A Way Back to Soul – Part 4

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously.
from the Old Testament writings of the prophet Micah
(Micah 6:8, The Message paraphrase)

Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

from the New Testament book of James.
(James 1:26-27 The Message paraphrase)

How many religions would you guess there are on planet Earth?  This site suggests that there are eight “biggies:”  Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shinto, and Taoism. Hinduism, Shinto, and Taoism.  (I also think its important to include Bobism – see note below).  But there ARE a few more.  Your estimate?  50?  500?  1000?  According to one Anglican priest who began cataloging religions in order to educate missionaries, there are over 10,000 different religions! I can’t possibly know for sure, but I’d be willing to bet that most of these religions were spin-offs from another, instigated by someone who decided that the original system just wasn’t working right (think Martin Luther).

Is it any wonder then, that as we become more and more educated, and cross paths with others who practice within other religious traditions, we become confused?

For instance, the particular brand of Christianity in which I was nurtured taught me that we human beings are so broken and corrupt that it is not possible for us to be “good.”  Any possibility for goodness that we have depends upon the action of the “Holy Spirit” within us, and the only way to receive the Holy Spirit was to become a committed follower of Jesus Christ.  As I grew up and got out into the world I began to meet people who clearly were not followers of Jesus, but who behaved much more like Jesus than many of people in my church.  According to my religious education, this simply was not possible. Yet, just as with hummingbirds, I was clearly watching the supposed impossible right before my eyes.  One thing that was particularly distressing to me was, when I would make this observation to other Christians, some of them would respond with some version of “So, what are you going to believe, the Bible or your eyes?”  I understand why some would say that this is exactly the right response, but it has never satisfied me.

My observation is that most people expressing a loss of faith are often wrestling with a break-down in religious meaning. In other words, people often find that the religious beliefs and practices which once provided them with a sense of connection to “God” simply no longer provide that sense of connection.  Furthermore, they have often observed or met others who seem to living much more contented and loving lives without tending to any of the religious ideas they were taught to be central.

I’ve also observed that folks seem to respond in one of four ways when something, anything, isn’t working.  Whether we’re talking about dieting or religion, when its not working people will make one of four choices:

1. Ignore their uneasiness and soldier ahead with the same practices.
I will not eat sugar… no matter what the scales say.
I always go to this Sunday School class.
2. Make adjustments within the same basic framework.
Maybe if I drop even more carbs….
I think I’ll change from Baptist to Episcopal.
3. Change to a completely different system.
Forget Atkins. I’ll become a vegetarian.
I’m going to drop Christianity and begin practicing Buddhism.
4. Give up.
Actually, Shiner and chips is sounding rather holy right now.
All that religious stuff is just a waste of time.

I’d be willing to bet that there’s a certain consistency, probably based on your personality, to the way you respond to the anxiety and frustration of something “not working.”  I also find that it can be very helpful to become more conscious of this process.

So, here’s two questions:

  1. Which of the 4 scenarios above seems to fit you best?
  2. What ideas do you have about how this may or may not effect your own spiritual journey?

Would you be willing to offer some thoughts on the two questions above?  Again, I’m hoping that your honest thoughts will be of help to those pastors out there who would give anything for a deeper, more honest, understanding of the people they serve (and believe me, I’ve been receiving comments that let me know pastors are reading your comments).


Note: Bobism was founded by a couple named Bob and Judy in Elm Mott, Texas.  When asked why they named it Bobism, Bob noted that they were going to name it after Judy, but that one was already taken.


About Wes Eades

I've been a pastoral counselor, marital therapist, and overall listening ear since about 1989 or so.
This entry was posted in Spiritual Formation. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Way Back to Soul – Part 4

  1. Scott Lewis says:

    I’ve stopped practicing and started living. I’ve was baptized and grew up with minimal exposure to the United Church up to about 9. Here is my progression since then:
    -became atheist in junior high school
    -became agnostic in senior high school
    -became born again and baptized into the Church of Christ (not latter day)
    -became agnostic
    -began exploring all religions
    -Sufism isn’t on your list, but it is the “best” part of Islam (Hafiz, Rumi, etc)
    -Astrology, Paganism & Wicca
    After finding all the human similarities between the different sects, I’m finding them all to be very compatible. The defined “differences” are an illusion. The problem is people look to religion for answers when they should look for questions. The practice of any religion should be flexible and with open mind or it becomes a coffin. A box where all the answers and you are inside and nothing else matters.

    Personally I’ve found Astrology to be the most honest about what it doesn’t know, but they all know something and they are all valuable. The reason I like it specifically is because it simply defines the universe, and our unique places in it, as it is already defined, by gravity, energy, and a mystical force called love.

    The magic is in the mystery. Thanks for writing!

  2. MPHorne says:

    You know, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to think about any of the 4 choices offered. The problem is that each presumes that real change is a function of something an individual does alone. I know this assumption is the coin of the realm of contemporary culture. Yet, anyone who has ever tried to make serious changes (in their diets, for instance) knows the reason that diet companies are make multi-millions a year: diets don’t work largely because change is not just up to individuals. Ultimately, change comes about within the framework of many relationships, or, better, community. Thus, soldiering on is not just a decision an individual makes on his or her own; there are issues of community at stake, as there are in all of the choices. And these influences help us make our decisions, often painfully slow decisions, I’m afraid. There is much to disapprove of in North American culture’s practice of various modes of Christianity. Not least is the impact of capitalistic economic rationality that has influenced it for a long time. How do you change that as an individual?

  3. Chris Millette says:

    I am not nearly as well versed as the other replies but I would find myself somwhere between 3 and 4. First off, Shiner is fantastic with chips! I find some of the limited readings I have had of Buddhism to reveal a way of life that to me is more Christian than most of the so called Christian teachings. I think overall I am fed up with the “Sunday Baptists” (no offense to any Baptists) that feel that just because they go to church and participate in some community events then they have the right to set their own moral compass and judge those who don’t meet the criteria. Often going as far as quoting scipture to support their argument. Man was not meant to judge, so why do we spend so much time creating rules and benchmarks to Judge others? While I am not abandoning my Christian belief, I am most deffinately expanding my horizon to try to capture more meaning. Wes, I think the term you first exposed me to “Sacraficial Love” is the most simple yet powerfull description. It has no connatations to anybody else but ourselves, and what we should give to the world.

  4. Angela says:

    I realize I am arriving to this game a bit late, and would like to let you all know if you are interested that I have commented on Part 1 and 2 of this series as I have found it particularly delightful to read and discuss! I will warn you, though… they are formidable posts of no inconsequential size!!

    As for this entry I think I personally, and perhaps most people, tend to cycle through steps 1 through 3 and step 4 is typically the last and final ditch effort (or lack of effort maybe?). I know, for example, that when I was struggling with doubt of my Christian faith I stuck with it for several more years desperately trying to make it work. To believe, even though I could have realized it was waning if I had wanted to acknowledge it at the time. When it got very dire, I did try attending several different churches thinking that might make some sort of difference. Only when I finally admitted to myself that it did not matter what church it was and that I simply could not muster belief for something that was becoming ever so much more apparent as false to me did I finally start seeking other completely opposite and contradictory answers such as atheism and agnosticism. Even then it took a few years for me to accept that they applied to my life and my mind much more than any theist doctrines and I wanted to be more convinced before I made definitive decisions.

    So there is my little contribution, and if you are interested in more of my story as I have been intrigued by many of yours, you may find them in my posts on Part 1 and Part 2 as previously mentioned. Thank you all for your thoughts on these subjects!

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