Volume 4, Issue 7, May 1996


The Christian life has two important ingredients: a story aspect, which is personal, and a signal aspect, which pinpoints and clarifies what I experience as a person. We need both stories and signals, personal and formal religion, the spontaneous and the organized. What has happened is that, as in leukemia, the balance between these two elements has been disturbed. In everything from travel to education, from religion to making love, the story has been devoured by the signal, the spontaneous by the programmed, the personal by the socially organized. Prefabrication has replaced building your own home, tourism has replaced travel, organized sports have replaced play.

Religion is the way you see yourself, others and the world and that requires a lot of thought and reflection. But living comes first. Reflection comes afterward. The first religious act is to clap your hands, to dance, to do, to act. It's time to put the personal back in religion.

The signal, the authorization for belief traditionally does not necessarily represent the best thinking, but merely the majority thinking. For example, during the golden age of Pericles, about 500 B.C.E., Heraclitus preached that the nature of reality was constantly changing; but Parmenides, Plato, and Aristotle, who represented the majority, preached that the facts of existence were permanently fixed. So the unorthodox bones of Heraclitus had to wait for a hearing; and finally, Galileo, Max Planck, and Einstein listened.

Orthodox thinking is essentially majority thinking, while the best thinking has often been the unorthodox thinking. Frequently progress in human thought has been made by the nonconformists.

Being marginalized for being unconforming, unorthodox, by the majority presupposes that the majority know the truth; that they have "got the whole, wide world in their hands." It becomes merely follow the leader or heresy to those who will not play.

On the other hand there is something heroic about the heretic. Jesus was one: he did not follow the well-worn paths of the majority of his day. He worked on the Sabbath; he ate with sinners; he associated with prostitutes. He even dared to interpret the Law, to criticize the orthodox Pharisees, and to claim to be his own authority.

St. Paul, the theologian and the great organizer of the church, did not, as the Popes later did, declare himself infallible. He and the others of the New Testament days did not exclude themselves from the possibility of making errors. Therefore, as long as Christianity is defined primarily in terms of belief, the Christian, as a follower of Jesus, has every right to question present-day doctrines and creeds.

Even if one admits that orthodox thinking is majority thinking and not necessarily best thinking, that the charge of heresy is distasteful while the unorthodox themselves are often heroic, and that Pauline thinking is neither infallible nor at all times even Christlike, one may still argue that in the Gospels we do have the teachings of Jesus himself, and from those accounts we may fashion set creeds and doctrines for the professing Christian. But Jesus was a man of action and not of thought, a doer and not a philosopher. When he taught his emphasis was more on what people should do than how they should think. Even when he demanded faith it was faith to accomplish and act and not faith to accept an idea.

Christianity began with the carpenter of Nazareth who healed untouchables, who ministered to those considered sinners, who questioned at times the so-called infallible law, who taught no longer "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," but "love your enemy," and who, when nailed to a cross, spoke of his executioners, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."

In the nuclei of atoms science has now found an unimaginable source of power, but it is a power that can hurt as well as help. Who decides which alternative will be chosen? We can destroy easily, quickly and effectively humanity which has taken two million years to develop on our earth. We are the custodians of life on the earth and it's a big responsibility.

True religion is not a mental assent to a memorized creed, but a world loyalty. In the midst of many religions, an age of nationalism, an age of science, we must seek equilibrium, a committment to the common good, a balanced individualism. To quote John Ralston Saul ("The Unconscious Civiliation," Anansi Press, 1995, P.190), "Equilibrium....is dependent not just on criticism, but on non-conformism in the public place. Saul goes on to say: "Common sense, creativity, ethics, intuition, memory and reason.

These can be exploited individually as a justification for ideology; or imprisoned in the limbo of abstract concepts. Or they can be applied together, in some sort of equilibrium, as the filters of public action."

We have a world to emancipate.

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"Religion NOW" is published in limited edition by the Rev. Ross E. Readhead, B.A., B.D., Certificate of Corrections, McMaster University, in the interest of furthering knowledge and participation in religion. Dialogue is invited and welcomed.