Ten years ago George Carlin the comedian, wrote in his book, Brain Droppings, “The only thing good that came out of religion was the music.”
When I ponder the violent history of the Christian church, the religious wars that still continue to plague our world, the divisiveness, the prejudice and the bigotry that the church has perpetuated and continues to perpetuate in the world today, I wonder if George Carlin is right. I worry that our attempts to redefine what it means to be a Progressive Christian within the Christian church, gives more credibility to the church that continues to divide, judge and even abuse. I wonder if our efforts to promote a more rational and spiritual expression of Christianity actually ends up providing some credibility to the voice and power of the self righteous, self centered, self serving, often superstitious tendencies of the “Christian Right” in our society. I wonder if our support of religious institutions provides some credibility to the religious factions in the Middle East that bring the world so close to annihilation every day. Yes, I wonder, sometimes, if the world would not be better without religions in spite of the great music.
I also remember a time as a young adult when I was so angry and confused about my life, that I wasn’t sure if it had any value. But it was a struggling little UCC congregation in a small town in Western Colorado that welcomed me and accepted me when I could not accept myself….gave to me when I had nothing to give. And I wonder where I would be today if it had not been for that struggling little church.
But then I remember. I remember the nourishing support of an adoring congregation in a small little Presbyterian church where I grew up. That group of loving folks let me know that they cared about me and that they expected me to be someone special, as they did with all of the children. I never wanted to let them down. I wonder who I would be today if I had not experienced that nurturing and positive love during those all important formative years.
The truth is that positive, healthy congregations have been building, healing and transforming lives for a long time. Richard Rubenstein, a practicing Jew, in his excellent book, When Jesus Became God, writes eloquently about the liberating and renewing force of the Christian communities during the second and third centuries.
“From the 260’s onward, in fact, the wave of Christian conversions swelled to tidal proportions with the fastest growth occurring in the most prosperous and culturally advanced cities of the East…Although Christianity opened up its doors to women, slaves, and social outcasts, it was not a movement of the disposed but of a mass-based cultural vanguard.
This is what made it so dangerous to guardians of the social order. An esoteric sect or protest group on the margins of society could be terrorized out of existence, but Christian thought had deeper social and psychological roots. It reflected a new consciousness, widely shared, of people’s capacity for internal growth and change. The pagan world was a world of externalities…Christianity, by contrast expressed a new sense of interiority: the perception of an inner space in which an individual could struggle with the devil, communicate with God, and discover his or her own spiritual identity. The Christian message had a profound appeal to the increasing number of Romans dissatisfied with frozen, public rituals…”
I look out over the Christian landscape these days, I sometimes wonder
if the church has now become “the guardian of the social order.” When I listen to or read comments
from so many young people who are so dissatisfied with the “frozen
public rituals” they experience in their churches, I wonder if it is us
who have become the “Romans.” It seems a little ironic that a religious
movement that experienced is greatest growth because of its challenge
to the social order and willingness change through a focus on internal
growth is now so focused on tradition, beliefs and ancient laws of
George Carlin is a very funny man, and very knowledgeable but he is wrong at least about this one thing. A lot of good things have come out of churches besides the music. But we may need to look back to discover what they are so we can move forward.
It may very well be time for the birth of a new and vital “spiritual identity,” in order to regain a new consciousness. And just maybe in the process, we might find an active spiritual path that is both freeing and transformative. I wonder if that is possible…I wonder…