Normally, I build my blog posts around one or two interesting or inspiring quotes I’ve found during my studies, but today there’s nothing that applies, or at least nothing that applies to how I feel. “Christian marketing” is fond of advertising “Christianity: It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” That’s bunk. It’s a religion. That’s not a bad thing, but as I read recently (albeit from a non-Christian source), “…This phrase sets up a classical logical fallacy, called a false dichotomy (more specifically, it’s black-and-white thinking, a sub-class of the false dichotomy)…The phrase implies that there are two choices. It’s either religion, or a relationship.”
There’s nothing wrong with a religion. I’ve said many times before (and I will again in tomorrow’s morning meditation) that religion is the interface by which we learn to understand God. Religion is the structure in which we comprehend the specifics of our faith, including how to interpret the Bible, the nature of prayer, and any traditions (yes, Christianity has traditions) and rituals that help us to operationalize and express our faithfulness behaviorally. The problem is, I’m losing my faith in religion.
Actually, I’m losing my faith in the human beings who are involved in religion. Well, no, not all of them. I have very high regard for most of the people I communicate with (primarily over the Internet) in the world of faith, but others can be a royal pain. Maybe it’s not their fault. I mean, we all have our moods, and our needs, and our insecurities. Whenever you add religion or “righteousness” to that mix though, you usually get something that’s bent and twisted just a little bit (and occasionally by quite a bit).
What started this rant? I was “rebuked” on an online social venue earlier today. You see, I have this thing about “experts” or maybe I have “authority issues.” It’s not that I don’t recognize and submit to authority. I have a job and I have a boss and what he says goes. There are religious authorities I respect and consider very knowledgable and wise, and I defer to their judgment. I know they know a whole lot more than I do, and more than I will probably ever know.
My problem is with the sort of person who really wants and needs to be called by a title, and who is continually telling everyone, “I’m an authority!” The interesting thing is, the person really is an authority and I can certainly recognize that, but by always saying “call me by such-and-thus title,” and “I’m an expert,” and “don’t question my judgment,” I keep getting the impression that they’ve got something to prove beyond their education and experience (I wouldn’t really care except I really do respect and like this person…otherwise, I’d just ignore him). I know that some people are insecure but not always for personality reasons. Sometimes, the person’s field of study, or where they got their education isn’t considered “mainstream,” and they aren’t always given the respect that is their due. In such cases, I suppose they need to compel the world around them to give them what they deserve.
But it still rubs me the wrong way. I’ve known too many people, particularly in the world of religion, who adopted roles, and titles, and authority that they certainly did not earn by education, experience, or temperament. They just “needed” to be a big shot and by inference, they needed everyone around them to be “little shots,” if that makes any sort of sense. So when someone who is genuine comes along and really has earned what they have, and they aren’t given respect by everyone around them, they have two choices: blow it off, or push back.
It’s the pushing back that bothers me. It’s the pushing back that seems to say, “I need to be big, and to meet my needs, you need to be little.” It’s the pushing back in a religious world where even the Master we all follow valued humility above blatant honors. It’s not like Jesus doesn’t deserve honors and it’s not like he doesn’t receive them. Yet the first time he was here, he set them aside, even to the degree that he washed the feet of his disciples. Even to the degree that he died for an unworthy humanity, including me.
The authorities who I have respected the most didn’t need to tell me they were in charge. They didn’t need to tell me to respect their knowledge. Just by being who they were, I learned to respect them. They didn’t have to make it a command. It’s ironic that people who God has given great gifts and who use those gifts in His Name, can still push back and push away those of us who are just trying to keep our heads above water. If the pushing keeps up, I’m going to be pushed out, and down, and I’ll drown in a sea of someone else’s religious authority and personal requirements.
I’m losing my faith in religion. I’m losing my faith in some of the people in religion. God is good, and great, and pure, but what human emotion does to faith and religion is anything but. It takes a great deal of energy to be patient sometimes and you know how lousy I am at keeping my (virtual) mouth shut. So I need to be able to push back as well, or let myself be pushed out of the body of faith altogether. I’m already isolated enough without someone, even a well-deserving someone, saying, “you’re not good enough.” I guess that’s what I hear when someone says, “I’m an authority,” or “you should respect me,” or “call me such-and-thus and not my first name.”
But as annoying as people like this are at times, they aren’t the real problem. I am (I suppose it always comes back to that). People like this are everywhere and sometimes they just can’t be avoided. They are in the world of religion and if I want to learn from them, I can’t avoid them…or I avoid them and avoid learning the lessons they are very good at teaching (the intentional lessons…not the unintentional one I’m talking about). Here’s what I need to learn:
“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”
-Robert Frost, American poet
I suppose if I had learned that lesson well, I wouldn’t be writing this “extra meditation.” I suppose if the “authority” had learned that lesson well, the event that triggered my unfortunate little missive would never have occurred. It’s not the first time I’ve wanted to push back and it won’t be the last. Maybe someday, I’ll start listening to Mr. Frost (who has my respect and my attention) and learn the lesson he teaches so well. Then I will be able to listen to almost anything…and I’ll still be fine.