Another interesting part of my conversation with Steve Knight and friends yesterday was about the increasing number of people who refuse to self-identify with any religious label. Steve’s question was what they (we) think about Jesus.
Over the past three years, I’ve spent a lot of time reading, listening to and talking with atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and “ex-church” people of all sorts. And, despite the common perception that atheists hate religion and think religious people are stupid and evil, this does not actually seem to be the case. Studies have also shown that many of the people who could be described as “nones” actually “believe in” a pretty traditional God. I’ve met many people who would still call themselves Christians and still use very traditional language about God and Jesus and so on, but do not want to be identified with the institution known as Christianity or “the church.” As usual, things are not as simple as we might assume or even want them to be. Who knew, people are complex?
But, one thing I have also picked up on is that when you actually ask most of the people who have rejected some institutional form of religion about Jesus, they like him. I can’t find it, but one example was an interview I listened to with Bad Religion. They are pretty well known as atheists and seem to get off on mocking religion. But, in the interview they were asked about Jesus, and they said they really respect Jesus and try to live their lives in line with his teaching.
Umm, what is going on here?
Many people see a lot of problems with an approach to spirituality that wants Jesus without the church. They’ve come up with witty phrases like “solo Christians” or describe us as entirely self-absorbed, individualistic, and so on. I think much of this is because of their own insecurities and jealousy due to investing so much time and energy in losing themselves for the greater good of a group (while claiming they’re “defending the truth”), but that’s besides my point.
As Diana Butler Bass has suggested recently, there is something sacred about a person owning his or her own spirituality. Rather than simply regurgitating the freeze-dried theology handed to us by our parents, we have gone through the difficult process of questioning and examining those ideas, and have decided for ourselves what we will think and do. Rather than being a form of weakness or selfishness, we have grown up, matured (as any good parent knows, if you don’t let your children make their own decisions, they will never become adults). Of course, returning to what our parents have taught us is not necessarily a bad thing (depending on what they taught us). But, I think it’s a much better state of existence to have gone through “the abyss” than to spend your life avoiding it.
So, what do “the nones” think of Jesus? I’m sure there are a lot of different opinions about who Jesus was (or is), and what that means. But, I don’t think we have rejected Jesus. We might not be comfortable with a lot of Christian language, but what if we’re actually “following Jesus” and just don’t know it? What if many of those who have rejected the Christian institution are actually embodying the Kingdom more so than those who have never questioned their faith? How can we who are more inclined to think and talk specifically about Jesus welcome and create space for those who aren’t? What if many of those who claim to be Christians have completely missed the point, and those who don’t are who God (if he/she/it exists) might be speaking to us through?
I could be wrong. But, this is the sense I am getting more and more every day. Are we listening?
This was reposted from my personal blog.