Tuesday, November 28, 2006

True Wisdom

Saint Bernard, abbot, On the search for wisdom

Let us work for the food which does not perish; let us do the work of our salvation. Let us work in the Lord’s vineyard so that we may deserve to receive our daily penny. Let us work in Wisdom who says: “Those who work with my help will not sin.” “The field is the world,” said the Truth, let us dig in it; a treasure lies hidden, let us dig it up. It is Wisdom herself who is drawn out from the hidden places. We all seek her, we all long for her.

“If you will inquire,” he says, “inquire; turn and come back.” Do you ask what you are to turn back from? He replies, “Turn back from your appetites.” “But,” you say, “if I cannot find Wisdom in my own appetites where do I find it? My soul longs passionately for Wisdom, and if I did happen to find her, it would not be enough just to find her unless I could put into my lap a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over. And rightly so. For “happy is the man who finds Wisdom and is rich in understanding.” Seek her, therefore, whilst she may be found, and call on her whilst she is near. Do you want to know how near she is? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart,” but only if you seek it with a true heart. Then you will find Wisdom with your heart and from your lips will pour forth understanding.

You have indeed found honey if you have found wisdom, only do not eat too much lest you gorge yourself and become ill. So eat, as to be always hungry. For Wisdom herself says, “Those who eat me will hunger for more.” Do not set too great a store on what you have; do not gorge yourself lest you vomit and what you seemed to have is taken away from you because you gave up the search too soon. Not even whilst wisdom may be found, whilst she is near, should we give up searching and calling on her. Otherwise just as, in the words of Solomon, “It is not god to eat much honey,” so “he who pries into majesty will be overwhelmed by its glory.”

It is a true saying, “happy is the man who finds wisdom,” and it is even truer to say, “happy,” or rather, more happy, “is the man” who dwells with her. Perhaps this is what is meant by pouring forth.

Clearly, you pour forth wisdom or understanding from your lips in three ways: if on your lips there is the admission of your own sinfulness, thanksgiving and the voice of praise, and words that encourage. For indeed, “a man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.” And “at the beginning of his speech the righteous man is his own accuser”; and in the middle of his words he gives praise to God, and in the third place, if so far wisdom has poured forth, he must also encourage his neighbor.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Obey Your Thirst!

Instead of religious discourse being a type of drink designed to satisfy our thirst for answers, Jesus made his teaching salty, evoking thirst. Instead of offering a scientific explanation that would convince, or publicizing the miracles so as to compel his listeners, Jesus engaged in a poetic discourse that spoke to the heart of those who would listen. In a world where people believe they are not hungry, we must not offer food but rather an aroma that helps them desire the food that we cannot provide. We are a people who are born from a response to hints of the divine. Not only this, but we must embrace the idea that we are also called to be hints of the divine.

Peter Rollins, How (Not) To Speak of God.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Word to the Victorious

The key to the obedience of God’s people is not their effectiveness but their patience. The triumph of the right is assured not by the might that comes to the aid of the right, which is of course the justification of the use of violence and the other kinds of power in every human conflict; the triumph of the right, although it is assured, is sure because of the power of the resurrection and not because of any calculation of causes and effects, nor because of the inherently greater strength of the good guys. The relationship between the obedience of God’s people and the triumph of God’s cause is not a relationship of cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection.

John Howard Yoder

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Response to Travis

Travis (glad you're "here"!): you asked if we are not told to protect each other. I would say that, no, we are indeed not told that. I don't know of any passage in the New Testament (or Old, for that matter) that might point in that direction. Many people take it for granted that self-defense, or at least defense of another, is instinctive, therefore "natural" and a God-given duty or right. Certainly it is instinctual -- all levels of species have an instinct for self-preservation. However, I don't think Christians are called to live on the level of "nature," and certainly not of brute beasts.

I think you're right that American law has long been divorced from (if it was ever married to) Biblical principles. I'm not sure exactly what distinction you are making between "justice" and "fairness." But, "justice" as defined in the OT (see Isaiah 1 and other prophets, for instance) is rooted in God's character, particularly in his care for the poor, widows, orphans, and generally for the oppressed and disenfranchised. For Israel this frequently meant the "stranger," which meant foreigners. Of course, from our perspective to care for these people would be acts of mercy -- which is exactly the point. In the OT "justice" collapses into "mercy." OUR concept of "justice" is "eye for eye and tooth for tooth," or "getting what one deserves." But what God calls "justice" are those acts by which we care for the weak.

I'm rambling a little (1 AM!) so all of this doesn't directly pertain to your post. Sorry. But, in the case of Sadaam, yes, he probably would try to recruit while in prison. I don't think that justifies killing him.

I think a more important and more basic question is not what the nation should do, but what ethical principles should guide Christians. Nations will always act in their own self-interest as they perceive it. Can Christians use self-interest as an ethical guide? Doesn't seem right to me.

But that's why Christians should, in my opinion, participate in the governing process (even voting) with a certain level of reluctance. I voted -- but then felt like I needed a shower! Neither party has a corner on Godliness (duh), and each includes people who will misuse the power we give them. Each promises to keep us safe. I think that's just one of the lies they have to tell in order to get elected (don't think it's really possible), but their intent is always to do whatever is necessary to accomplish that task (American safety), even if it means killing lots of non-Americans. So, voting for them is giving them power to do that. Doing so is not justice, in the Biblical sense, nor is it loving our enemies. Well, nations will do what nations will do (that's the point of Romans 13, and NOT that Christians are licensed to kill on behalf of the government if so ordered) -- and God will use them for his own purposes as he sees fit. That has nothing to do with Christians. We aren't called to rid the world of evil (as W. claimed our current war on terror would do!), to keep it safe, or to rule the world. We're called to be salt and light and to love all of God's creation as God loves it (Mt. 5:48).



Comments on Josh Kingcade's statement

Josh Nichols (Oklahoma City, OK) wroteat 10:09am on November 7th, 2006
Good explanation, Josh. I am going to make a series of comments as the comment block is only allows a certain number of characters. Here we go. The death penalty is
something I have struggled wiht for a long time...and will probably continue to struggle with it. I admittedly am caught between a rock and a hard place with this issue. I am one who would never feel comfortable sentencing someone to death (as a judge or juror). I don't want that decision on me. But, at the same time, I don't lose any sleep when others do it

That's bad, I know...but, it is not so much that I am being hypocritical, but more so that I am at a loss on where to stand with this issue. Am I out for revenge if I am for it? Am I in opposition of my government if I am against it? I appreciate your comments as it gives me a little more perspective. However, the Saddam situation, in my opinion, doesn't fit with the "revenge" scenerio. I think many people would like to see him dead out of revenge, but others for the protection of people. Your right, God will grant judgment, but he has also put people in place to grant judgment in the legal sense while on earth, not for revenge, but for justice and protection.

The Saddam situaiton is one that throws me more into
confusion as I fear for the people as long as he is still alive, but at the same time, could I grant such a verdict myself - I don't know. But, point being, I don't think it is always about revenge. I do like that we don't execute immediately because it gives people a chance to find God. And this is one situation we are not to place judgment. For example Jeffrey Dahmer (spelling??)
studied with a Christian preacher and was baptized for the remission of sins. Some say it was a facade. I personally disagree because someone who has commmitted the crimes to the extent of his knows they aren't getting out of prison or reducing a sentence because they found God. Despite my opinion or anyone elses, that is for God to determine an no one else

To close, your thoughts are intriguing and good to know as I think many Christians shy away from the topic. I appreciate your willingness to share and challenge your readers. It has definately helped me realize that I need to do some more studying on the matter.

William Chip Kooi
wroteat 2:11pm on November 7th, 2006
2 cents worth: Christians should oppose the death penalty because the death penalty makes a judgment about a person that only God is qualified to make -- that he/she is beyond God's redemptive power. Further, I think even the Old Testament teaches that life is God's and God's alone both to give and to take away (rightfully). So, though at times in the OT God orders killings and wars, these episodes do not authorize us, without a
direct communication from God (as Joshua, Saul, David, etc., seem to have had) to take another human life. Or so it seems to me. Chip

Travis Campbell wroteat 5:38pm on November 7th, 2006
are we not also told to protect each other though? on the saddam note: what if he were sentenced to prison and used it as a recruiting ground? wouldn't that endanger more lives?on
a side note: i don't know if i really believe that the law follows christian guidelines...in America the law does not care about fairness, its main concern is being just. many politicians that claim to be christian leaders do it simply to further their own ambitions not to further the mission of christianity.

Josh Nichols (Oklahoma City, OK) wroteat 9:23pm on November 7th, 2006
Response to Chip: Once again, my mind has been sparked by great comments. Chip, your comment about the judgment the DP makes - one being beyone God's redemptive power - I struggle with this one. The DP is the maximum penalty for a crime, and it is typically carried out after a very lengthy stay. Life without parole is next in line, that I am aware of. Thus, does someone deserve a reduced sentence, whether DP or Life w/o Parole or Community Service, because they find God and
obey the Gospel? If I read Romans right, man is without excuse when it comes to God. Thus, our responsibility is to spread the word, theirs is to seek it & obey it once found. Although I'm still working thru where I stand with the DP. I don't view it as judging one's ability to be redeemed. Actually, if the
executions happened immediately...that would really help me with my stance, & I would agree more with this specific part of your comment. Anyways, thanks for the challenging comments - I love this stuff.

On the Death Penalty

The following is from Josh Kingcade, originally posted on his Facebook.

Why I Oppose the
Death Penalty

by Josh Kingcade (notes) 4:28am Tuesday,
Nov 7
As I’ve watched the Oklahoma gubernatorial debates, and now with the Saddam Hussein verdict, I thought about how to articulate my opposition to the death penalty. Those of us who oppose it inevitably get called weak or soft on criminals. I will try to give a reasoned defense of my opposition.Some oppose
the death penalty on pragmatic grounds – that is, they believe that the death penalty in America yields too many errors, and that since we’ve executed many innocent people, we should stop sentencing people to death. However, if our country could guarantee 100% mistake-free executions, this group of people would again support the death penalty. In sum, their opposition is not moral, but rather they are opposed to how it’s done and the risk for error. My opposition is beyond that. Even if the government could guarantee that only guilty people would be executed, I would still oppose it.

1. I refuse to condone the killing of someone for economic reasons. Some supporters of the death penalty say they don’t want their tax dollars going to fund a lifetime of imprisonment for a murderer. Execute them, they say, and keep us from paying for their existence. No life, unborn baby or convicted murderer, should never be equated with some dollar amount. That is a poor and unbiblical way to look at people. Jesus would never attach an economic amount to a human being. We cannot sentence someone to die simply because we don’t want to fund their existence.

2. I fully support life imprisonments for dangerous criminals. There is no reason to let them back on the street. They pose a threat, and they deserve to be punished for their crimes, even if that means a lifetime behind bars. So let’s think for a minute:
why would you kill someone instead of giving them life in prison? I’ve already named one reason: money. The other reason I can think of? Revenge.

Now, look, if someone killed a member of my family, I’d want their head to ROLL. But I would also not want my emotions to be the deciding factor in someone’s life. Thank goodness our justice system does not hinge on the emotions of the plaintiff. So while I might want that person dead, I rest easier knowing that a reasonable, uninvolved judge can render a sensible verdict.

So again, why would you kill someone instead of sending them to prison for life? Because you want to avenge your loved one’s death. This is perfectly natural, but it is neither biblical nor a justifiable reason to kill someone. Christ tells us to love our enemies and not to seek revenge. God will take care of that.

Some argue that Romans 13 gives government this right. I would agree for the most part. But remember, when Paul was writing, the government was totally pagan. Paul was saying, “I know the government is totally opposed to Christianity, and I know none of you Christians have a place in that government, but you must submit to that government.”

Things are different now. Our government is, at least in part, based on Christian principles (or it pretends to be). We have Christians in high places in the government, and we have Christians deciding laws on capital punishment. So I would argue that Americans and the American government have every right to impose the death penalty. Christians, however, should have no part in it. Human life is not ours to take.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


From the Second Vatican Council's pastoral constitution "Gaudium et spes" on the Church in the modern world: The promotion of peace

Peace is not the mere absence of war or the simple maintenance of a balance of power between forces, nor can it be imposed at the dictate of absolute power. It is called, rightly and properly, a work of justice. It is the product of order, the order implanted in human society by its divine founder, to be realised in practice as men hunger and thirst for ever more perfect justice. The common good of the human race is subject to the eternal law as its primary principle, but its requirements in practice keep changing with the passage of time. The result is that peace is never established finally and for ever; the building up of peace has to go on all the time. Again, the human will is weak and wounded by sin; the search for peace therefore demands from each individual constant control of the passions, and from legitimate authority untiring vigilance. Even this is not enough. Peace here on earth cannot be maintained unless the good of the human person is safeguarded, and men are willing to trust each other and share their riches of spirit and talent. If peace is to be established it is absolutely necessary to have a firm determination to respect other persons and peoples and their dignity, and to be zealous in the practice of brotherhood. Peace is therefore the fruit also of love; love goes beyond what justice can achieve. Peace on earth, born of love for one’s neighbour, is the sign and the effect of the peace of Christ that flows from God the Father. In his own person the incarnate Son, the Prince of Peace, reconciled all men to God through his death on the cross. In his human nature he destroyed hatred and restored unity to all mankind in one people and one body. Raised on high by the resurrection, he sent the Spirit of love into the hearts of men. All Christians are thus urgently summoned to live the truth in love, and to join all true peacemakers in prayer and work for peace. Moved by the same spirit, we cannot but praise those who renounce violence in defence of rights, and have recourse to means of defence otherwise available to the less powerful as well, provided that this can be done without injury to the rights and obligations of others or of the community.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

On Religion

What’s Wrong With Religion?

In my first post, I used the word "religion" to describe one of the ways human beings have tried to solve their own personal problems and the problems of the world. I also said it hadn’t worked.

Yet, most people would view me as "a religious person," and I am in fact a Christian and a member of a church. Perhaps some clarification is in order.

I’m using "religion" in the sense that it was used by people like Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "religion" is the strictly human attempt to "get to God," to "justify ourselves," and to give our lives meaning.

Bonhoeffer, in a letter to his friend Eberhard Bethge (Letters and Papers from Prison) on April 30, 1944, spoke of his peace of mind and how it was leading him to a new evaluation of his faith:

You've no need to worry about me at all, as I'm getting on uncommonly well - you would be surprised, if you came to see me. People here keep on telling me (as you can see, I feel very flattered by it) that I'm "radiating so much peace around me," and that I'm "always so cheerful," - so that the feelings that I sometimes have to the contrary must, I suppose, rest on an illusion (not that I really believe that at all!). You would be surprised, and perhaps even worried, by my theological thoughts and the conclusions that they lead to; and this is where I miss you most of all, because I don't know anyone else with whom I could so well discuss them to have my thinking clarified. What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today. The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over, and so is the time of inwardness and conscience - and that means the time of religion in general. We are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious any more. Even those who honestly describe themselves as "religious" do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different by "religious."
Our whole nineteen-hundred-year-old Christian preaching and theology rest on the "religious a priori" of mankind. [N.B. Bonhoeffer (with Kierkegaard and Barth--see below) has in mind Schleiermacher's concept of the basic religious intuition that he (Schleiermacher) thinks is common to all human beings.]

"Christianity" has always been a form - perhaps the true form - of "religion." But if one day it becomes clear that this a priori does not exist at all, but was historically conditioned and transient form of human self-expression, and if therefore man becomes radically religionless - and I think that that is already more or less the case (else how is it, for example, that this war, in contrast to all previous ones, is not calling forth any "religious" reaction?) - what does that mean for "Christianity?" It means that the foundation is taken away from the whole of what has up to now been our "Christianity," and that there remain only a few "last survivors of the age of chivalry," or a few intellectually dishonest people, on whom we can descend as "religious." Are they to be the chosen few? Is it on this dubious group of people that we are to pounce in fervor, pique, or indignation, in order to sell them our goods? Are we to fall upon a few unfortunate people in their hour of need and exercise a sort of religious compulsion on them? If we don't want to do all that, if our final judgment must be that the western form of Christianity, too, was only a preliminary stage to a complete absence of religion, what kind of situation emerges for us, for the church? How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless as well? Are there religionless Christians? If religion is only a garment of Christianity - and even this garment has looked very different at different times - then what is a religionless Christianity?

Barth, who is the only one to have started along this line of thought, did not carry it to completion, but arrived at a positivism of revelation, which in the last analysis is essentially a restoration. For the religionless working man (or any other man) nothing decisive is gained here. The questions to be answered would surely be: What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world? How do we speak of God - without religion, i.e. without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on? How do we speak (or perhaps we cannot now even "speak" as we used to) in a "secular" way about "God?" In what way are we "religionless-secular" Christians, in what way are we the εκκλησια, those who are called forth, not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view as specially favored, but rather as belonging wholly to the world? In that case Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, really the Lord of the world. But what does that mean? What is the place of worship and prayer in a religionless situation? Does the secret discipline, or alternatively the difference (which I have suggested to you before) between the penultimate and ultimate, take on a new importance here?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Pauline question whether περιτομη [circumcision] is a condition of justification seems to me in present-day terms to be whether religion is a condition of salvation. Freedom from περιτομη is also freedom from religion. I often ask myself why a "Christian instinct" often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, by which I don't in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, "in brotherhood." While I'm often reluctant to mention God by name to religious people - because that name somehow seems to me here not to ring true, and I feel myself to be slightly dishonest (it's particularly bad when others start to talk in religious jargon; I then dry up almost completely and feel awkward and uncomfortable) - to people with no religion I can on occasion mention him by name quite calmly and as a matter of course. Religious people speak of God when human knowledge (perhaps simply because they are too lazy to think) has come to an end, or when human resources fail - in fact it is always the deus ex machina that they bring on to the scene, either for the apparent solution of insoluble problems, or as strength in human failure - always, that is to say, exploiting human weakness or human boundaries. Of necessity, that can go on only till people can by their own strength push these boundaries somewhat further out, so that God becomes superfluous as a deus ex machina. I've come to be doubtful of talking about any human boundaries (is even death, which people now hardly fear, and is sin, which they now hardly understand, still a genuine boundary today?). It always seems to me that we are trying anxiously in this way to reserve some space for God; I should like to speak of God not on the boundaries but at the center, not in weaknesses but in strength; and therefore not in death and guilt but in man's life and goodness. As to the boundaries, it seems to me better to be silent and leave the insoluble unsolved. Belief in the resurrection is not the "solution" of the problem of death. God's "beyond" is not the beyond of our cognitive faculties. The transcendence of epistemological theory has nothing to do with the transcendence of God. God is beyond in the midst of our life. The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village. That is how it is in the Old Testament, and in this sense we still read the New Testament far too little in the light of the Old. How this religionless Christianity looks, what form it takes, is something that I'm thinking about a great deal, and I shall be writing to you again about it soon. It may be that on us in particular, midway between East and West, there will fall a heavy responsibility.
Now I really must stop. It would be fine to have a word from you about all this; it would mean a great deal to me - probably more than you can imagine. Some time, just read Prov. 22.11, 12;† there is something that will bar the way to any escapism disguised as piety.

All the very best.
Your Dietrich

[†Some have suggested that Bonhoeffer meant to refer to Proverbs 24:11-12 ("Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, 'Behold, we did not know this.' does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not requite man according to his work?"), but I think it is more logical to believe that he meant Psalms rather than Proverbs, thus referring to Psalm 22:11-12 in the German Bible, which correspond to verses 10-11 in English ("On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help."), and expressing that this verse would "bar the way to any escapism."]

What Bonhoeffer had found was that, in the most dire circumstances, there was something sustaining him that was deeper and sturdier than religion – than "religious practices." What was it? It is too easy to simply say "it was his faith in Jesus Christ." Many "religious" people would make the same claim – yet it was indeed, as Bonhoeffer pointed out, their religion, their Christianity, in fact, that led them to act in ungodly ways.

I won’t try to unpack his "religionless Christianity" phrase here, though it’s worth a great deal of contemplation. I want only to deal with the concept of "religion," and to determine why it hasn’t done what so many think it ought to do.

When Soren Kierkegaard, the "Great Dane" – a profoundly committed Christian and one of the most profound thinkers of his era – examined the general state of religion in Denmark in his era (1813-1855), he found it to be empty of real, honest discipleship. Everyone wanted to be (and was) a "Christian," but no one wanted to follow Jesus. Denmark was part of "Christendom," but this rendered discipleship to Jesus impossible. So, though his language distinguishes between "Christendom" and "Christianity," this distinction is the same as that between "religion" and "discipleship."

‘Imitation’, ‘the following of Christ’, this precisely is the point from where the human race winces, here it is principally that the difficulty lies, here is where the question really is decided whether one will accept Christianity or not. If pressure is brought to bear at this point, and a strong pressure–in that same degree there are few Christians. If at this point a convenient accommodation is made (so that Christianity becomes, intellectually, a doctrine), many enter into Christianity. If it is done away with entirely (so that Christianity becomes, existentially, as easy as mythology and poetry, while imitation is exaggeration, a ludicrous exaggeration), then Christianity widens out to such a degree that Christendom and the world almost correspond, or all become Christians, then Christianity has triumphed completely–in other words, it is done away with. [Soren Kierkegaard, Judge for Yourselves!, trans. Walter Lowrie (London: Princeton University Press, 1944), 197.]

This has to be said; so be it now said.
Whoever thou art, whatever in other respects thy life may be, my friend, by ceasing to take part (if ordinarily thou dost) in the public worship of God, as it now is (with the claim that it is the Christianity of the New Testament), thou hast constantly one guilt the less [than others in Christendom], and that a great one: thou dost not take part in treating God as a fool by calling that the Christianity of the New Testament, which is not the Christianity of the New Testament.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Yes, such is the fact : the official worship of God (with the claim of being the Christianity of the New Testament) is, Christianly, a counterfeit, a forgery. [Soren Kierkegaard, Attack Upon Christendom, trans. Walter Lowrie (Boston: Beacon Press, 1956), 59. Italics original.]

Does Kierkegaard’s description of 19th century Copenhagen apply to 21st century America? Perhaps. Likely. Certainly. And this is, precisely, why "religion" does not "work." "Religion" is what we humans invent, in the west, to keep ourselves protected from the risks of actual discipleship. Following Jesus can be dangerous, you know! I mean, if we really "take up the cross and follow him . . ." – where was he going with his cross? Uh, I’m not sure I want to go there. Or so our reasoning goes, all too frequently.

For Karl Barth (d. 1968), religion is precisely what opposes God’s revelation of himself. It contradicts it, effectively blocking it by anticipating it – i.e., by forming a "mold" designed to receive the molten revelation which would force the revelation into its preconceived shape. The revelation, then, would not be free to "be itself"; it would be changed by its reception, and in fact would, therefore, no longer be God’s revealing of himself.

From the standpoint of revelation religion is clearly seen to be a human attempt to anticipate what God in His revelation wills to do and does do. It is the attempted replacement of the divine work by a human manufacture. The divine reality offered and manifested to us in revelation is replaced by a concept of God arbitrarily and wilfully evolved by man. . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
From the standpoint of revelation, man’s religion is simply an assumption and assertion of this kind, and as such it is an activity which contradicts revelation–contradicts it, because it is only through truth that truth can come to man. If man tries to grasp at truth of himself, he tries to grasp at it a priori. But in that case he does not do what he has to do when the truth comes to him. He does not believe. If he did, he would listen ; but in religion he talks. If he did, he would accept a gift ; but in religion he takes something for himself. If he did, he would let God Himself intercede for God : but in religion he ventures to grasp at God. Because it is a grasping, religion is the contradiction of revelation, the concentrated expression of human unbelief, i.e., an attitude and activity which is directly opposed to faith. It is a feeble but defiant, and arrogant but hopeless, attempt to create something which man could do, but now cannot do, or can do only because and if God Himself creates it for him : the knowledge of the truth, the knowledge of God. [Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 1/2, trans. Geoffrey Bromiley (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1956), 302-303.]

"Religion," then, may fulfill the role assigned to it by Marx or Nietzsche – it can keep people "under control," to some degree. But it is superficial – it will not, it cannot change the person at his or her most basic level. It can keep behavior "in check" through fear and inhibition, but it won’t change anyone.

Which it precisely why "religion" "doesn’t work." It hasn’t solved the world’s problems because it can’t. Fear and domination only go so far toward keeping people "in check."

Not to mention the fact that, with far too great a frequency, "religion" has cultivated fear not of consequences of bad behavior but of "enemies," and has encouraged violence upon these "enemies." Christianity is no less guilty than any other religion--witness the Crusades, the violence in Northern Ireland, or even the American doctrine of "Manifest Destiny" which declared that it was God’s plan for "us" (the white Europeans of Christian faith) to own all of the land from Atlantic to Pacific, and which underwrote the genocide by which it was accomplished.

Of course, some would protest that these actions were not the result of "true Christianity." Barth, Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard would all agree. But this only highlights the problem: the "truth" of any religion can be perverted, subverted and/or subsumed under and to serve the purposes and ideological agenda of a group or nation.

And it is not only the "false believers," or those who intentionally pervert and subvert, who are responsible. It is all too frequently the "true believers" who are responsible. The early church historian Eusebius, for instance, was so enamored of the Emperor Constantine that he could not perceive how the triumphalism of the church in this era would subvert its theology and use it for the purposes of underwriting the agenda of the empire. Eric Hoffer’s book True Believer, expounds on the power of mass psychology in the form of nationalistic fervor to move "true believers" to almost unthinkable actions [Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (New York: Harper and Row, 1951.)]. Any great (or non-great, for that matter) system of thought, true or not, can be manipulated toward such ends. Christianity is no exception.

So what? I believe it is important that we Christians take a good look at how Christianity has become a "religion," i.e., how it has been subverted to serve our nationalistic and economic agendas. In part, we need to repent of that. Further, however, we need to do so in order to exonerate the one we call "Lord." I think we owe him at least that much.

Voting guide for Christians

I get tired of Christians being the butt of jokes and target of hatred. No, wait, many Christians deserve it. What I'm really tired of is Jesus Christ being blamed for the stupidity and hubris of Christians. I'm tired of having to tell both Christians and non-Christians alike that Jesus didn't stand for all the things the "Christian Right" uses (!) him to underwrite and/or (allegedly) endorse -- things like bombing Baghdad and invading Afghanistan.

Jim Wallis, of Sojourners magazine and author of God's Politics, has written a very good, very thoughtful "Voters Guide" that won't align with either of the major parties, and breaks out of the "Christian Right" mold to demonstrate how Christians ought to care about more issues than just abortion and homosexuality.