Jesus, John Wayne and the failure of authoritarian religion

Jesus and John Wayne  

Jesus and John Wayne is a sweeping account of the last seventy-five years of white evangelicalism, showing how American evangelicals have worked for decades to replace the Jesus of the Gospels with an idol of rugged masculinity and Christian nationalism, or in the words of one modern chaplain, with “a spiritual badass. Kristin Kobes Du Mez

Historian says white evangelicals who are still backing Trump are making a huge mistake

I hope the white evangelical political program fails. I look forward to an America where race and gender are no longer political categories; where religion is a personal choice, not a national prescription; where particular interpretations of ancient texts do not damage the lives of people who do not accept them.

My understanding of American politics during my lifetime encourages that hope. The conventional thinking I grew up with about racial differences and gender norms based on centuries of Christian teaching is no longer dominant. I’m sad that so many Americans choose to hate homosexuals, shun people with different skin color, and condemn other kinds of believers to eternal damnation. My allegiance to personal and political freedom in our democracy is stronger, though. I would defend their right to believe as they wish.

For one thing, we no longer need to remain stuck in that 19th-Century Place from which sprang many of the religions of America.

I no longer find membership in any religious group necessary to spiritual health. I have also come to understand that living religiously has very little to do with being edified by shallow theological concepts combined with simplistic moral generalities and requirements of conformity in the name of worthiness.

Nowadays I’m struck by having encountered an assortment of attitudes about what it means to live a religious life based on existence in the real world and having to face real issues. These are bases that have nothing to do with rewards in heaven for obedience and conformity to the dogmas of that 19th-century Christianity from which most of our fundamentalist and evangelical churches have evolved in this day and age.

One of the best summaries that I’ve seen regarding what it means to be religious in the 21st Century can be found on any congregational website of the Unitarian Universalist Church. They of course aren’t the only source of congregational commitment to social justice and compassion as the cornerstones of contemporary religious practice. But their declarations will work for my purposes here.

I’ve done some re-wording in some areas and have made my own list on how I think I should live.

If you are so inclined and looking for ways of how to be a good person in this day and age, perhaps making  such a list for yourself would be useful.

21st Century Religiousness

Have an open-minded way of thinking in which you are comfortable to do your own seeking and following  based on your own priorities and sense of living religiously.

Be comfortable drawing on many religious traditions and welcome people with different beliefs into your own circle of familiarity. Look for shared values not defined by specific dogma or narrative.

Find places where all give and receive nurturing and where faith put into action is not about organizational business. Rather, the conscious thought is on making community, country and world a better place.

Value the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Require as a sign of integrity your church’s and society’s value of justice, equity and compassion.

Require your church’s acceptance of each individual and a common encouragement of such acceptance as  fundamental to spiritual growth of congregations.

Require a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; a search free of conditions or worthiness in terms of right-kinds-versus-wrong-kinds of questions.

Require the right of conscience and use of a democratic process within congregations and community. Let no priesthood nor leadership unit tell you what you should and should not be doing.

Expect and seek direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;

Expect to hear of words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;

Expect wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;

…from Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
… from Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
… from Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Understand that creation is too grand, complex, and mysterious to be captured in a narrow creed.

… that blessings of life are available to everyone, not just the Chosen or the Saved;

… that Creation itself is Holy; the earth and all its creatures, the stars in all their glory;

… that the Sacred or Divine, the Precious and Profound, are made evident not in the miraculous or supernatural but in the simple and the everyday;

… that human beings, joined in collaboration with the gifts of grace, are responsible for the planet and its future;

… that every one of us is held in Creation’s hand, a part of the interdependent cosmic web, and hence strangers need not be enemies;

… that no one is saved until we All are saved, where All means the whole of Creation;

… that the paradox of life is to love it all the more even though we ultimately lose it.

… that each person must be free to search for what is true and right in life.

… that social justice is the normal standard of life for everyone

… that the separation of Church and State and that moral and spiritual beliefs should not be coerced or enforced by government.

… last but not least … believe in a God who smiles and laughs more than frowns … and who is not interested in obedience but in learning and growth toward wisdom.