Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How Religion Makes People Judgemental (Tuesday evening at Plymouth CU Mission Week)

A good crowd gathered for pudding and a talk. One girl became a Christian at this event, though I'm not convinced that my talk had that much to do with it - more the end of a long process of friendship and evangelistic Bible study. 

When you’ve finished smashing up the world and blowing each other to bits and demanding special privileges while you do it, do you think maybe the rest of us can have our planet back please?

So says Marcus Brigstocke. He continues

I wish religious people would just own up that their special book says “fight, fight, kill, maim, fight, smash, destroy, smash, murder, kill. And fight. We love a scrap, we are fighty, scrappy, punchy, killy all the way.” I am so sick of religious people screwing it up for the rest of us. Please don’t kill us, seriously Religion is the power base for nutters. Religion by its very nature doesn’t tend to concern itself with truth. By the time all the toadying, condemning and hiding from science is done, truth has given up and gone down the pub for a pint. The Abrahamic faiths are like scousers – they all feel picked on harder than everyone else If we gave up religion we would have time to explore space, look in the sea, maybe find a cure for James Blunt The relationship between religion and warfare is like the relationship between Ant and Dec. You can have one without the other, but I am not sure anyone would see the point.

Hard to disagree isn't it? Religion is dangerous - and we're particularly fearful of fundamentalism. Taking things seriously, unless its the provision of puddings for us or care for the poor, saving the planet or ensuring there are graduate jobs. Being serious is ok, depends what the thing is. Religion is ugly though. Religion is about competing and playing the comparison game. Judging, am I better than you or am I worse than you. Some of us stacked our plates high and would like you to know we achieved that, others are deeply self-righteous that we only took one pudding.

Religion crushes the weak - it's power for nutters - it's about climbing to the top. So, religion is about survival of the fittest so that I triumph. It's power not love.

And it's kind of appropriate to think about this question on Shrove Tuesday ahead of Ash Wednesday, a made up religious festival, it's not in the Bible. The idea is feast today, fast tomorrow and feel good about it right, ahead of Easter. Nothing wrong with feasting - God made cake for us to enjoy. And fasting is ok, though quitting chocolate or facebook isn't quite going to tug on your desires like fasting is probably meant to. And remembering Easter is very important - Christianity is all about that event, the death of Jesus and his resurrection. Most of our attempts though are pure religion - making us feel self-righteous or depressed by our relative success or failure.

What of Jesus and religion - wasn't he the most religious person? Turn to p11-13.

Mark 2v1-12.
Jesus says: You're forgiven, you're healed. He shows he is God and does good to a man, and proves he's true to his word.  Religion says: You can't say that.  Religion is outraged by Jesus, but some are amazed by him. What do you make of him?

Mark 2v13-17.
Jesus says: Come for dinner to tax collectors, traitors, sinners, prostitutes. Religion says: You can't associate with them. Religion finds Jesus inappropriate, some enjoy his company. What do you make of him?

Jesus says we're sinners and failures and rebels who need a new start, and he can give it.

Mark 2v18-27.
Jesus says: eat and rest. Religion says: You can't do that. Religion finds Jesus unacceptable, some see Jesus is for them. What do you make of him?

Mark 3v1-6.
Jesus says: Have life - and we'd be glad to ask him to heal you if you're sick, as Jesus did for others. Religion says: You shouldn't do good here, today. Religion is insulted by Jesus, offended and wants to kill him - and does. Religion takes the moral high ground over Jesus, buts some admit (2v17) that they're in need of what he offers. Some say help me Jesus.

Religion is picky and performing, small-minded and striving, tight-fisted and trying. Religion leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. But, there's something expansive, lifegiving and attractive about Jesus.

Mark 10v45. Page 36.
Jesus says: Don't serve me. Let me die for you - your self-promotion and effort and love for everything apart from me has stirred my jealous anger - but I don't ask you to pay for that, I'll do that for you. Religion says: We want to climb up to God. Jesus says turn it upside down, don't climb to me - I come to you. You can be free from comparison and competing, you can be secure. Religion opposes Jesus, but you can receive him. Whatever your story, your background, your track record, Jesus says welcome, come and be forgiven, come and live. No religion, just Jesus. Jesus was the great anti-religionist, because he's the great life giver.

For some of you that's the first time you've heard that and you may just want to think it over more tonight, take away the biography of Jesus, come to other events later in the week.
For others you've been on this for a while, you still have questions but maybe its time to trust Jesus. It took me six weeks to pluck up the courage to propose to my wife, I was weighing it up - in the end, one September afternoon after dinner I realised I trusted her and popped the question, fumbling my words in the process, no ring, no readiness. Thankfully she said yes and nine months later she said I do to my I do. Is it time for you to do "that" with Jesus. He's "proposing", will you... That's not for all of us, but it might be for some. The best way to do that is to ask him. I'll read a sample prayer you can make your own. 
Father. I can't save myself or impress you with religion. I quite that. I need Jesus to forgive me, to welcome me, to provide for me and give me life. Come and live in me by the Holy Spirit because of Jesus. Yes.

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