Where Logic Meets Love

Thoughts in Response to "Where I Feel Welcome (More Than at Church)"

Thursday, January 12, 2012

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Macha left such a great comment on Tuesday's post that I just had to share it here:
I think that the roots of the problems many Christian groups face, where the behavior of believers doesn't match up with the teachings/rhetoric of the faith, comes from people taking faith for granted. It can happen many ways, but the most common way I see it is when people have both fervor for the absolute truth of their faith and a complete lack of critical thinking about, and understanding of, what that truth actually is. I've seen people make jokes about how the Bible, for many Christians, is like the terms of service agreement - most people click "agree" without reading it. It's both clever and accurate.

People prioritize the belief that their faith is true above the belief in what that faith teaches. Christians often become more concerned with proving their faith right than with doing as their are instructed by Jesus's words. This is what happens, I think, when you see people using one single Bible verse to justify rude or mean behavior (like pointing to how Jesus drove out the money-changers or other similar incidents in his life). They hone in on one sentence from scripture, instead of taking the New Testament/Bible as a whole and thinking, what are the most common themes here? Doesn't Jesus (and God the Father, when we look at the OT as well) talk a whole lot more about loving and caring for outcasts and vulnerable people than he does about, for instance, sexual immorality?

That's my perspective of it. When faith in a particular religion involves no critical thinking or personal reflection, things just go haywire.
The part that struck me most was this: "People prioritize the belief that their faith is true above the belief in what that faith teaches."

This immediately reminded me of a scene in For the Bible Tells Me So in which people who are picketing something-or-other with anti-gay "Biblical" signs are interviewed and asked what exactly the Bible says about gay people. I wish I had the clip to show you, but at least one person says he knows it says in the Bible that God hates gay people; he doesn't know where, but just knows it's in there and that's good enough for him.

I understand that faith, by definition, requires accepting some things you do not fully understand. But how can you say that you believe in a holy book if you don't even know what it says? It's one thing not to fully understand everything that's in the Bible, but it's another thing to be so adament about defending the Bible that you will go marching out with signs even though you haven't actually confirmed that what your sign says is in the Bible.

But that's because, when you have religion, you don't have to actually check things out for yourself or reflect on them yourself or consider them holistically.

In fact, as I have a particular focus on the issue of gay marriage in the Catholic Church, I see more and more religious leaders discouraging people from thinking about the issue for themselves. For example, the Minneapolis archbishop telling his priests they are to keep their personal thoughts about marriage to themselves. As Catholic leaders become fearful of not getting their way, their messages start sounding more and more like "Shut up and do what you're told."

So is it really any wonder when Christians choose to believe that the Bible says whatever they're told it says rather than finding out for themselves? Or when they focus on the parts they're told are the most important, instead of deciding for themselves which messages seem most prevalent?

I say this not as a way of pointing fingers or assigning blame, but rather the opposite. Religion is a complex way of making sense of faith, which is complex enough by itself, and it seems inevitable that there would eventually be attempts to simplify it, distill it, shape it into a series of steps to follow.

And when you're in a position of power, religious or not, the less and less that people seem to be listening to you or following your guidance, the more and more you want to just shut them all up and get everyone back on the same page. I can imagine it's like a teacher who loses her temper and yells at the class only when she feels she's completely lost control. I mean, Jesus Himself scared the heck out of the religious leaders of his day by questioning their teachings, right? And rather than taking the time to reflect on whether what He was saying made sense, they did everything they could to shut Him up.

So in answer to my original question -- how did the Christian community get so far away from Jesus' teachings of love and acceptance -- I think it's because Christianity became an organized religion. And as soon as that happened, people had this new entity, this religion, to look to for truth and guidance, and they no longer had to be self-reflective about Jesus' teachings, what it meant to follow Him, which parts of Jewish law were still applicable, etc. Certainly there have still been many scholars and others who have spent much time reading, studying, and reflecting on the Bible and how it fits with the world at large. But the Christian community as a whole is not all people like that, and that, I believe, is how we've largely drifted away from the actual teachings of Jesus.

That's what I got from Macha's comment. What do you think?

I leave you with this video that's been making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter (thanks to Emmy for first sharing the link with me):


  1. I just watched this same video on another person's face book page. Jessica, your post and this video say it all so well! I have personally seen and even experienced how the over-observance of the rules(especially with marriage and annulments)have turned people away from God entirely.

  2. I'm glad you liked my comment!

    I really like the way you put it there too, that religion and faith are very complex. Some people thrive in complexity, but some people are very uncomfortable with it, and of course if your religion is to suit their needs, they attempt to simplify it, even though simplifying it means necessarily changing it, sometimes at its core.

    I agree that organized religion is the root here. When you try to get millions of people to think and believe and act exactly the same ... well what do you think is going to happen? The people who make the rules will be comfortable, leaving everyone else to squeeze their various-shaped pegs into agonizingly simple holes. It reminds me of The Giver, in which there's a society that thought "sameness" would solve their problems. It didn't. It turned them into a society that euthanized babies if they didn't sleep through the night by age 1. Simplicity can be horribly destructive to humanity. It took the one person who knew of complexity, and by extension, of pain and confusion and uncertainty, to break them out of their prison of simplicity.

  3. @Dave Keller
    You hit on the key, I think, which is that the problem is not having rules, but the overemphasis of adherence to those rules above everything else. Like, it's perfectly reasonable for a parent to have a rule that you can't draw with your crayons on the walls, but if the child feels their self-worth is dependent on whether they follow that rule or not, something's gone wrong.

  4. @Mórrígan
    Not only does religion itself often attempt to simplify things for people who don't want to consider them complexly, but it seems like when you start mixing religion and politics, they get simplified even further. I was at college, at our Catholic university, for two general elections--2004 and 2008--and I saw the same thing happen both times: Those voting Republican said, "You're a bad Catholic if you vote Democrat because he supports abortion" and those voting Democrat said, "You're a bad Catholic if you vote Republican because he is against social justice." As if being a "true" Catholic could ever come down to a single issue like that. But people want it to sometimes, I think, because it's easier to make a decision that way.


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