Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Does Religion Make People Better or Worse?

Dennis Prager tells about a young man who attended a Jewish institute he used to direct. When this young man first arrived at the institute, he was a kind and nonjudgmental person - and completely secular. After his month-long immersion in studying the Torah, he decided to become a fully practicing Orthodox Jew. When Dennis met him a year later he found that he was actually less kind and was aggressively judgmental of his fellow Jews, including those who had brought him to Judaism in the first place. In one year he had become, in his own eyes, holier than the teachers who brought him to religion in the first place. The religion's emphasis on legal observance enabled him to count the number of laws his fellow Jews did not observe and judge them accordingly.

Within Christianity, faith in Christ can lead one to live a life of extraordinary loving-kindness and self-sacrifice, but it can also, and has, led Christians to place so much emphasis on proper faith as to neglect equal emphasis on proper behavior. When you evaluate your own beliefs and practices (and you must do this before evaluating the beliefs of others), ask yourself, “Has this belief or doctrine made me a better person?” or, “Has this belief or doctrine made me less kind, less compassionate, less rational, and more judgmental?” If your answer is the latter, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate that doctrine. I hate to beat this issue to death, but if your worship theology causes you to believe that someone will go to hell for worshipping God with a musical instrument, you have to re-evaluate that doctrine because it is not rational and it causes you to treat other believers in a disrespectful way. If you find yourself acting more like a Pharisee than like Jesus, then it's really time to rethink how you read and apply scripture, or how you engage sin and sinners in our culture. This is why Islamic terrorism is such a pernicious evil - it is killing innocents in the name of God. Their religion clearly has made them worse people! Faith has got to make us better people, not worse people – good and evil being defined by how we treat others.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).


David, Hamelek Hayizrael said...

It was Reinhold Neibuhr who said that the goal of the church is to increase among men the "love of God and neighbor." Also in regard to some of your earlier posts, I believe that the four different appeals to Scripture(rule, principle, paradigm, and understanding of God or humanity) mentioned by Dr. Cukrowski in God's Holy Fire (160) would be really helpful for the church. Many of our problems come from the fact that we approach Scripture differently and that an appeal you use for verse X is not the same as the appeal that I use. It would also be helpful to discuss more how one's ecclesiology influences his or her reading of Scripture.

I agree mostly with your comments about the first century church in the twenty first century. We do not live in a Greco-Roman world and quite frankly I don't want to be the church at Corinth ever. Nevertheless, the restoration ideal and the ideal of sola Scriptura is a good ideal as long as we are careful on what we mean by it and how far we take it.

Unfortunately, most of us earnestly study Scripture more as a source of knowledge to win conflict rather than a means of bringing people to people to salvation and guiding them in the life of faith. We must reclaim the transcendental quality of Scripture, reading it with our heart and not just our head, so that we can truly become Chrsit to the community

Charles North said...

Thank you David. God's holy fire is a great book. Isn't it ironic that in the church those who claim to have respect for scripture are guilty of abusing it in the worst ways? For example, there is some anonymous coward who keeps posting scripture quotations as comments clearly intended as cheap shots at me. I delete them as soon as they come up.