I am a religious man without, particularly, a religion. These days people call this “being spiritual,” and often people — especially women — will tell me, as they get a sense of my personality, “I have the feeling you’re a very spiritual person.”
I’m not. I’m religious. I just happen to lack a religion.
The difference between a spiritual and a religious person is in the motive. A spiritual person is in the game for themselves. They are looking to develop themselves, in much the same way a man or woman who goes to the gym does. This is perfectly respectable.
A religious person, in contrast, wants to put themselves in service. This is not necessarily exactly altruistic, in the sense that we think of Mother Theresa’s life of service to humanity as altruistic. In my case, I wanted my existence to matter. I wanted, and want, to become a positive force for good in this world, and this is somewhat more egotistical than Mother Theresa’s motive.
I tell you this by way of introduction. That, as we say, is my trip. I go to different churches sometimes, when I have a free Sunday. I meditate sometimes. What I find attractive in Christianity and Buddhism is the emphasis on cultivating brotherly love, on cultivating kindness and compassion.
I have never gone to church and heard this topic addressed. Not once. Have you? I mean, have you ever gotten a sermon or instruction on actually cultivating brotherly love?
At the Bangor Public Library’s catalog computer earlier this week, the machine spontaneously gave me a drop-down list of the previous user’s search terms. Those terms were:
spiritual growth & self-help
spiritual healing & meditation
spiritual healing / buda
spiritual healing / budist
yesterday i cried
The spelling errors and first topic make me think this user was a young lady. Christianity has evidently lost her. I feel certain Christ’s teaching could provide her with what she needs and is seeking, but it does not seem to occur to her. And in my opinion Christians and Christian institutions are largely to blame for this.
The daily dose of hatefulness we can get on the radio, over cable, through the internet, against homosexuality, against gays or lesbians, in the name of Christ — offends me. The hypocrisy that this is somehow nurturing to homosexuals disturbs me deeply, as deeply as did the news that President Bush Jr. was given war reports leading off with quotes from the Bible. Apparently he really believed that America’s military was killing Iraqis in the name of Jesus.
How could the message of universal brotherly love go so wrong?
There’s a long video course, spanning many DVDs, about living life as a Christian man by Biblical principles. There’s another for women. I forget the name, but it’s quite popular. The installment for men entitled “Love” is not in fact about learning to love others. That topic is not treated of in this course. The 45-minute Christian video on love instead puts across the message that, if you live your life as a Christian man, according to Biblical principles, you will be loved. God will ensure it. Your family will love you, if you follow the rules as expressed in the rest of the video course: and this is the course’s teaching on love.
I’ve attended Sunday sermons on pretty abstract topics, topics like, “Process Theology Is Wrong,” and pretty concrete ones, like “Terrorists Are Bad.” I’ve heard homosexuality attacked many times, and never once defended. It seems to me that the anti-sodomy laws are in the same part of the Bible as the weird Jewish dietary laws nobody pays attention to. It seems to me they were about two shepherds sneaking up on another in a kind of prison-rape scenario, and the men who wrote down that law never considered that two men might ever feel mutually romantic toward each other.
It seems to me that the fundamental reason that none of the guys I’ve seen speaking at the front of the room on a Sunday have ever spoken about learning to love our neighbors as ourselves is that none of them know. They have framed documents in their offices that say they’re more Christian than you or I, and they got those documents by talking and writing about Biblical law and why process theology is wrong.
And this, it seems to me, is why Christianity continues to fail our youth. It no longer teaches the teaching. I wish it did. I wish I knew how to say that in a way that wasn’t an accusation.