Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Dangers of Sincere Ignorance

Episcopal minister and author, Alan Jones, tells in one of his books about a discussion he had with the president of a fundamentalist Christian college.  They were discussing their various theological differences and at some point Dr. Jones asked the college president what was the most difficult part of his job.  The man replied, “Everyone here, faculty and students, is a born-again Christian, and we have had food stolen from the kitchens, books stolen from the library, and there’s even been a suicide.”

Apparently that was the most difficult thing facing him as the president of a religious school, the violation of students and others of their Christian principles.

I learned a long time ago as someone who worked for years as a leader in the church that just because a person accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior does not mean they have lost their humanity.  And accepting Christ, in my thinking, is not about salvation from hell or ridding oneself of selfish desires or somehow being invaded by some supernatural force that enables a person to suddenly become a replica of Jesus Christ.  It’s not any of that at all. 

The essence of Christianity is learning to accept our own humanity and building values into our life that help us be a better person.  I do not believe anything special happens to anyone who accepts Jesus into their life.  The Christian Protestant Evangelical Church has for years put all of this emphasis on the sinner’s prayer and the Spirit filled life and the crucified life and so forth.  What does any of that mean?  I have no idea.

People are people and they will always be human.  Religion, at its best, should help us experience transcendence, the sacred, beauty, grace and love.  If your faith doesn’t teach you to appreciate art, books, music, theater, movies; if it doesn’t fill you with a sense of humility and compassion; if it doesn’t guide you into a deeper understanding of the human condition; if it doesn’t sensitize you to the hurts of others and to your own hurts, then what good is it?

If all you are interested in are rules to live by then purchase some self-help books.  They will give you a whole list of good things to do.  Religion, on the other hand, is terrible at rules.  Moral rules.  Horrible guilt producing rules.  When religion of any form emphasizes only the keeping of certain rules then it sets people up for failure, self-righteousness, sanctimonious judging, hate, bigotry, sneering mean nastiness, and just petty foolish ideas.

The Catholic priesthood should be reason enough for people to realize that no holy vow, no wearing of elaborate religious garb, no denying your human urges in sacrifice to God or Mary or Jesus or Church, is going to keep a person from wrong doing.  Ever.  People have to choose to do right.  It’s not something forced on them.  It is not something that bubbles up from within where Jesus lives our life for us.  It is not some mystical force overpowering who you are and making you do righteous deeds.

Of course students and teachers and workers in a fundamentalist Christian college are going to steal food and books and have personal crises and commit suicide and a whole lot of other things.  You don’t suddenly lose your humanity when you enroll in Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University or any other Christian school.

Some of the most savage acts in history have been committed by religious fanatics done in the name of God.  All supposedly by dedicated followers of Christ proud of not breaking their fiendish ideological rules while breaking human bodies into pieces.  Satisfied they kept their rigid moral biblical beliefs even if they had to brutalize others in order to maintain them.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, a devout Christian, belittled and mocked in front of a crowd of conservative fans, legislator Wendy Davis for supporting a woman’s right to choice and fighting to stop a severely restrictive bill that would prevent that.   While praising legislation that keeps women from having an abortion Perry has systematically put to death nearly 300 human beings as governor.  There again is proof that accepting Jesus Christ into your life is no guarantee of doing the right thing.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance.”

There is a lot of that in Christianity and religion.  There always has been.  And one clear example is the notion that believing in Jesus Christ will keep you from stealing or committing suicide.

© 2013 Timothy Moody

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