One of my readers sent me an article about the Church of Sweden. According to this article only about 15 percent of the members of this national church “believe in Jesus.” The question raised by this statistic is a vital one in a world where politics and religion become inextricably intertwined: what is Christianity and who decides? As the recent vote in New York permitting gay marriage (about time!) shows, many who identify themselves as Christians in America equate that religious outlook with conservative political views (even on issues the Bible says little about). It is what the believer says they “believe” that defines the religion. Ancient religions, as I have noted before, show that this outlook on devotional practice is not the only alternative.
Religions began as a matter of praxis—what people did rather than what they believed. What does an almighty deity gain from theological assent in the heads of believers? Is it a warm, fuzzy feeling or something more? Belief, a very strong motivating factor in humanity, is a psychological phenomenon, not a spiritual one. Many religious groups today are reluctant to accept that psychology covers the territory formerly covered by spirituality. Both phenomena (or the phenomenon) occur in the brain. If a brain does not assent to the typical belief structure, is it thereby deported from the gathering of a religious body? Many times in religious history that has been the case, but what do we say to the Church of Sweden? Kick out 85 percent of your members? I can see many unhappy, unemployed clergy in such a future.
What does it mean to be Christian? Is it to deny civil rights to anyone who differs in outlook or lifestyle from you? Is it sleepily to say “yea” when you wake up after a sermon? Or is it following the teachings of Jesus? The same one who once taught his followers to love those who differed from them, to turn the other cheek instead of proactively pulling out their handguns? It seems that in the modern furor to laid hold of claims of absolute righteousness humanity has somewhere fallen between the cracks. I’ve never been assaulted by a Swede, and I don’t recall, in recent years, Sweden invading other countries to further its economic fortunes. Could it be that, to paraphrase a religious thinker of antiquity, a Swede shall lead them?