Walking into a church once a week, (or in many cases, much less frequently), raising your arms in the air in praise to the sound of hymns, shouting “Amen” in agreement with your preacher, and flipping through your Bible like an unthinking robot, doesn’t make you spiritual, or religious, nor does it necessarily make you a faithful “man (or woman) of God.” There is nothing righteous about hypocrisy, ignorance, intolerance, or willful blindness, and if you’re too busy raising your hands in the air to point it out when you see it, or recognize it within yourself, or your church, something has gone terribly wrong. You might walk away with a false sense of arrogant piety, and if you think that’s going to save your soul, you might be in for a sad disappointment.
In my religion, as a Christian, I find there’s a lot of noise about the faith – zealous preachers, multimedia laser light shows, overhead projectors streaming scripture to the sound of teenagers belting out “I love Jesus” songs on their electric keyboards, and that’s great and wonderful to see – but I wonder sometimes if many of us have been blinded by the lights, and have dimmed down our real faith as a result, having placed more emphasis on the medium lately, and our own propaganda, than on the message. Worship is central to our faith, but what are we really worshipping? In the modern age, why are so many Christians willing to be spoon fed dogma in shopping mall styled churches? Religion has always been big business, but is there something more to our acceptance of branded faith than just the mere cynicism that comes with living in the modern age? Has the church become a sanctuary for ignorance, even from the true roots and nature of its own faith, relegated to the role of moral policing and conservatism?
Some Christian movements are louder than others, have amassed armies of volunteers, lobbyists, and hold considerable power and resources – and some seem to put more energy into fighting evolutionists, bashing gays, justifying slavery, condemning science, or finding Biblical justification for using corporal punishment with their kids, than they do in educating themselves when it comes to the Bible, the faith’s history, and some of its very dubious and doubtful sources. Studies reveal, for instance, than many Christians have never read the entire Bible, let alone refer to it more than a few times a year, but hang on to their beliefs steadfastly, despite having never examined the origin of their belief for themselves, let alone subject their prejudices to scrutiny of any kind. How does that make anyone “Godly?” It doesn’t, anymore than reciting the Lord’s Prayer, the Nicene Creed, or singing “Onward Christian Soldier,” does.
Claims that the Bible is the absolute literal Word of God, inspired or otherwise, outright dismissal of scientific discovery when it contradicts it, and using the vulnerable in our society as scapegoats for our own ignorance is both wrong, and about as far away from God as you can get. We may not like His answers, but they’re written as much in the cosmos, in our DNA, and in our story of human evolution, as in the Book that most of us have never read, and for the most part, conveniently relegate to the coffee table most of the time. Science is also an authoritative gospel, or good news, and one that does not rely on rhetoric, propaganda, or hypocrisy for its sustainability as a reliable testament to truth. How will we know if God is finished speaking to the human experience if our eyes and ears are closed, and our hearts are filled with piety and a disdain for science, discovery and truth? Are we really that concerned that He’ll disappear if our notion of God is exposed to the light of reason?
The Bible is full of stories that revolve around moral dilemma’s, replete with flawed characters struggling to find redemption in the face of challenging circumstances and choices. It reflects values and beliefs, many of which are just as valid today as they were when they were first set down in the ancient scrolls that form the basis of this remarkable library, that have come to form the core of the world’s major religions, culture, and societies. Over time, that library has been added to, consistently, repeatedly, and with each revision, edition, and elaboration, our understanding of our God, and ourselves, has been expanded. That process didn’t end two thousand years ago. We continue to add to the story, and we expand our interpretation and contextual understanding of what it has to offer us. When the noise gets in the way of the signal, it’s time to adjust the frequency.
Using the Bible to justify persecution, war, violence, arrogance, promote hatred, or to police morality, invoking it as the “Word of God,” as an authoritative absolute and definitive end to inquiry, is an arrogant, and dangerously ignorant use of the treasure contained in this timeless tome. Cherry picking chapter and verse from the Bible to support a moral judgment or condemnation against an individual or group, to marginalize them, or suppress dissent, isn’t just a misuse of the Bible, it’s also naively childish. It’s the kind of “noise,” we can do without. It’s the kind of noise, that if left unchecked, can lead to war, atrocities, genocide, and injustice – and there is absolutely nothing Godly in that.
My God is big enough to include real science, reason, experiment, real debate, and isn’t threatened by Darwin, gays, stem cell research, quantum mechanics, scientific discovery, or the truth. He doesn’t need a host of PR men, cheerleaders, or slick advertisements, and He doesn’t speak to me through propaganda, over loudspeakers with the Gaither trio in the background. My God is bigger than that.