Whereas some in society might have hoped for religious decline in the 21st century and, depending on which statistics you note, might even cite less adherents or religious practices, religion is certainly not invisible on the front page of paper or screen. The recent referendum in Ireland is still mentioned in terms of the rebuff to the Roman Catholic Church. Whatever other reasons may exist for the headlines of ‘Dewsbury teenager is ‘UK’s youngest ever suicide bomber’’ and ‘Syria fears over Bradford family missing after Saudi pilgrimage’ both news items are presented in the context of religion. No matter what the world thinks is sacred, religion takes no prisoners! Family and marriage, friendship, nationality or citizenship, even one’s ‘own best interest’ can give way to what the religion says.
And what groups or organisations – whether that be the State, the corporation, the family, or sporting club – require of those within it is allegiance (to a greater or lesser degree). All First Commandments however challenge this and thus can be viewed with suspicion in regards to patriotism, loyalty, honour, and team spirit. In the 1970s I recall that the religious problems talked about in youth groups and congregations were ‘the cults’ – groups often claiming to be Christian who gradually drew people into their world and away from a former life of family, friends, and church. The ‘antidote’ was education and being ‘reasonable’ (which meant not being a ‘fanatic’). I suspect that people think much the same today.
The difficulty is that religion isn’t reasonable! I mean that however you hear the word. Firstly, a religion that is able to be reasoned isn’t a religion if it, a priori, deals with a deity. Secondly, who determines what is reasonable? Religions deal with relationships and the priority of those relationships (as well as the basis for them). Conflict comes when these relationships and the lifestyles are different or challenge the relationships and lifestyles around them (generally those who are defining what is reasonable!).
Did our God not say ‘You shall have no other gods before me’? How are we to understand these words? Well, that depends on the identity of your God! And that’s what religion and life boil down to – who is your God?
Christians say and believe and struggle with the First Commandment. God isn’t reasonable at all because he claims first place – priority – call it what you will – Jesus said: ‘Follow me’ and whatever problems we may have are not with God’s message to us! We know what he means – we’re just not sure (a) if we want to do so; and (b) at times, how to do so – especially when life is complicated. Lutherans don’t believe that we are here to make heaven on earth for God’s Kingdom has come, is coming, and will come to this world. We are not here to rule but to serve our God by serving those around us. This means engaging with the world as it is – not necessarily doing what it says – while seeking to be obedient to God who in the person of Jesus revealed his grace and mercy. (That’s why we follow him!) We live in a time and a place and we are to serve in our relationships – here and now. It means engaging with both the Word and the world. Christianity, I think, is used to telling the world what to do and the world is increasingly not listening. Perhaps – here and now – we’re learning that our calling is to be obedient to Jesus rather than the world be obedient to us. The 21st century will be full of religion and it will still be in the media and yes, it will still be unreasonable to so many. When what is unreasonable is loving one’s enemy, speaking the truth in love, and seeking to forgive and live with mercy, peace and even joy then that’s ok for me. — GS