“I often ask myself why a ‘Christian instinct’ often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, by which I don’t in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, ‘in brotherhood.'” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Can I make a confession? Religious people make me nervous. Something about the Teflon certainty they carry through the world. No new ideas or the perspectives of others are allowed any influence. No disruption to the absolute truth they have figured out.
Except, most often, they haven’t figured anything out, they’ve only accepted what they have been told and then devised ways to defend what are nothing more than preconceived notions. There is usually a deep commitment to some sacred text involved, but an inability or unwillingness to recognize their interpretation of that text as nothing more than that – one, limited, in some ways flawed way of reading a text that has great depth and beauty and comes to them from another time and place. The great sacred texts lend themselves to more than one interpretation, not least because we approach them with very different ideas already at work. I don’t mean some secondary matters might be thought of differently. It’s the big ideas where the greatest difference occurs. We translate the Greek word theos into the English God but they do not really mean the same thing, and neither means the same as something like the Telugu word devudu. The three words do mean something similar and are the appropriate translation of each other, but each evokes a very different idea in the mind of the reader.
This in itself is not a problem. Like the proverbial blind men touching the elephant, important information is conveyed with each nuanced meaning. There is only a problem where no appreciation for nuance exists, where we do not attend to the subtlety and mystery that necessarily attend the infinite. Ironically, religious people seems particularly closed to the infinite. Those who presume to have obtained absolute truth have no place left for mystery.
I feel more comfortable around people who are less sure of things and more open to mystery. It seems odd to say, but we have to make room for the infinite. It’s suffocating otherwise. We try to make room for the infinite at the church I pastor, but even the monotony of religious services can be stifling. I’m excited about the fresh air we are going to breathe as we give up church for Lent. I think we are going to experience what Bonhoeffer was talking about, being drawn to religionless people, not so we can lock them into some absolutist thinking, but so we can enjoy brotherhood and sisterhood with them as fellow travelers on a journey into infinity.