Friday, February 16, 2007

Religious left and right: A dangerous direction to take

By David Dykes

Calling oneself a Christian is easy. Being clear about what that means is never easy; at least I don't think it should be. I say this because

if I take my faith seriously, that means I work with it, I continually search for its meaning, I wonder whether I'm living up to its claims.

I'm meeting more and more people who say that for them, faith is a life-long journey that goes deeper and deeper into the reality and presence of God. They say that they know they never will have it all figured out, but they find meaning and comfort in understanding their life of faith as a dynamic process.

I think this is the way so-called "religious left" people approach faith. Political rhetoric applied to how people engage their faith is dangerous. It's so easy to play the game of who's right and who's wrong. So let's be careful.

Some people think that being a person of faith means believing in a set of propositions that are difficult to believe.

For people who respond to religious left understanding, faith is not about believing difficult things. Faith is about being in relationship with God, an on-going search for an ever-deepening relationship with God. And faith is about being faithful to that relationship.

In this understanding, God is forever wrapped around us, as close to us as our own breathing. Marcus Borg has said, "God is the water, we are the fish."

Religious left Christians understand their relationship to God by looking at Jesus' relationship with God. They see Jesus committed to the will of God, to the passion of God.

For some folks, when they hear "the passion of Jesus," they think about the physical suffering and agony of Roman torture and crucifixion. Indeed, the Scriptures tell us that Jesus' suffering was great.

While religious left people recognize and reverence Jesus' great suffering, they also think about what Jesus was passionate about - that Jesus was passionate about God's great passion that traces through the Bible, especially the prophets. God's passion has always been for justice, but not passion for retributive justice.

God's passion for justice was and is a passion for distributive justice. The prophets knew this about God's passion.

Speaking of the prophets of Israel, religious left Christians take the Bible very seriously but not literally.

They understand the biblical story as the story of God's passion for justice standing against the ordinary way human beings deal with each other - violence, intimidation, extortion and manipulation.

And they understand that when Jesus taught his followers about the "Kingdom of God," he did not mean some kingdom of another world. Jesus described the Kingdom of God very deliberately as what the world would look like if God sat in the emperor's seat and Caesar did not.

It was Jesus' loyalty to that vision of the Kingdom of God that made him confront Rome's program of domination and violence and confront its collaborators in the Jewish Temple. And this is what got him killed.

For religious left Christians, following Jesus means following his passion in the life of faith.

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