Sunday, July 23, 2006

Thoughts from the Beaches of the Big Island of Hawaii -- Part 2

As a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary (School of InterCultural Studies) I get the Fuller publication entitled Theology News and Notes. The Winter 2006 edition contained an article regarding the relationship of pyschology and religion -- Christianity in particular. Reading it reminded me of some of the things I had read in Generous Orthodoxy and a couple of other books I have recently read. Here is a summary of the 3 major concerns the author of this article expresses.

1. Christianity as a Utilitarian Concern in Psychology Christianity may be useful in helping people. In other words, prayer, meditation, church attendance, etc can all be therapeutic. So, just as Prozac or other drugs alter our moods and help us feel better, engaging in acts of personal piety can do the same. To value Christianity for it's usefullness is really a form of idolatry.

Is my Christianity utilitarian? Is the Gospel we proclaim a utilitarian one? Is this our approach to people -- both believers and not-yet-followers of Jesus?

2. Christianity in the formula for health may well be consumerist. Since capitalist cultures tend to take on the character of an exchange of merchandise, religion becomes simply a commodity one can select and purchase. If Christian interventions work, then religion is a cost-effective way of addressing rising health costs. In consumerism, religion and health are commodities, medical and psychological practitioners are purveyors, and health insurers are brokers. But is not health a gift rather than the result of a contract in which a Prozac god is bound to fulfill an obligation to reward devotion with health? We need to ask not "what God can do for us", but rather, what can we do for God. The answer my friend, is not blown in the wind, but found in Micah 6:8 -- to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God.

3. Christianity associated with health is private. In our culture religion is private -- we each believe or worship what we want to, and as long as we don't push our beliefs/religion on each other, we are all okay. This idea reflects the individualism of Western cultures -- the self as autonomous, self-interested and unencumbered by responsibilites for others. Healing is not assumed to occur in the context of a community, and hence an individualistic culture constructs a Christianity that helps me achieve my mental and physical health.

All of this gets me thinking not only about the state of the church in the USA, the church I am part of, and particularily of my faith. Is my relationship with God primarily characterized by consumerism? Is my faith utilitarian? How does our proclamation of the Gospel (in word and deed) need to change? How do I need to change?

1 comment:

SocietyVs said...

I tend to agree with the thinking behind this writing mainly because I find Capitalism sweeping it way into church doors. It's almost getting to the point where Christian ethics is something to be bought or exchanged for.

I think whatever the church does it should regard Capitalism as a system that doesn't promote our values. We need less class structure, exclusivism, bias' against other denominations, disgust for unbelievers, judgment upon others sins, seperation of church and home, sexism, and a whole list of others things associated with making a 'social club for the saved'.

Maybe we should concentrate our efforts on making people's lives better and offering the people without, something of value. I think Jesus wants us to partake in changing the environment around us and that all starts at home. We need to take more time to develop programs that help the people in constant struggle and develop support systems whereby people of non-faith see people of faith as 'kind people'.