I had a conversation with my youngest daughter, a college student, this week about religion.
She was raised in the Episcopal Church here in Idyllwild and holds to the particular tenets of the church in which she was raised, which many of us do.
She has attended various Christian gatherings with her friends in San Luis Obispo and felt unwelcome, or more specifically, like an outsider.
Her notions of God and what it means to be a Christian are different from theirs, sadly this has caused a small rift between her and her friends.
The conversation, for me, raised the question of “them” and “us.” If you’re not with us, then you must be against us. This notion is nothing new to me.
I think about it often and have felt the effects of this way of thinking on many occasions myself. The idea of “them and us” has been around since people walked the earth and lived in clans. It goes with the turf, so it’s nothing new. But as technology has shrunk the world into a “global community,” it is all the more urgent to transcend this archaic tribal practice.
Looking back on many of the horrific chapters of human history seems to me that the “you and us” doctrine has been a fundamental problem. Religion is as guilty as any institution of perpetuating this ideology.
Christians against Jews, Jews against Muslims, Shiites against Sunnis, Hindus against Muslims, Catholics against Protestants, the list goes on and on.
Since the 1970s, religion has become more and more a hot button issue in American political debate, to a very divisive end in my opinion. So let’s talk about religion, one of the two topics you’re never supposed to talk about. I may kick myself in the morning.
As a Christian, the religion with which I’m most familiar, I’d like to talk about the role our church has played in this ugly little game. The Christian movement was born around the person of Jesus, a radical Jewish rabbi, who challenged the dominant thinking of his own people. With some he was “in,” and for others, because of his claims and message, he was “out.”
Being out cost him dearly, we all know the story. For the next 300 years, the early Christian church was definitely a part of “them.” Extreme persecution drove them underground, where they hid in the catacombs.
Nero was known to light the road to his palace with the burning bodies of Christian martyrs. Then, it was torturous and often fatal to be on the wrong side of power.
It’s important to note that the fledgling Christian movement grew during this persecution. Witnesses were oddly perplexed and moved by the strange practice of these Christians, following the example of Christ on the cross and praying for their tormenters rather cursing them at the time of their greatest suffering, even at the point of death. Loving one’s enemy was the best marketing tool that this new religion had.
In A.D. 306, Constantine the Great became Emperor of Rome. Because of a vision he received before heading into battle, he became the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. Suddenly the Christians were thrust into the “in” crowd.
The Christian church quickly became the religion of choice in Rome. What followed, now that the Christians were popular with the power elite, was a systematic persecution of Jews, they were “them” and not “us.” Church sanctioned anti-Semitism festered for centuries and eventually led to one of the darkest periods of church history — The Inquisition.
How soon we forget the message of Christ, to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Sadly, the church lost sight of the mission of its founder. If Christ had had a grave, I’m sure he would have been rolling over in it. This is an unavoidable consequence of “them” and “us” thinking.
In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his “Ninety-five Theses” to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany and a new battle began. This time pitting Christian against Christian.
The Vatican was the dominant voice of the church and these pesky Protestants wanted no more of it. This divorce gave way to a “them” vs “us” within the same faith. What started almost 600 years ago remains today.
The Church was split no less than the curtain in the temple at the moment of Christ’s crucifixion. In 2013, arguments continue to rage over who is the rightful heir of the true message of Christ. Are you with “us” or are you against “us”?
I’m aware that this sounds like an uber-Cliff notes version of religious history, it may sound simplistic and trite, but stay with me, I am moving toward a larger point.
This is all the room I have for installment one and will continue next month. If you are a Christian, as I myself am, I’m not picking on you or your faith. I just believe in getting my own house in order rather than commenting on other’s. See you next month.