Thursday, January 29, 2015

Religious Claptrap

"Morning Dew"
- Springtime at the Desert Retreat House -

I was very impressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury during his recent visit to New York City. In a sermon delivered at Trinity Church on Wall Street, Archbishop Justin Welby, symbolic head of the 80 million member worldwide Anglican communion, had this to say:

Jesus challenges every assumption about society. 
He does not permit us to accept a society in which the weak are excluded,
whether because of race, wealth, gender, ability or sexuality.
When I boil down the old sermons I have heard so often growing up, all they effectively said was:
'Wouldn't the world be a nicer place is we were all a bit nicer.'
This is the kind of moral claptrap that Jesus does not permit us to accept.

I thought this was a pretty powerful statement especially coming from such an icon of organized religion as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I looked up the word "claptrap." It is defined as "pretentious and even nonsensical speech designed to win the applause (claps) of an audience." The more I thought about it, there is a lot about "religion" nowadays (not just Christianity) that may well fall into the category of claptrap. Many religions have been co-opted by the status quo; congregants are urged to accept the norms of the given culture and then try to be just a little bit nicer to each other. "Don't rock the boat too much, don't say or do anything that anyone will find offensive, just be a little nicer."- sentiments like this are indeed designed to get the applause. 

However, when I examine the radical (at-the-root) teachings of most major world religions, I find anything but an acceptance of the status quo. The fiery prophets of the Hebrew tradition railed against their kings and princes, demanding justice and equality for the weak and the poor and for those who had no voice. Many prophets were stoned for their impudence.  

And of course this is exactly what Jesus also did, he railed against the empire of exclusion and domination, opposing the state and the institutional religion of his day that excluded the weak and exalted the powerful. He turned the societal norms upside down and leveled the playing field by devoting his entire life and teaching to lifting up the lowly to sit in places of honor "alongside princes and kings." Jesus was crucified for being so subversive. 

The Buddha was likewise just as radical in his life and teachings. He was a wealthy prince who gave away his earthly status teaching his followers to walk a path of enlightenment - everyone and everything all interconnected in a wonderful web of relationship. Enlightened ones treat all beings with equal reverence and respect.

And yet today people come to a church or a temple and listen to pleasant sermons dripping with sentiments about being a little nicer, or they sit on a mat and meditate in order to relieve some stress, and all along the gap between the rich and the poor, the strong and weak becomes wider and wider.

This is the kind of moral claptrap that Jesus does not permit us to accept. 

I have a little note card on my desk that reads:

The purpose of religion is to
comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

If there was less "claptrap" today, maybe religion might be taken more seriously.

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