I stumbled across this really interesting post by Dr Richard Beck called The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity that I wanted to share. Before following the link, I should preface it by telling you that Dr Beck is Associate Professor of Psychology at a Christian University.
The reason I wanted to draw your attention to this particular post is that Dr Beck hits on a point that we’ve discussed previously, namely people using religion to duck their responsibilities. Ther pertinent part of the article:
Obviously, I was being a bit provocative with the student. And I did go on to clarify. But I was trying to push back on a strain of Christianity I see in both my students and the larger Christian culture. Specifically, when the student said “I need to work on my relationship with God” I knew exactly what she meant. It meant praying more, getting up early to study the bible, to start going back to church. Things along those lines. The goal of these activities is to get “closer” to God. To “waste time with Jesus.” Of course, please hear me on this point, nothing is wrong with those activities. Personal acts of piety and devotion are vital to a vibrant spiritual life and continued spiritual formation. But all too often “working on my relationship with God” has almost nothing to do with trying to become a more decent human being.
The trouble with contemporary Christianity is that a massive bait and switch is going on. “Christianity” has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed “spiritual” substitute.
The example Dr Beck used in the beginning of the article cited a young woman who wanted to “work on her relationship with God”. Dr Beck’s response was that she should, instead, work on her relationship with people. Or specifically, people she had wronged. This is a refreshing approach. I’ve seen religious people ask their chosen deity for forgiveness rather than the people they have wronged. I’ve also seen religious people refuse to take responsibility for their actions because they believe it to be their deity’s “will” or “plan”. I’ve heard religious people defending this attitude in the past, so I’m glad to see it’s not universally accepted.
This does beg an interesting question. Is it more important to have a good relationship with your deity, or with the people around you? I’m not implying that the two are mutually exclusive, but clearly some people give preference to one over the other, and in my experience (and one would assume from the article, Dr Beck’s) it tends to be their deity.
I’ve questioned the motives of the religious before, and I’ve also questioned using religion as a source of morality, and while the post linked doesn’t take quite as harsh a view, it’s certainly interesting to hear a voice of discontent from within organised religion. I’ll let Dr Beck sum this up:
The point is that one can fill a life full of spiritual activities without ever, actually, trying to become a more decent human being. Much of this activity can actually distract one from becoming a more decent human being. In fact, some of these activities make you worse, interpersonally speaking. Many churches are jerk factories.