This article does some interesting talk about whether religion actually changes you, not just the moral stuff we all agree on (religion or no). "Yet men and women who, like me, cannot accept the mysteries and the miracles do not go out with the Salvation Army at night," the atheist writes. He can't quite put his finger on what is different about these people, or rather, what mysteries and miracles have to do with the moral stuff he agrees with.
For me, the Christian answer is that the disconnect the author sees is between belief and action. There is the stuff we threaten to threaten to threaten to do (an Andrew Bird allusion), then there is the stuff we actually do, and they are not close to the same. One contrast with other religions is that Christianity has a theory about how to alter your human condition; many other religions just order you to get busy altering, adding rituals and theology, maybe, but basically leaving the onus on you. What this turns into is another set of beliefs that cannot be rejoined to action. What can you do when you are the problem? Christianity sees this as the human condition that Christ changes, in a mysterious spiritual way, by way of his death on the cross; Jesus extends to people the opportunity to be remade and live differently.
This opportunity is extended in community, in churches and small groups of friends. Christians (with their hearts in the right place, one hopes) bring people into the new life, not into some farcical parroting of the Christian doctrines. The missionary impulse is to help people live authentically, to give people true action to match their deeply held beliefs. Like the columnist says, rich men become poor to advance the cause of authentic, new life.
The columnist's evidence is all anecdotal, but clearly your religion is working right if it's taking you places you don't want to go, to serve those with whom you disagree, for the sake of a mystery that "civilized" people think is fairy circles and moonshine, to honor a God that you can't see. I don't mean this as an argument that the religion is true; but the religion is lived out in your life, and that's more true than the finest theology. And this kind of religion is hard. Like he says, these religious people have gravitated toward "the monotonous performance of the unpleasant tasks that relieve the pain and anguish of the old, the sick and the homeless".
That reminds me of another man.
Monday, December 05, 2005