Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Let's Ban All Religions

According to the singer-songwriter [Elton John], 59, his solution would be to "ban religion completely, even though there are some wonderful things about it". 
He added: "I love the idea of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the beautiful stories about it, which I loved in Sunday school and I collected all the little stickers and put them in my book. 
"But the reality is that organised religion doesn't seem to work. It turns people into hateful lemmings and it's not really compassionate." -- Sir Elton: Ban organised religion, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6140710.stm

My first reaction when reading comments like these is to argue. "You're wrong! You don't understand! You're not being fair!" And I might be right. But who cares? One must still deal with the point being made, and that is religion "turns people into hateful lemmings and it's not really compassionate." Ouch!

Christians haven't always been good at taking criticism. We get all huffy about it, and often resort to proving how we're right and everybody else is wrong. Of course, from the other guy's point of view that just proves the point! Hateful lemmings that we are, void of any compassion for others, we feel justified in spouting condemnation and consigning all the critics to hell.

I wonder if it might benefit us to dare to listen for a moment. Is it possible that people like Elton John are offering a legitimate criticism? After all, it's well-known that religions love to war against one another. Even within a religion (let's use Christianity for example), we love to divide up, choose sides, and take pot-shots at one another. Not friendly pot-shots either. We shoot to kill - if not physically then spiritually (and we've been known to literally kill a few folks). If we were honest, we might willingly admit that the criticism, though distasteful, undesirable, aggravating, and sad, is true.

Of course we have disagreements. We see things differently from one another. What's important to one person isn't so significant to another. We have differing values. Our politics are different. Our social customs and traditions vary. We've got different, and sometimes conflicting histories. We're white, no we're black, no we're brown, no we're red! You know it makes a difference which you are! Even if we're Christians, all these other things matter because they still divide us. Our religion, instead of helping us minimize these differences, overcome our problems, and love our neighbors who are different from ourselves, ends up giving us new ammunition. We now have theological ammo with which to shoot our own, alongn with those who are not our own.

I wonder if we know what we look like and sound like to those who are not us. The Bible tells us that Jesus was a compassionate man. We're supposed to be his followers, and as followers we're supposed to be like him. Yet Elton John specifically observes that we (along with people of other religions) are not compassionate. Sure, he has his own social, philosophical, even religious point to make, but he's saying something about us that we need to hear. We're not compassionate. Nope. No sir! We've no heart in our chests. We're just cold, ruthless, hateful lemmings.

Is it possible that such observations are right? "Possible," I'm asking. If they are, then we should do something about them. Surely we don't want to be so unlike the Jesus we claim to follow. Every day, in countless situations, we demonstrate whether we're compassionate people or just hateful lemmings. Whether that criticism hurts or not isn't the point. What counts is whether it's true or not. All our claims to be "Christians" won't change the truth about us.

Recently, due to a major event that has gripped our nation, and has resulted in very strong opinions, many expressed in vile, angry, and contentious language, I asked a question. "I'm wondering if anybody thinks they've been more or less like Jesus the last few days?" If you can only see Jesus on your "side" of things, then I suspect you're less like him than you think. If your words burn and tear their way through others, even the ones you think are wrong, you should be very careful. If your words sound angry, hostile, and hurtful then you are probably giving folks like Elton John all the proof they need to just ban all religions, including yours. We Christians are going to have to sound and look different than we do.

You can justify all this "hateful lemmings" stuff if you want. Many will. I'd just say that one of the most difficult teachings of Jesus (if not THE MOST difficult) is that we should love one another as he has loved us. You want to convince Elton John that you're a follower of Jesus and that the Christian faith should never be banned? Love people. Jesus said that the world (folks like Elton John) would know we're his disciples if we have love for one another. People who really love one another don't get accused of being "hateful lemmings" void of "compassion."