Religion, Pseudo-Religion, and Charlie Brown

Once, commercials promised us a list of things that they would do.  The focus was on the fact that they were new and improved.  That they could out-clean the others in lab-tests.  They were the ultimate living example of what that sort-of product could be.

Starbucks logo
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This is only half to the destination for modern advertising.  The focus, now, is not just on what they do.  It is what they do for us.  Whether it’s a product, a service, an idea being spread through a PSA, a political commercial, advertisers can’t trust us enough to apply their products to our own lives.  They’ve done that hard work for us, painting a picture that is most often full of hyperbole, exageration, and lies around how our life will change if only we’d adopt product/idea/politician X.

We think this is the sort-of world where we have to drink mediocre coffee.  If we would just embrace the knowledge that our local Starbucks has good coffee, then our existence would be limitlessly better.

We think that our current car isn’t doing something we need it to do.  If we just had the new Porsche, we would get to places faster, and we would look so much cooler.  Our lives forever would be changed.

We think that the system is waited down by parasites and big-government types.  If the government just got out of the way, and people could spend all the money they earn, everybody would be hard-working and would contriubute and we would all be living happilly ever after.

We think that the rich have too much power.  Education and oppurtunities for the lower classes are just a myth.  If the rest of us could just sieze back the power that we ought to have in a democracy, all of societies’ ills would just work themselves out.

When the bible talks about idolatry, some of us see this as a wider picture than just other religions.  In this day and age, other ideaologies stealing the devotion we owe to God can be more threatening than world views which are obviously, openly, and clearly religious.

Though I have come to disagree with much of the rest of his theology, I am increasingly fond of John Hick’s definition of religion and his use of the word pseudo-religion.

According to Hick, a religion is a world view which begins with the observation that we are self-centered, prescribes a view which will make us reality-centered, and promises through the adoption of this view that we will experience a limitlessly better existence.

Though I am quite familiar, and even sympthatic to the camp within Christianity that says following Christ isn’t a religion, I think that this is just a little disengenuous.  I can see how Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc. have fallen short of what they should have been.   I can relate to the idea that we might want to distance ourselves from our spiritual ancestors as well as others who claim to represent various religions.  I know that people say following Christ is a relationship, not a religion.  But I disagree.  Sort-of.

Symbol of the major religions of the world: Ju...
Image via Wikipedia

I think that the fact that we can see so many idealogies, commercial products, philosophies, economic schemes, world views, etc fufilling Hick’s definition of religion is suggestive. 

 From those annoying toilet paper adds where animated bears promise us a world where toilet paper works effectively, to Right-Wing promises of a laissez-faire eden where everybody pursues their own interest, to Left-wing day dreams of a world where all are protected and safe and have thier needs met, religion has a formula that works, because we are built to see that truth: we are self-centered, we are in desperate need of reality-centering, and once we get there, we can expect a limitlessly better existence.  Even the constant failure on delivering is not enough to get us past our deep-held belief that somewhere, there are truths that will move us away from self-centeredness, toward reality-centeredness, and deliver a better existence.

Even the most pessimistic of us is like Charlie Brown, going after Lucy’s football, over and over and over again.  Even after products disapoint, idealogies disapoint, politicians disapoint, we know that there is some truth out there.

I would submit that following Christ is both a relationship and a religion.   Because the way we make the jouney from self-centeredness to reality-centeredness is through relationship with and in Jesus. 

This relationship-religion is the archetype that causes us to chase after all those other pseudo-religion shadows.  It is the only one that will not, in the end, disapoint.  After all this time, we as Charlie Brown, finally get to kick the football.

Charlie Brown
Image via Wikipedia

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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

2 thoughts on “Religion, Pseudo-Religion, and Charlie Brown”

  1. i like to add things to blogs rather than being simply contentious.
    And here’s the “but”:
    While i agree with you that Christianity on a very important level is a religious practice, i have a problem with the premise that we are in this instance hard-wired for truth so that our instinct is to adopt religion as a means to move from self-centered existence to a more reality based one.
    That “important” level is where the rub is. Ostensibly one does not become a Christian to make the world a better place… unless it’s for a world in which they desire to live. Our instinct is to make better systems for the use of man – of which we are one.
    For the Christian the act of religion ought to be two-fold: we act religiously to maintain and nurture that relationship with Jesus, and we embrace the self-change that relationship produces for the benefit of others.

    And all that is so God can be known and glorified above all things.

    This compunction is not internal but imputed. Were this not so, Christians wouldn’t be the sorry lot they are pursuing the empty promises of failed world-views just like the rest of the world. Christianity as an institution is just as flawed and inept as the all the rest at making the world a better place for the race of man. And i assert that it is because the religion they’ve embraced is the one of failed “Lucy and the football” promises and NOT the one promised by God.

    The reason religions fail to deliver and the reason we continue to pursue their promises is not because there’s a grain of the truth in us as you described, but because they entice us to follow the path that seems best to US.

    It’s still about “us” and not about God.


  2. Hmmmm. Very interesting.

    It seems to me that there are lots of truths we might adopt that don’t fit the schema of movement from self-centered to reality centered. Yet there is something irresistable about this movement, that is why both the false and the true idealogies appear to us.
    Interestingly, our subjective experience is a sword that cuts both ways. I had taken it for evidence for the idea that we are hard wired, the way that Jesus just seemed right when it all fell into place. But I spose that could equally well be attributed to a new, spontaneous act of the spirit… If experience is any guide, it’ll probably turn out that some bewildering combination of pre-wiring and activity of the spirit are at work.


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