The First Sunday in Lent

The headlines got me again. Online Australian newspaper – first screen front page so to speak – a link to be clicked ‘Actor Chris O’Dowd says religions are as ‘offensive’ as racism’. I had two immediate reactions as I clicked on the link to read the article – firstly, ‘Who’s he?’ (I didn’t recog-nise him from anything and had to look him up – which is not important because the media how-ever thought his views important and ‘newsworthy’ enough to help them with their sales) and, secondly, a touch of irony, that at a time when the social vibe today keeps telling me, a religious person in society – a cleric, in implicit and explicit ways, to be more tolerant and accepting and not so judgemental, along comes a news item about an interview that equates religion with racism and exhibits judgementalism, intolerance, and non acceptance!

This idea that religion stunts or limits human potential; that God is the shackle that holds us back is not new. People will cite all sorts of evidence to the make their case – and some of it will be valid. No doubt part of the evidence given will be the ol’ chestnut that ‘all wars are caused by religion’ – a claim I’ve yet to see proven. In reply I can point to societies of last century that trumpeted ‘no god’ ask ‘Um, what’s the body count there?’. In fact is atheism a religion? I think it fits the same phenomenological categories as religion – except in ‘Belief’ where religions have ‘God’ you’ve simply got ‘No God’ or maybe ‘Humanity’. Just as religions can’t ‘prove’ their existence and exist largely through faith so atheism is similar and can’t prove that there is no god … hmm … so that means atheism is also like racism … interest-ing.

Of course, little is achieved with such banter or intellectual crossing of swords. Both sides will cite the evidence that best supports their position. Both sides agree that this world needs improving; that life is hindered by injustice, abuse, corruption, and oppression. Both sides can be stumped at the sheer incomprehensibility of human behaviour at times – the cruelty; the lack of compassion – even as both sides claim that the roots for this inhumanity is in the other. It is part of coming to grips with a side of being human that can exasperate us on an individual level and strike us mute at a collective level – the bad I don’t want to do I do and the good I want to do I don’t do. The world points to lack of education, the need for therapy, and disease as causes and Christians wouldn’t disagree but we’d also like to add another dimension – sin; part of the human condition.

Lent is a time when we definitely go out of step with the world for we consider sin – largely on an individual level but it affects us socially – so perhaps we should also consider the sins of the church too. It can be a fearful thing to look within. We do so because of Jesus who walked the way of the cross for us – died for us – so that we might know love and forgiveness – that’s the truth! – we are loved! – and so we live not afraid even of our sins but struggling with them instead. If the world is shocked and angry at religion, let it be not because Christians have given them an excuse with our poor organisational behaviour – let our ethic always be ‘love’ – serving those around us. If the world is going to get shocked and angry at Christianity, let it be because we choose to love them and share what is a scandalous message: ‘You call this life ‘living’? God loves you so much that Jesus died for you and rose again so you may really have life and have it to the full!’. — GS