Sunday, May 20, 2007

Priests or Prophets

I gave a speech this weekend that stirred quite a bit of controversy. It wasn’t that I said something new, only that I said it to people who were nowhere near ready to hear it. I spoke about the need to free religion to be what it is meant to be, a finger pointing to Reality rather than what it has become, a self-referential system of doctrines and creeds pointing only to itself.

So many people told me I had insulted them and their religion, that I began to wonder why something I say could have so much power. After all it isn’t that they believed what I was saying. When I suggested that taking the Bible literally made it impossible for us to hear the Word of God speaking in myth and metaphor, no one who was angry with me agreed with me. So why get upset?

If I were attending a speech where the speaker spoke passionately about how 2 + 2 equals 5, I wouldn’t get upset. I would simply determine that the speaker was wrong and ignore him. I wouldn’t feel that my beliefs were challenged or that my faith in mathematics was threatened. So why, if I suggest that the Virgin Birth is not biology but mythology, speaking not to a weird genetic miracle but to the fact that the birth of Jesus is the birth of the extraordinary, do I find the devout so incensed?

When I attend a talk, as I did recently, where the speaker insisted that every time God is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible Jesus is intended, I don’t believe him, but I don’t get angry with him either. My faith is too strong to be shaken by someone else’s belief. On the contrary, I am so certain of what is so, that I relish the opportunity to hear what others hold to be just as true. It seems to me that the proper response of people of faith to the insights of other faiths should be curiosity, not vitriol.

Yet after my talk, no one said to me, “I found what you said to be totally false, but it was interesting to entertain the idea for a moment,” No one said to me, “You know I hold a totally different view of things, and your comments helped me realize how strong my faith truly is.” All I got was, “How dare you!” and “You have insulted by faith and my God.” Honestly, any god that can be insulted isn't really God.

My suspicion is this: people who are upset by my humor and my message are people who are not very certain of what they believe, or if what they believe is true. They want a speaker to either affirm their beliefs or say something so innocuous as to leave their beliefs untouched and their minds untroubled.

I want to trouble your mind. I want to confound your theology. I want to point out that the Emperor has not clothes, and that God has no religion. And I want to hear speakers and read authors who will do the same for me. Religion shouldn’t be comforting but discomforting. This is the difference between priests and prophets. The priest offers comfort, the prophet only discomfort. I am finished with priests. I seek only prophets.

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