The Religion of ME

In the course of helping someone out, I was an observer at the wedding of a middle-aged bride and groom who insisted on emphasizing their ‘born again’ status at every contrived opportunity.  There was no alcohol at this event, though they did consider themselves a dancing crowd.  (Watching that spectacle led me to believe that it might indeed be true that white folks can’t dance.)  But before that non-stop fun, there was a microphone and time for toasting.  It’s nice that there were good wishes for the happy couple, but toasting in a group that doesn’t drink falls as flat as the lack of an effervescent beverage in their glasses.

What struck me most was how many times these folks used personal pronouns, you know – me, me, me. While I recognize that many people take a great deal of comfort in a believing in a personal God, after listening to speech after speech, it just struck me as narcissistic.  Some paraphrased/name-changed examples follow.

“I prayed to God and asked him to send me an angel, and that’s when I met Cindy.  He picked the right person just for me.”

What I wanted to say (but didn’t): Have you heard of

“I told God I would give up the thing I love most, and stopped watching sports for 10 days to prove my devotion.”

What I wanted to say: That’s every bit as important as what Mother Theresa did with her life.  Thank you for your impressive contribution to humanity.

“After Jim accepted Jesus as his personal savior, we met once a week at Dunkin Donuts to talk about our faith.”

What I wanted to say: At least while you’re listening to this guy talk about himself you can get a Boston Crème donut because they rock.

“I just pray that I will do God’s will for my life.”

What I wanted to say: That way you don’t have to ever do anything and nothing is ever your fault.  Just abdicate personal responsibility and let God do the heavy lifting.

This had me wondering if maybe God wouldn’t appreciate it if these folks would just shut up.  For all their use of the word god, what I heard was people saying was what he could do for them.  What they viewed as personal sacrifices to demonstrate their devotion seemed utterly silly to me.  Even for those who believe in a personal God, what is your role?  It seems to me that if everything is ‘God’s will,’ then you just don’t have to accept any responsibility at all.  Where does free will fit into this perspective?

Now I have read the Christian Bible.  Yes, the whole thing.  I have read the New Testament several times, and the Gospels countless times.  I believe that Christianity could be summarized in Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes, where among other values, Jesus talks about humility.  Talking about what God does for you is not humility, it’s just showing off.

I am standing by my pledge to be more accepting of my born again relatives, but I can tell you it’s not reciprocal.  When every sentence has god in it (and please conclude that my use of upper and lower case in this blog is intentional) I do not hear it as a testimony to someone’s devotion, but their desire to actually separate themselves from me (the sinner) and make sure I know that they’re going to heaven and I’m not.  Like many exclusive social clubs, they have developed their own jargon for speaking in a way that isolates them from non-members.

As to the born again bride and groom, they were cheap, tacky and demanding.  That was their real testimony to the heathens serving them.  I once read a bumper sticker that said, “The way you treat people is the way you treat God.”  This group of folks sent a clear message about their real religion that evening, but it wasn’t what they think it was.  Here’s the message I got: “I’m going to heaven and you’re not, and since the rapture is right around the corner, I don’t have to tip the wait-staff.”

Though it would not be difficult to find a down side to the Protestant Reformation, one enduring benefit was that the laity be allowed to read Holy Scriptures for themselves.  Over time, the Roman Catholic Church also adopted this view.  So, whether they like it or not, I consider myself authorized to read and interpret (though of course I would do it anyway).  My interpretation of the Gospel of Jesus is a doctrine of compassion, service to humanity, and humility.  I’m not alone.  More traditional and devout folks than me have a similar perspective, for example, take a look at Jim Wallis’ web site, Sojourner.

Here is Matthew 5:3-10 (NIV), the “Beatitudes,” which I consider the cornerstone of Christianity.

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I don’t imagine these folks using quite as many personal pronouns.  What do you think?  -J.B.

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  • Mary Kay  On September 22, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    That was a really good post. I feel like you were inside my head, as I have had similar thoughts over the years.

  • allthingsreligious  On September 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    MK-Thank you so much for continuing to read. I’m glad you can relate. I actually wasn’t sure when I wrote this if I was being a little ego-centric myself because they way these kind of people think has always bugged me. Good to hear from you! -J.B.

  • Marjorie  On September 23, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    GREAT post. I think you are right on with this one.

    • allthingsreligious  On September 24, 2010 at 5:33 pm

      Thanks for reading and responding! I’m glad I’m not the only one that has these reactions! -J.B.

  • jsingletary  On September 24, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Said I’d check in from time to time!

    I’ve seen this up close and personal having been a pastor for years. Yet, my reaction, in my better moments is grief. (I say, in my better moments, because in my weaker moments I get quite annoyed and peevish!) My grief is why aren’t Christ’s people better reflections of the One they claim to love and serve. My grievous grief is why am I not a better reflection of the One I claim to love and serve.

    • allthingsreligious  On September 24, 2010 at 11:29 pm

      To the best of my knowledge, you are the first actual clergy to read my blog and I’m honored. Thank you for reading and thank you for weighing in. -J.B.

  • jsingletary  On September 25, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    Please don’t describe me as ‘clergy’. That is a way too officious a term to describe me!

  • allthingsreligious  On September 26, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    It wasn’t meant as a criticism, really. I was trying to pay respect to your education and training. Kudos to you for not taking the path of a mega-church in any case! -J.B.

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