In Defense of Criticism

From time to time mariner is chastised for his skepticism toward what he refers to as ‘pew’ Christians. Similar to his favorite prophet Amos, mariner criticizes the behavior of those who come to church on Sunday for a social hour with some ritual thrown in and that’s the end of it. Prophet Amos said,

“Seek the Lord and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it. Ah you, who turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground.” (5:6-7)

Throughout his lamentations Amos focuses on duplicity. The Israelites feign allegiance to God but sell slaves, will do anything for improved self-interest, wealth and comfort, and who visit harm on perceived dissidents and the poor. That sounds a lot like a modern nation with which we may be familiar.

Every religion has rules for social behavior whether it’s Moses’ Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount and the parables of Jesus, the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, or the Five Pillars of Islam. Some of the rules at least appear to be easy to follow; some rules strike at unpleasant and unfair attitudes that often do not survive a day. Fortunately, all major religions contain a central kernel based on love. Each religion holds love to be a creative force that makes one’s life and all of reality a better, healthier and growing experience – a life in synchrony with the Great Creator.

Theologian Paul Tillich identified the influence of culture, politics and economy on Christianity – and other religions by inference – and concluded that Christianity is highly, almost fatally modified by three ‘quasi’ religions: capitalism, authoritarianism, and communism. There were other examples as well but these three were the primary examples. Add to Reverend Tillich’s philosophical insights mariner’s street pragmatism: Never work with Christian volunteers who are participants in one of Paul Tillich’s quasi religions.

In one sentence, in this case focusing on Christianity, the difference between Christianity and the quasi religions is the quasi religions placate an individual with worldly benefits and advantages while Christianity requires unending personal sacrifice and 24-hour compassion for the wellbeing of all others. In mariner’s generalist manner, he has adopted the Two Great Commandments as the core verb of it all and reworked them into a phrase that fits any cultural or religious environment: Pass it forward – with continuous and fervent intent. That goes well beyond the pews and out into a needy world. Sunday services are for renewal in commitment and energy – not for a social hour once each week and reciting a bit of liturgy, turning it into wormwood.

Ancient Mariner


1 thought on “In Defense of Criticism

  1. Tillich is one of a very small number of Christian philosophers who will always have a home on my bookshelf. There are Matthew 19:21 Christians and Matthew 5:48 Christians and Matthew 28 Christians (… nobody’s perfect, Matthew) and Johannine Christians (to me, whose uninformed and uninvested opinion is irrelevant, John’s the most problematic yet most resonant, go figure) but despite centuries of illiterate feudalism and oppressive Establishments, I don’t really think Christianity is suited to theocracy. Render unto Caesar, sure – but Christian anarchy seems to be the most purposeful application of Church to State, a peaceful equivalent of the Muslim jihad.

    The Puritans had the right idea, but their implementation rapidly became horrible, perhaps because of the persecution baggage they brought with them, perhaps because of the inhospitable land they ended up occupying. Only small and isolated communities have the luxuries of common purpose and absolute values as organizing principles; the rest of us have to assume intractable social conflict and engineer our systems of governance to accommodate it.


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