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.
(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.
(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:
I always go to this Sunday School class.
I think I’ll change from Baptist to Episcopal.
I’m going to drop Christianity and begin practicing Buddhism.
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:
- Which of the 4 scenarios above seems to fit you best?
- 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.