The Truth Is Too Messy For Church
“The truth is not the stuff of edifying hymns, rather it is dangerous, dirty and smelly business. Not everyone has the stomach for it, above all those who say, “Lord, Lord” and then head for cover the minute the Lord shows up dressed in rags and smelling like a street person.” ~ John Caputo.
Or He shows up as those millions of uninsured who will not be covered because certain Governors won’t take the federal funding for Medicaid that’s available to them. Or the innocent human beings whose lives are lost in drone attacks. Or how about the hundreds of thousands lost in two unnecessary wars: The same wars whose presidential briefings were headlined with Biblical quotes.
No, the truth is a messy business that we don’t let soil our Sunday-go-to-church clothes. Yes, churches, as organizations, do their part. They take up special collections for the unfortunate. They do major charity work throughout the world. I’m not criticizing them.
I’m pointing to a form of hypocrisy like that found in the American politico-religiosity, such as prayer breakfasts when supposedly sincere politicians come together to pray and then go vote against the help needed by so many of our fellow Americans.
Let’s get past labels, because labels hide the truth. The real truth so many of us are willing to ignore so we can fit in with the majority views of our social groups. Because fitting in is more comfortable.
Although Finley Peter Dunne was referring to Newspapers when he coined the phrase “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”, I think it’s the proper role of religion. But as Caputo so aptly points out, the truth can be very uncomfortable and the last thing post modern Americans want is discomfort. In fact, the reverse is true, post modern religion, comforts the comfortable.
We can go to church and feel good about ourselves because we are there. We hear how we are made in God’s image. An image based on our ideals. An image of successful people who look and dress like us. We must be the chosen because we’re there in church.
So we’ve modified our religious beliefs to be easier to apply, more civil. Excuse the word, but genteel comes to mind. And the truth is anything but genteel.
Please understand. I’m as guilty as the next guy. I saw it in myself one day a few months ago when a particular couple came to my church. They were poorly dressed, obviously didn’t practice good personal hygiene, and I wondered why they were there.
Then it came to me. The Biblical quote from Matthew, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
And there I was trying desperately to be comfortable in the presence of the uncomfortable truth. The majority of people in the world look and smell like this couple because they have no access to sanitation, education, healthcare, nutrition, clean water.
All the resources we take for granted here in the U.S. All the resources that allow us to justify our sanitized religious beliefs.
So we practice the idolatry of worshiping sanitized religious beliefs that ignore the truth of the conditions, in which most of humanity lives.
From Caputo again, “The next time we look up to heaven and piously pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” we may find that he is already here, trying to get warm over an urban steam grate or cross our borders.”
Our ability to separate religious truths from our politics, all the while using religion as a political litmus test is breathtaking. In this regard, we are truly exceptional.
Robert De Filippis