This is an opinion piece that some may not agree with, and that’s fine with me. I hope to soon corral these opinion pieces into another form so it is not in the center of my blog and those uninterested can avoid them better. But if you disagree with anything I say, please understand that you’re still my friend. I still respect you. If I only had friends who agreed with all my opinions … I would be the loneliness man on the planet. As I’ve said before, I write my opinions for those who are disillusioned with their own views, not to persuade the content. This brief article is about justice and simple religion (I don’t like that word, but’s to make a point).
We have witnessed a series of major trials in the US in the past few days. While I have not watched them, I have had them on in the background while I did chores. As I said before, in the Kyle Rittenhouse case, I trusted our system … and still do. I also trusted our system in the Ahmaud Arbery case, although I had some fears about justice. The reason for the fear is the long history for black people not getting due justice, especially in the south. However, I am proud of the system and the jury (all white but one) who spoke confidently in their verdict in Georgia. This is a great day and great week for Justice in America and we should be proud of the system that our forefathers set up. At the same time, I feel sad for all those who have lost their lives in these cases, and those whose lives have been deeply fallowed. Now, with the above said, it does not mean that there is not a need for commentary and more work. It also does not mean that those who want to fight culture wars will suddenly stop exploiting the juries’ decisions in each of these cases.
I’ve stated before that I left the subculture of “white evangelical” in 1990 (although I am still white, wink). I spent the 90s trying to make some sense of that experience through rigorous study and I came to several life-changing conclusions. Religion, in my opinion, is a very complex system that is geared toward helping people feel good about themselves. It is ego-centric. When I left evangelicalism, I was fed up with that system. Later, when I rediscovered the historical Jesus, I saw how simple and comprehensive a relationship with the creator could be, when we were focused outwardly (toward other people) like Jesus was.
After living through years of complex rules and mores for spirituality, pages and pages of must-believe dogmas, it was a breath of fresh air to revisit the prophet Micah’s message to the nation of Israel:
With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
In this passage, Justice is not a footnote in the relationship of people and their creator, it is the over-arching theme.
I can only speak for Christianity as I don’t know other religions that well. I do know more about Islam and it mirrors Christianity in some ways, especially Christian fundamentalisms. In other ways, I can also speak for atheism and agnosticism as I’ve both view points at times in my life. But I see the religionization of Christianity as having two major driving forces, that makes it a complex and self-serving system.
The first driving force is about power. If you study the history of the Christian Church play out, you will see this theme over and over. Catholics did it. Protestants did it. The cover for this power lust is “Biblical.” They give the impression that their notions to power over people were from the Bible. But most of these dogmas have no Biblical support, or very loose support based on inference and conjecture. You can tell if this the process if they put these obscure doctrines at the center of their system, but completely ignore those things that the Bible really is clear about, that takes away their power. Like loving people, serving people … and justice.
The other inward focused driving force is personal experience or to use a crude term (that clarifies better) “spiritual masturbation.” Activities that give a good feeling to the pilgrim, but does nothing for others.
Both of those complex system agree on the principle that the self is the center of the process. I will illustrate these two big influences in the modern situation within American Christianity today. It is the lust of power that is driving the right side of Christianity toward culture wars and merging their cause with the Republican Party. Their causes are now indistinguishable and it is not really about “Biblical” mandates, but raw power. These so-called Biblical mandates don’t exist.
Meanwhile, on the left side, Christianity is being lured deeper into “personal experiences” as the OM of knowing God. I’m talking about irrational mysticisms, mostly borrowed from eastern religious traditions, Buddhism in particular. I predict that magic mushrooms will soon find its way into the center of this from of Christianity. This lust for experience to make their personal relationship with God meaningful, is likewise ego-centric. I’ve been in countless such meetings and they quickly bore me. I see God in others, in creation, but not inside my navel.
Both the lust for power and personal experience has long held Christianity into a religious state, being “me-focused” and built around complex systems created by cleaver people.
But Micah points us back to what is really on God’s heart … justice, kindness, and humility. No assault weapons and election rigging. No eyes rolling back in your head to taste that which is divine and to “escape” this awful world. On the other hand, justice it societal, outward focusing and has the love for others woven deep within its fabric, love for other people and this WONDERFUL world in which we live. Even good justice can be perverted by the egocentrics by over-focusing on their own injustices. That’s what can happen to cancer patients. Hasn’t really happened to me more than flighting temptations, while depression and other ills have tempted me stronger.
It was at the end of my search truth and meaning, circa 2000, that I made this passage in Micah as the summary of my Christian experience. I dreamed that my life would focus on others and finding remedies of their injustices. I approached my treatment of chronic pain in my medical practice with this attitude. I’ve always been the happiest when I was “others-centered.”
Cancer has forced me to be self-focused and I regret that. For decades, I have had a special place in my heart for the developing world and those who have suffered injustice from war. But I have failed miserably in this quest. I pray to God that I could do better. Think about these things. I’m thankful today for justice and the American system for finding it. Justice, mercy, and humility make God smile :>)