Monday, May 11, 2009

Rules Schmooles, that's what I always say.

I've been a Republican all my life. All my life up until the last six or eight months, that is. In the 1980s Ronald Reagan was successful at building a coalition between the rich, the disenchanted, and the religious ranks to form a political party that seemed to encourage a strong national identity, a staunch moral compass, and a rising economic tide that would lift all boats. While I admire many things about Ronald Reagan, one of the negative outcomes of his coalition was a strong church.

While that might sound surprising that I think a strong church is a negative, let me explain what I mean. Churches should be strong in their teachings of personal accountability, perseverance after God, and love for one another. But all too often, we find that religious people that hold political power would rather play God than lead someone to him. The very people who should be modeling for us and teaching us about God's character are the ones who so often bend and twist his commands for their own personal benefit. God, having foreseen this, even made a commandment about it: "You shall not use the Lord's name in vain." (Scott's translation: Don't ascribe to God words or commands that are not from him) As plain as that is, even that very commandment morphed into a legalistic rule telling people not to "cuss". So God damn it became gosh darn it (as if the sentiment behind the words was really any different just because the words themselves changed).
This phenomenon of power corrupting religious authorities is certainly not unique to Christianity, as I have found it present in nearly every world religion. The devout Muslim seeks the Lord and attempts to honor God by the following of the teachings of the Qu'ran, while the corrupt Imam "interprets" those scriptures by imposing rules and restrictions that merely suppress the population and maintains his grasp of power. The devout Buddhist seeks revelation and to more fully understand the deep Truths of the Source of all life while the corrupt monk seeks to capitalize on others' lack of knowledge by exploiting them for power and monetary gain. Corrupt leadership needs to continually invent new rules in order to appear important.
In America, the religious right went astray by trying to legislate morality. But as Jesus said, "Those who live by the sword, die by the sword." It is now that very legislative process that is unraveling all the so-called accomplishments of that movement. The leaders could have been focusing on how to better equip people to know God on a personal level and to internalize his codes of moral conduct, but they were instead focused on requiring record companies to put warning labels on CDs that contained the word "fuck". They focused their efforts on the lwas of abortion rather than on modeling love by reaching out to the women who would have them. By sharing the gift of love and acceptance some of those women may never have gotten into the position of needing the abortion in the first place. Church leadership response to the homosexual was to shout "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" rather than trying to address the hurt and confusion in these people's lives. In so many instances, the Christian community used their power to coerce thru the force of law rather than to be a model of God's love.

Yes, God did give us a bunch of rules to live by. And yes, if we don't live by those rules, we are sinning. But to focus on the rules and rituals as a way to satisfy God is to TOTALLY miss the point. God is not some sadistic cosmic puppeteer that gets joy out of seeing us suffer. He gave us rules to HELP us - a safe passage map through a minefield, so to speak. Similar to a loving parent telling a child to be careful near the cliff or to avoid a rattlesnake, God gave us parameters to operate within to have a healthy and functioning society. In every single instance, his rules are not for his benefit, they are rather for our benefit as individuals or as a society because he loves us and does not want to see us hurt. Read some of his commands with that in mind and see if it doesn't make more sense.

  • Honor and love God above all else. In so doing, your own characteristics will reflect his and you will not be selfishly motivated or inclined to use people to achieve ugly end results.
  • Don't commit adultery...because if you do, the spouse might get real pissed and try to kill you!
  • Don't steal, kill, covet, or defame your neighbor's name. Most of these commandments promote social stability and a culture of mutual respect.
  • I've been particularly awestuck by the prescience of the kosher and halal laws of thousands of years ago. The command to not eat pigs because they are "unclean" takes on a different meaning when you consider that even today there are doctors who are finding worms living in people's brains because they ate - you guessed it - contaminated pork.
  • In my attempts to grow a garden I'm finding that the seventh year "rest" of the land is actually needed in order to maintain good soil health and replenish lost mineral content.

You probably get my point. God's law was made for us, not us for the law. But we instead believe our corrupt leaders who have taught us to see God as a domineering narcissist who needs to be pleased by our subservience to his commands. It misses the whole point of the law, which is to show us that we are not perfect and that we have strayed from God's intent for us.

Politically I now lean towards libertarianism, which focuses almost completely on personal accountability. I alone am responsible to my God for my actions and, for the most part, I don't need to be playing God to tell you what you should be doing. Similarly, I think our creator gives us a lot more freedom than most of us who run in religious circles would ever admit we have. It's time to recognize the rules for what they are - a path set by a kind and loving God - not for what they aren't - a means to obtain his love and acceptance.

Next post: Jesus didn't just die for you, he lived for you

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