“Every generation needs a new revolution.”
-Thomas Jefferson

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
-Martin Luther King Jr.

Staceyann Chin, National Equality March 10/10/09 photo: Ed Needham

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dear God, save us from religion. (part one)

During the last couple centuries, a curious thing began to change within the major religions of the world. Previously, religion was more of a knack or skill among followers. A guide to become more knowing of God through ritual, myth and metaphor. It was taken for granted that one could not know God through logic or knowledge or words or reason. God transcended reason, knowledge, language. The holy books of the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, Baghavad Gita and Upanishads were full of parables, myths, great stories that through their repeated telling and retelling, ritualized enacting and meditiation on, would provide an path to enlightenment, a way to understand truth for those who sought a closer relationship with God.

Thence came the ironically named Age of Enlightenment (aka Age of Reason, which is far more apt) and the importance of myth and metaphor as a necessary way to understand our world, God and ourselves, fell victim to rationality, empiricism and the scientific method. While in terms of Christianity, the questioning of the religious institutions and orthodoxies of the time did lead to the eruption of religions that placed man in direct relationship with God, it did so at a cost made more evident later. Within a couple hundred years, the philosophical decendents of Martin Luther and John Calvin had all but cast aside any hint of metaphor and parable. Now, instead of the Bible providing a path to "know" God or to know the "truth", it is seen by many, for the first time in Man's history, as nonfiction. Self-described Christians measure their faith by the unquestioned acceptance of the Bible as dogma much to the chagrin of two thousand years of history. As a result, myth understood as fact, has seriously removed man from God rather than the other way around.

Evidence of this is everywhere and it is not encouraging. But God may be making a comeback. A greater number of mainstream Protestant religious groups are moving past the self-limiting boundaries of the literalists.  Symbolism and parable may be making a comeback, cultural context is not seen as a threat to truth. Slowly, larger numbers of modern pilgrims are seeking a relationship with God by knowing him through action and experience rather than trying to know him through mistaking myth and metaphor as fact.

Perhaps we are exiting the Age of Reason and maybe it is a good thing. One can't really run "God is Love" through the scientific method. But that's ok. There's plenty enough facts to go around these days, it is truths we seem to be short on, truths we are hungry for, and truths that can begin to light our way.

My current two favorite theologians:

Rabbi Micheal Lerner in 2006 with Tim Russert on Meet the Press. A brief look at the religious right in America.

Karen Armstrong makes her TED Prize wish: the Charter for Compassion.

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