Tuesday, August 23, 2005

"Do-it-yourself" religion

A few days ago, I ran across a quote from Pope Benedict that disturbed me. It was taken from a speech he gave before the World Youth Day festival in Cologne, Germany. The Pope acknowledged growing frustration and dissatisfaction with the institution of the Church, and the phenomenon of a growing interest in "religion". His problem is that the religion people are increasingly turning to has little or nothing to do with traditional religion.

He's probably alluding, at least in part, to some of the post-modern thinking which is gaining ground these days, questioning many of the core tenets of traditional theologies and doctrines. The Pope was quoted as saying, "But religion constructed on a 'do-it-yourself' (DIY) basis cannot ultimately help us."

I have not read the full text of the Pope's address, and I obviously was not present to listen to the tone in which it was given. So I will reserve full judgment as to the Pope's intent. However, I do get the feeling that this yet another effort by the Church to discourage individuals from thinking for themselves and seeking a relationship with God in a way that is not limited to those things that are "authorized" by this earthly institution.

One of the discussions in which I would love to engage has to do with the authority of Church and the authority of the Bible. To me, the authority of any human institution, tradition, or document is either derived from superior force or from the consent of the people who they serve. The Church will of course claim authority from God. Many also claim the Bible's authority comes from God. But what good is this authority if no one acknowledges this authority? What good is it to have wonderful cathedrals and churches that are empty? What good is this authority when most people regularly ignore the Church doctrines and dogma. What good is this authority when the Church is becoming increasingly irrelevant? Irrelevancy is authority's great enemy.

Increasingly, I am sensing frustration and even desperation within the Church that it no longer has the force that it once did to enforce its rules and regulations, nor does it have the consent of the masses that it once did. My sense is that the reason churches in throughout Europe are empty has less to do with "corruption by popular culture" and more to do with the fact that traditional religion just doesn't make sense to people. It has probably never made much sense in the past, but now people are more willing to question and explore on their own without being fearful.

Another quote that I ran across in my readings is one by Charles W. Slaton in "Biblical Malnutrition & Today's Episcopal Church"... "We should all take issue with the notion that man inherits the right to update and revise Scripture as he sees fit. This is what the revisionist movement is all about, changing God to accommodate man."

Suffice to say, the arrogant tone in this one bothers me even more. No one is seeking to "change God". What people have always sought is to "better understand the mind of God". For better or for worse, all of Scripture doesn't speak to all of us. That does not mean that we are negating or seeking to change God. It simply means that we do not agree with some of the things that a guy or gal wrote a long time ago, and that we prefer to trust the spiritual insights gained through our own personal journeys.

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