What's Tony Thinking

What If I’m Not Very Religious?

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This question, “What if I’m not very religious?,” introduces the sermons we discussed on June 6, the sixth session of the “Help My Unbelief” webinar. Here is the tape for that session.

Fleming’s main answer to this is sort of, “Great! Christianity isn’t really a religion!” I know that sounds nuts, but hang on . . . From a historical and sociological point of view Christianity certainly is a religion with all the traditions and trappings of one.

But Fleming isn’t talking history or sociology, but theology. She points out that “religions” are basically human systems for getting on God’s good side, or showing others that we are on God’s side. The arrow, in religion, points from earth to heaven. Follow this or that religious system, observing its rules and rituals, and you will ascend to the divine heights. You’ll be “super religious” or “super spiritual.”

But in the Christian faith the arrow moves the other direction, from heaven to earth. It is less about our search for God, than about God’s search for us. As I’ve said before the name of that search is “Jesus Christ,” the shepherd who seeks the lost sheep and lays down his life for his sheep.

Here’s Fleming:

“The key ingredient in religion is the spiritual capacity and development of the religious person. This is such a familiar idea to all of us, whether we are believers or not, that it comes as quite a shock to discover from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments that¬†God is not interested in religion.”

How ’bout them apples?¬†“God is not interested in religion.”

That is to say, God is not interested in all our systems and schemes for religious advancement, for getting to God or getting on God’s good side, or for controlling the uncontrollable One who alone is God. Such religious systems inevitably result in us making distinctions and dividing humanity into the winners and losers, the righteous and the unrighteous.

Notice who Jesus characteristically hung out with . . . the failures, the unrighteous.

Jesus came, he said, not for the righteous (those who have succeeded at religion or some other system for thinking well of ourselves) but for sinners (those who have failed and know they need help). This is a very radical idea . . . so radical that the church has often reverted to religion, becoming a human system for getting to God, rather than the radical good news of God’s amazing grace.

That said, “religions” in the sense in which we are speaking here are not limited to the official capital “R” religions. The world is full of “religions,” meaning systems for human beings to justify themselves and show that they are the good, the winners, the righteous, and the enlightened. Some of the most powerful “religions” today are secular, like Woke-ism or MAGA/ QAnon-ism, or wealth (he who has the most toys wins), or nationalism (our nation is superior/ exceptional).

Each of these have their own orthodoxy, from which one dare not deviate. Each has their ways for adherents to climb the ladder and separate oneself from the unenlightened or those who don’t see what’s really going on. Each judges quickly and harshly anyone who steps out of line.

Jesus says to one and all what he said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you . . . Go and sin no more.”

The sermons for next week, June 13, all fall under the rubric, “What does the cross mean?” I will miss this session, but I’m sure Jason, Josh and Teer will provide you with a lively conversation on a very important topic and I will send it along as soon as I receive it.

 

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