – I believe we have so many things in alignment with our values, so we want All things in alignment with our values. That is not going to happen, because we do not live under a Totalitarian Christian Regime – thank God!! We live in a God-friendly pluralistic democracy that prevents the government from establishing religion – did you hear me say Thank God!!

Jesus was killed by some combination of religious and political authorities who were in cahoots – each trying to protect their power and authority. Over the course of our human experience, a lot of other folks have been killed or harmed or strong-armed into submission by religious extremists with power over others. This doesn’t work, IMO, and I don’t want to see it perpetuated. I don’t want other religions to have power/authority over me. I doubt you want my religion to have power/authority over you. Imposed religion doesn’t work – free will works, which is why God gave it to us. From my perspective, strong-arming religion down people’s throats does the opposite of our intentions, almost all the time. If we want folks to love God, we need to love God and actually love our neighbors – not beat our point of view into them, not force our practices upon them, not pretend to love them and all-the-while try to impose our will upon them. Loving our neighbors, according to my reading of scripture, is me laying down my life for others, not Them laying down their life (thoughts, beliefs, values, habits, desires) for me (and the way I think their religious life should be).

Jesus saved his most chilling words for those who were addicted to publicly flaunted religion. See, for example the entire chapter 23 in Matthew. It often seems to me that much of official public prayer is hypocrisy – how much are we really connecting to God, giving and receiving love and communication with God under those circumstances? It usually occurs to me as a whole lot of ‘show’ – maybe it is just me… but from my perspective, the more ‘public’ religion is, the more temptation for it to be a fa├žade, the less likely we will be called to intimacy. I don’t make love with Michael in public, and I don’t go out of my way to commune with the Beloved in a public way either.

Jesus was very specific about prayer; what I hear is: by myself in a ‘closet’, not on a public address system. Here is what Matthew recollects (ch 6, NIV):
5“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

I go to a quiet place and sit with God every day. And when I am not having 'quiet time', I commune with God in a quiet place in my soul. This is available every minute of every day for me – NO ONE can stop me!

No one can stop me from praying – except me. And IMO there is the rub – it is A LOT easier to complain about how everyone else is offending God and doing it wrong, than it is for me to sit down and shut up and commune (unprotected and unmasked) with the Living God. THAT is hard for me! And when I miss the blessing of worshiping and serving God, of beholding and reflecting the glory of the Lord, as much as I would like to blame anyone and everyone else (as the e-mail does, IMO), All the fruit that I reap is between myself and the Living God.

There is the tip of the iceberg of my perspective. Thanks for starting the conversation, I hope we continue.

Blessings, wendy

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This interview is relevant to what I was writing earlier today. I found it got more and more interesting as it went on.

Interviewee is John Shore, the author of I'm OK--You're Not: The Message We're Sending Nonbelievers and Why We Should Stop

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