A new friend - who stumbled onto my blog after doing a Google search for Marcus Borg - emailed me this week to ask me what bugs me about Christianity. Here is a part of my response to him. This response is plagued somewhat by the problems of turning a piece of personal correspondence into a more pubic communication, but I hope you enjoy it anyway:
One of the few things that keeps me connected to the church is my congregation's investment in community ministry - working with local social organizations to meet the concrete needs of our marginal, urban community. In fact, we are hoping to move from the suburbs back into the city to be a part of that marginal community around our church, hoping that our position of relative privilege will amplify the voice of the community, allowing the city to notice that real people with serious concerns that need to get noticed live there.
That brings me to the first thing that bothers me about some popular expressions of our religion: too often, we Christian are blind to real social problems. The more time I spend in predominantly white suburbs, the more I realize that we middle class, white Christians have created safe enclaves far removed from the problems of the poor, the problems of those on the margins. We are blind to our participation in a brutal system of economic exploitation, and are blind to the legacy of residual racism that keeps certain people trapped in grinding poverty.
As one pastor put it, we are so fixated on heaven that we're of no earthly good.
That isn't to say that many Christians don't share some good social concerns. Even and especially evangelical groups have organizations designed to help the global poor. But many who gladly give to Compassion International or World Vision are blind to the extent to which their daily economic activity exploits those whom their charity is designed to help. And, the focus on the global poor, while certainly honorable, is still too often blind to the problems of the local poor.
I'm also often bugged by the strange mixture of conservative politics with conservative religion, as I don't see what the two have in common. Supply side economics (as least as it is understood today) has little in common with a literal reading of the Gospels. Neither Jesus nor the apostolic church would approve of waging war for any reason, much less the flimsy reasons offered for our current endless conflict - reasons which are not only false, but which also fail to meet the barest standard for a Just War.
I'm bugged by the scriptural illiteracy of those who claim to venerate the Bible without ever actually reading it. It seems to me that if you claim that something is a direct communication from God, and the ultimate authority on all issues, you should at least dust it off from time to time to see what it says.
I'm bugged by the rigid dogmatism that tries to fix the divine mystery to a single set of comprehensible propositions. And, I'm bugged by the attempt to define faith as intellectually agreeing with that narrow set of propositions. As I understand it, faith is a matter of one's entire being, not just what goes on between one's ears.
I'm bugged by a narrow concept of what it means to be pro-life. As my Dad likes to say, life may or may not begin at conception, but it sure as hell doesn't end at birth.
Like you, I too am bugged by exclusivism, a position so odious that I won't even bother to try to explain why it bothers me.
I am also bugged by the notion that God is a white male who lives just outside the natural universe, looking down on us. There are, of course, many other attributes of this God, whom I often call Whack-a-Mole. But even the most charitable construction of this God, without the brutal desire to smash those of us who stray out of line, still denies too many people full participation in the Imago Dei.
All of these amount to a kind of arrogance that seems so foreign to my understanding of our faith; a faith that teaches me that God is God, and that I am not God. To reduce that God to a manageable mystery - and to a person who just so happens to agree with me all of the time. My God is a mystery, and a mystery that challenges my most basic assumptions. If I think I understand it, it isn't God.
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