Saturday, March 19, 2016

Taking Religion Seriously

"Olive Branches"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

I just finished reading a fascinating article about why so many Evangelical Christians support Donald Trump. In the article, Evangelicals are broadly defined as:

People who take the Gospel of Jesus Christ seriously
and build their lives around Gospel principles.

The article goes on to suggest that many Trump supporters who call themselves “Christian Evangelicals” aren’t really evangelicals.  In fact, many aren’t actually even all that religious.   The majority of the so-called evangelical Trump supporters don’t even attend a church and many don’t pay much attention at all to Gospel principles.

After I read that article I began to reflect on what it might mean “to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ seriously and to build one’s life around Gospel principles?” It seems to me that this is a definition that should be applied not only to “evangelicals” but to anyone who follows in the “way of Jesus.” Aren’t all Christians called to take the Gospel seriously and to build a life around Gospel teachings?

Almost every Christian on the planet is familiar with the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father..”:

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.

In a very real sense this one phrase probably summarizes the core message of Jesus. In his teaching Jesus constantly talked about living in the “Kingdom of God” - a way of life guided by the ethic of love and compassion, a way of life in which there would be no outcasts, no one on the outside looking in. In the “Kingdom of God” there is a place of dignity for everyone at the table of life.

Jesus didn’t talk about the “Kingdom of God” as some utopian heavenly realm where we might all go when when we die. Rather he talked about building the “Kingdom of God” here, now, on this earth. Jesus began the work of building this kingdom here on earth, and he invited any who would be his disciples to continue what he first began.

So as I see it, to take the Gospel seriously and to build one’s life around it essentially means to lead a life of all-embracing and boundless compassion, respecting the dignity of every human being and working to build up the welfare of the common good.

I am reminded of an observation made by Professor Amy-Jill Levine:

I do wonder, do all those who pray
‘thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,'
really want a change of the status quo or are they pretty satisfied with the
kingdom we have here and now?
Do they really want the time, as Jesus teaches,
when the first will be last and the last will be first,
when we are assessed on how well we have loved our enemy and fed the hungry?

Actually the more I think about it, if any person of any religion (or on any spiritual path) would “take their religion more seriously and build a life around it,” we might all be better off. After all, “compassion and respect” lay at the core of all the wisdom of the various world religious traditions.

For the life of me, I can’t imagine how any “serious” religious person could ever support someone like Donald Trump who wants to build walls, crush the weak, exclude the poor and cast away the foreigner. I do indeed think we might all do well to take religion more seriously.

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