Saturday, July 30, 2005

When "Christians" lose the Gospel

One of the tragedies of the agglomeration of all organized religions into mega-corporations is that the original teaching--based on experience, reflection, person-to-person teaching, and so on--gets lost in a theology. There's a fantastic article by Bill McKibben in the August 2005 edition of Harper's, "The Christian Paradox: How a Faithful Nation gets Jesus Wrong," in which the author, a self-described "devout Christian," with great precise insight demonstrates exactly how selective "Christian" politicians and other spokespersons have been about cutting and parsing fragments of Biblical teachings in order to undermine the truly radical nature of Christ's teachings in the Gospels. Such mouthpieces call themselves "Christian" but they darned sure don't follow the Gospels: remember "sell all you have, give it to the poor, and follow me"?

The same tragedy happened in Tibet when Buddhism became the state religion and religious leaders were conflated with political leaders. It's what kept Tibet a feudal nation and what gave China the excuse they needed to "liberate" the country.

It's happened, tragically again, with fundamentalist Islam--when imams and teachers in madrassas have "cherry-picked the evidence" in the Holy Qu'ran to preach jihad to disaffected teenagers.

Religion is personal--based on internal reflection, person-to-person teaching and insight, and good works in the world. It's not a theology--and it's damned sure not a theocracy. When religion has moved from the personal, communal, local, and self-reflective to become the national, political, or proselytory, people have suffered and died.

It's not what Christ or the Buddha taught. The true followers of Christ are the people volunteering at Goodwill stores, building houses for Habitats for Humanity, nursing AIDS patients in hospices, teaching reading in prisons. That's where Christ taught and that's where he is now--and as a Buddhist I can say those people are my "brothers and sisters in Christ." Not Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, or the bozos at Joel Osteen's church complaining because the Krispy Kremes ran out.


The Bishop said...

Well, I wanted to say thanks for your honest reflections on the state of religious movements today. It's good to hear that people are thinking about such things. I did want to comment a bit, if that's alright. I am an organic church platner here in Lubbock, and have made some similar observations about the "corperate" church, but have reacted in a different direction. Your concluding statement about where Christians would be is true. That's what we're about.
However, the madate to sell all you have was for a specific person whose possessions were his "god." It is not a mandate for all Christians to sell all they have. I do react the same way, though. Some Christians never make the leap to the fact that all they have is at God's disposal. The ideal picture of God and the kingdom of Christianity is, in fact, a theocracy. And, Christ as King, has supreme reign over His bride.
But, to something more important, being "brothers in Christ" makes me ask the question, Are you in Christ? Jesus Himself said, as recorded in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except by me." From reading your blog, I feel that we are kindred spirits, or like minded in some of your views on religion today (although I am an extremely conservative person). But, to be brothers in Christ, you would need to be born again, just as Jesus put it to Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus asked Jesus a very important question, "Good teacher, how can I inherit eternal life?" And Jesus responded to that question by saying, "You must be born again." In light of John 14:6, we find that being born again is something that happens through Jesus only, and not through the teachings of Siddhartha Guatama or self denial. As I understand it, Buddhism is based upon the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama about the Four Noble Truths and the 8-fold path. The Four Noble Truths: To exist is to encounter suffering, The cause of suffering is desire. (Why? Because all things are impermanent.), Suffering ceases when desire ceases, Desire is extinguished by following the eight-fold path.
However, Christianity teaches that, while it is true that desire for transitory things is a cause of much suffering, desire is not the ultimate cause of separation from God. The ultimate cause of suffering is our sin against the will of God which initiated in the Garden of Eden. Only Jesus, through His atonement (John 14:6, Romans 6:23, etc.), can deliver us from this cycle of sin and death.
I want to encourage you to keep reading, and asking the pointed questions that you are posing. My hope and prayer is that your pilgrimage will bring you to Jesus, and an embracing love for Him and His desire for your life. Thanks for your honest throughts. I hope that one day we will be more than like-minded people, and truly be brothers in Christ.

Anonymous said...

The "born-again" is the corporate hook. Until you get rid of that notion, you are just more of the preachings for profits we have in this country and perpetuating more of the myth that God and Christ support the wealthy and so should I.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if you failed reading comprehension in grade school, but I don't read anything in the first reply to the post that suggests God supports the wealthy. If you're going to make a slash at something you obviously know very little about, at least get your reply based of something contextually convincing rather than making some blanket statement.

CJS said...

I think my original point here was that there are people in our culture who believe that those who are wealthy are wealthy because "God loves them," and that those who are poor because "they have sinned against God." I was suggesting that such presumptions are not based in the Gospels as Christ taught them.

I was further suggesting that people holding such simplistic presumptions ("Good things happen to Good people and Bad things happen to Bad people") have a very difficult time when the universe seems to contradict those presumptions. Hence the market for books with titles like "When Bad Things Happen to Good People".

If there is anything that events in the wake of Katrina should teach us, it's that God's intent is essentially unknowable, and that bad things CAN happen to good people, for no immediately obvious reason.

One other thing: I think anonymous posting is gutless, and it's 10x as gutless to flame someone anonymously. Inflammatory language, particularly from those posting anonymously, will be deleted. I like to apply the "barroom test": would have you the guts to speak to me or others in that fashion in a bar, where that language might earn you a fist in the chops? If you wouldn't use such language in person, you're a coward to use it anonymously via the Web.

Christ scourged the moneylenders and there's a wrathful incarnation of Buddha called "Manjusri". Anonymous flamers should bear that in mind.

The Bishop said...

Just do what I do with anonymous letters: laugh and throw them away! The value of an opinion is all in whose opinion it is.
Anyway, as to the real topic, I like what Job said, "He gives and takes away, but I will choose to say, 'Lord, blessed be Your name.'" It rains on the just and the unjust. Our lot in life is not to ask why, but to bear up under it, and find strength in Christ to deal with it, all the while helping others to bear their burdens as well.