Sunday, May 07, 2006

Are You Religious?

The other day I was chatting with someone on the bus and she asked me if I was religious. I know that she just wanted to know if I attend church regularly, but everytime I'm asked this question my first reaction is to say "no". Not because I'm ashamed of my faith or of Jesus Christ, but because I'm ashamed of the things that have been done in the name of religion. When someone asks me if I'm religious, what I hear them asking is, "are you a raging fundamentalist or an open-minded liberal Christian?" When people ask that question, they seem to be taking my 'religious' temperature. They want to know if I'm 'close-minded' and easy to offend, or 'open-minded' and willing to accept all religions as valid (or somewhere on the spectrum between).

The conversation on the bus was as follows:
Stranger: Are you really religious?
Me : [snickers]... 'really' religious? ...I don't think there's a litmus paper that will tell how religious a person is ...hmmm ... let me think...
Stranger: Is your life governed by a bunch of rules you have to follow?
Me : ... How do I give a simple and short answer to such a deep question? ...Well, I don't see it that way. It's like when you're a kid and your parents give you rules like a certain bed-time or they tell you not to play in the street. When you're young, these rules seem stupid and you resent your parents for inflicting these limitations on you, but as you grow up you realize that they were just trying to keep you safe. The rules were there for your own protection. I see my faith in the same way. If there exists some ultimately powerful Creator in the universe, and this Creator cares for me as it says in the Bible, then any 'rules' are most likely to keep me from harm (They're for my own well-being). The focus of my relationship with God is not to obey rules, just as my relationship with my parents is not based on following their rules. It would probably be in my best interest to follow their rules, but the foundation of our relationship is not based, solely, on this. This is why I hestitate to say I'm religious. It seems that when the church stopped focusing on relationships and started focusing on 'the rules' (like the Pharisees) it became religious and strayed from its true calling. I don't want to be religious in that way, I just simply want to develop a relationship with the Almighty.
Stranger : That was a good answer for being put on the spot, and it makes sense.

Now, I guess I could've taken the easy way out and say, "yes, I'm religious," but it seems to have a bad connotation and I felt I needed to explain my position. Do you agree with my approach? Or do you think I should simply say "yes" when asked if I'm religious?

I love the rich tradition of the Church and the depth of character of people who were the 'mothers' and 'fathers' of the Protestant Church, but I don't like how the Church has become so obsessed with rules. We have become so obsessed with rules that churches have split because they think it's a rule to sing hymns in church and nothing else. The thing I want to take from the rich tradition of the Church is the deep sense of community... the gathering of 'real' people with a longing for community with God and with each other... it's not about what you sing, it's about the community you're with and how you bring glory to God as a body.

I hope that one day we (the Church) will realize that we're headed down the same path that the Pharisees were on. I hope that we begin looking at the church as a community of people who desire to build relationship with God. I hope that we'll stop looking 'in' at the problems of the Church, and start looking 'out' to remedy the injustices in the 'world'.

I leave you with a quote from G.K. Chesterton:

"The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden."


Anonymous Fiona said...

I think you had the right approach. Sometime an explanation is required to clear the deep roots of misconception. I like your quote by G.K. Chesterton. It is true; we'll realize that we have more freedom when we focus on the things that we can do instead of the things we can't do.

2:25 p.m.  
Blogger Lee said...

I concur... thanks Fiona, I appreciate your insight.


6:17 p.m.  
Anonymous Skakes said...

Hey Lee,
Your comparison to parents was right on the dot. I have the same feelings when asked questions such as these. But sometimes it takes the form of trying to distance myself from groups with in what the world perceives to be within the “Christianity bubble”. I really can’t stand it when people think I’m Mormon because I don’t drink. So I often feel the need to distinguish myself as Lutheran when answering questions of religion. But then there is this other side of me that just longs to leave it at Christian and not be slotted in with Luther and all of his ideas…or the blunders of the church in general. It’s a paradox. Great blogging Lee.

12:57 a.m.  
Anonymous Mary-Ann said...

hmm...another great post Lee. you're just full of amazingly insightful thoughts. groovy.

i liked your answer to the strangers question. i think i might write it on a cue card and keep it in my purse.

"it's just that easy!" (Oh... Shell Busy....and the 1990's)

1:08 a.m.  

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