Monday, September 3, 2007

If I Live in a Garage Do I Have to Be a Car?

The desire and need to belong is a universal idea. Belonging is the glue that holds are world together while at the same time it is the nemesis that drives war, rebellion, suicide, depression and every other ill that affects our lives.

An oft quoted idea within Christianity asks this question: If you live in a garage does that make you a car? The answer is obvious and is used to help people understand that going to church doesn’t make one a Christian. But there is a seedy underside to organized religion that subtly and sometimes not so subtly cause you to conform to a set of cultural norms in order for you to belong to whatever particular church ideology that you happen to find yourself. In other words they do want you to be the particular “car” that the local group has determined is the “right” way to live as a Christian.

In the beginning years of my Christian journey I was expected to tithe, go to church twice on Sunday in a suit, leave weddings when the dancing started, not play cards, not drink alcohol…even Wednesday nights were set aside for Bible study (as if two sermons on Sunday weren’t sufficient). This gave me the ticket to belong to the group while at the same time alienating much of my extended family with what was perceived as a “holier than thou” attitude. I’ve since come to realize that my desire to belong created religious blinders that allowed me to be blissfully unaware that other ways of approaching God were just as and probably more valid than what I was living out.

If one travels the world they will find Christians in Germany that understand fellowship with each other as having a beer together, while the mark of some Christians in Ireland is not drinking any alcohol. Wearing makeup in Eastern Europe is the sign of a worldly woman whereas a woman covering her breasts in an African tribe is the sign that she is a prostitute. The list is endless in ways where confusing messages of culture norms of belonging are confused and equated with Jesus’ words. Why do these differences occur even with people reading the same Bible around the world? The desire to belong and conform to the standard of a local group/culture explains the varied expressions.

Belonging certainly leads people to either conforming or rebelling but rarely does it create wholeness and uniqueness. The idea that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ made is not the prominent axiom for social order or religious indoctrination. It is no wonder that many people have rejected churchianity leaving them thinking they have rejected Jesus as well because the local group made culture and message synonymous. Rarely is the non-conforming Jesus presented in a life giving way.

The following video excerpt from a talk by Julia Sweeney: "Letting Go of God" is a humorous unveiling of the paradox of how difficult it is for people to conform to a local set of standards and at the same time reveals the many people that happily or guiltily conform in order to belong to a particular group.

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