In my Easter sermon I asked the questions: Do you want to be a Christian? Do you want to be a Muslim? Do you want to be a Hindu? Do you want to be a Buddhist? And the replies were a resounding ‘No’ and various reasons were given that might be viewed as caricature or valid depending on your perspective.
While it is not the case globally that religious practice is declining, studies in places such as the UK, Europe, USA, Australia, and Canada are consistent in reporting a decline in religious practice. Sometimes this is countered by a comment that people often are still reporting that they are ‘spiritual’ (though I’m not sure really what that means and I regard the claim to ‘spirituality’ as a catch-all phrase for a religion based on ‘me’).
Religion – many religions – all religions? – has bad press from many quarters. The critiques and criticism can be caricatures. The religion’s followers can dispute such criticisms and attacks and say that they are unfair and unrepresentative. Opponents of religion then point to the examples that support their view. Supporters of religion point out their benefits.
How socially palatable must a religion be? Is it – should it – be tolerated in a society for as long as it provides a public benefit? (And am I only asking such questions because religion – or my religion – is being marginalised and if I felt that my religion was socially dominant, would I just be expecting everyone’s compliance?)
I think it comes down to what is truth. Not in the abstract. I don’t live an abstract life in an abstract time and place. If a generation is 25 years, I am the 78th generation of the followers of Jesus each generation of which has had to learn what it is to live in their particular time and place. I haven’t had to deal with feudalism, the Black Death, the Reformation, the Copernican Revolution, the 30 Years War, the American Civil War, the First World War, or even the Second World War but I live in their wake and influence. My generation went into space, walked on the moon, and faced contraception in a new way all of which were my ‘norms’. Truth isn’t about accountancy – tallying up good points and bad points to see which is greater. Truth isn’t relative either. Rather the specific truth that I believe shapes this planet is that Jesus is alive – present in our time and place (whenever and wherever that is) – and he calls us to follow him.
People follow Jesus by receiving his presence and blessings in worship and trusting him and his Word. Then Jesus sends us out into our time and place to serve by respecting authority as far as it doesn’t want to make us deny and stop following Jesus. Jesus sends us out to care physically for others, be faithful to one person for life and to make a family, to work hard and be good stewards of all property including the planet, and to speak – communicate – truthfully and kindly. How we do that in our time and place requires thinking, discernment, guidance, and strength – and Jesus isn’t lazy in supporting us.
This is the truth of those who follow Jesus. It is very personal and contextual. When organised in groups we might call ourselves the ‘Body of Christ’ while the world calls us a religion. No matter the time and place, everyone wants the best life possible. After nearly 2,000 years there are people who still follow Jesus – the one who died and who was raised to life again which means he is still alive today – and they say that the best life possible is found only with this Jesus.
And that is what each generation – each person – faces. Coming to grips with claims and counter claims and a supermarket of religions. What is truth? What is truth for me? In whom do I believe? Who will I trust?
Christ is risen! (Defeating death’s power has got to be something to consider!) GS