Skip to main content

What is the Point?


There is no question that we have in this country a kind of grinding stalemate between conservative Christians and moderate thinking Christians as well as with those who may be lapsed in their faith or who have no religious faith at all.

There are two characters in David Lodge’s novel, “Thinks,” who give some definition to this stalemate.  Ralph Messenger is a professor of cognitive science at an English University and is a convinced unbeliever.  He is attracted to visiting professor Helen Reed, a writer and teacher of literature who is Catholic but is only loosely connected to the Church.

Ralph sees Helen across campus one Sunday morning and tries to catch up with her but she turns past a building and disappears.  Later they meet and he asks, “Where were you?”
“I went to chapel.”
“What for?”
“Why do people usually go into a chapel on a Sunday morning?”
“Are you religious, then?”  There’s a note of disapproval, or perhaps disappointment, in his voice.
“I was brought up a Catholic.  I don’t believe anymore, but…”
“Oh, good.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, it’s impossible to have a rational conversation about anything important with religious people.  I suppose that’s why I didn’t think of looking for you in the chapel.  I had you down as an intelligent, rational person.  So what were you doing there, if you’re not a believer?”
“Well, I don’t believe literally in the whole caboodle,” she says.  “You know, the Virgin Birth and Transubstantiation and the infallibility of the pope and all that.  But sometimes I think there must be a kind of truth behind it.  Or I hope there is.”
“Why?”
“Because otherwise life is so pointless.”
“I don’t find it so.  I find it full of interest and deeply satisfying.”

So you have one person saying, “I don’t believe anymore, but…”  And another person saying, “Well, it’s impossible to have a rational conversation about anything important with religious people.”

Both comments describe some of society’s lost romance with religion and Christianity.  We have staunch conservatives and fundamentalists who believe that life without faith in Christ and the Church is completely pointless.  But you have others, believers or not, who are not convinced that is so and have found life to be purposeful and good without any need for the Church or its creeds or dogma.

Who is right?  Does there have to be a right way, an only way?  Who has the most responsibility here?  Shouldn’t Christians and the Church be the voice of reason, the catalyst for acceptance and welcome to all people whatever their beliefs or non beliefs?  Instead they often appear to be the instigators of conflict and complaint.

There was a time when Christians and the Church were concerned about the eternal destiny of others, about the spiritual and physical needs of people.  But that is no longer the focus of today’s far right Christians and even some pretty traditional ones.  Today’s conservative believers seem angry and hostile and very political.  They think if people don’t entirely accept their beliefs, don’t exactly follow their interpretation of the Bible, don’t support their political agenda and candidates that that in some way messes up the lives of believers, creates socialism and chaos and immorality in their city or town, ruins the economy for them, and somehow destroys their home life.  They no longer see the prodigal son lost in his anguish and misery needing to return to the father; they do not see the beaten man on the road in need of a Good Samaritan; they do not see the widow and orphan and the homeless in need of the Church’s heart and help.  Instead, they see liberals and socialists out there threatening to take away their guns and freedom; they see dark forces of godless evil trying to destroy Christians with gay marriage and immigration reform, with the right of a woman to choose how she manages her pregnancy, and with public schools failing to offer religious instruction.

The result is that too much about Christianity and church is being seen as nasty, hot-tempered, militant.  A lot of people just think it is reactionary, crude and harsh.

I think of Cardinal Newman’s disturbing line, “Oh how we hate one another for the love of God.”

I watched on television a couple of Sundays ago a prominent Baptist minister in a large suburban church here in Texas tell his congregation how “the left” have it wrong.  How they think it doesn’t matter what you believe.  He said that is false.  There is only one way to God, he fumed, and that is through Jesus Christ.  Only one way.  No other way.  Do not believe anything but that!  And the sermon was basically a partisan, one-sided harangue about how “the left” is trying to ruin society with their “just love everyone” garbage.

The ancient mystics used to say, “Whatever you cultivate, that you will be.”  It’s hugely disappointing what conservative Christians seem focused on today and what they have become.  If everyone has to believe your way or else be attacked or just out right dismissed as wrong and evil, then don’t be surprised if people refuse your great beliefs, your church and your God, and see it all as pointless.


© 2013 Timothy Moody

Popular posts from this blog

Our National Lack of Self-esteem

There is a brokenness in our society, a pervasive moral collapse, a reckless disregard for community, neighborliness, courtesy, and compassion.
Our government leads by this example. Both parties are incompetent to guide us into a more responsible living, into a serviceable structure of humanity. Our leaders are dominated by greedy oligarchs who don’t just want more, they want everything, even if it costs our society its dignity, its soul, even its future.
What is on display here daily is a wretched lack of self-esteem. The loss now influences all of us. We’re all affected in ways that keep us shamed by our actions.
When we feel powerless, aimless, without any higher goals than the accumulation of things and the momentary thrill, we then mute our intelligence. We live by raw emotions—anger, appetite, urges. We don’t think, we don’t consider, we merely react. We push. We disregard. We threaten. We act out. And we fail.
Self-esteem is a learned process. It builds on genuine successes that ar…

Is the Soul Solid, like Iron?

Mary Oliver has a beautiful little poem in which she asks:

“Is the soul solid, like iron?
or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?”

It is both.

The soul, we are told by philosophers, theologians, and mystics, is our essence, the permanence of our true self. It is that part of us that lives beyond death. Or so we are taught by religion. Where exactly the soul exists beyond that, has of course, been long debated.

There are times in life when something deep within us is, as Mary Oliver says, solid as iron and we operate out of some sense of aliveness, confidence, and inner strength. It may be fleeting, but there when needed; or it may carry us through long periods of endurance when we build a sturdy self, confident and capable of our abilities and talents.

This is the work of the soul. This is a part of our spiritual development. This is what enables us to believe there are forces in life, loving and generous and mystical, that nurture and compel us tow…

The Light in the Faces of Our Incredible Human Family

National Geographic Journalist Paul Salopek is walking across the world on foot to trace the pathways of the first humans who wandered out of Africa in the Stone Age to claim the earth as theirs. His journey will cover 21,000 miles and is estimated to take 10 years. He is four years into his massive expedition and already he has discovered that humanity is mostly kind and generous, welcoming and caring, hard-working and disciplined.
I watched a brief piece about Salopek’s journey on the PBS News Hour this week. I have included a link below.
What is extraordinary about his adventure is his realization that in spite of all the wars and turmoil across the globe, he has learned that “The world is an incredibly hospitable place.” In following the ancient trade route called “The Silk Road,” Salopek has gotten to know a variety of people young and old. And though he has so far encountered a few dangerous situations where he had his water supply stolen, was once ambushed by raiders, and was sho…