Taking Our Religious Selves to Church
I believe that the church as an organization is a part of creation and is just as susceptible to the principalities and powers as any other human institution. When we elevate the church to an ideal that is to be achieved, a goal to be reached, an image to attain, then it is immediately in danger of becoming possessed with a spirit, especially its own. And when it becomes so self-possessed, then the abuse of humanity, though sometimes subtle, can become demonic in proportions.
We can see this happening in concrete ways. For instance, we can be sitting around with our friends in our home, gathered around the fire, listening to Norah Jones in the background, drinking a fine Shiraz wine, laughing and talking about whatever. We could achieve an incredible level of authenticity and honesty, sharing with each other how difficult life is, how much suffering there is in the world, how absent God seems, how weak our faith, and how hopeless everything feels. At the same time, we can say, "But I know God promised to be with us. We have each other, and I'm thankful for our friendship. I love you!"
Then we go to church and everything changes. We take on the spirit of the church. We become possessed by it, and we are suddenly very religious, which manifests itself in excuses, self-justification, empty assertions, arrogance, pat answers, aggression against doubt, and fruitless faith claims. It's curious how unrighteous we can be out there, but once we get within the walls of a church, we become something we are certainly not: righteous. We carry around a dead, false self that we think looks good and impressive to others and bring it out when it's best to do so: when there are other people possessed by the religious spirit around who will congratulate us, affirm us, and allow us to keep our membership!
The appropriate fine art photograph is the creation of my friend Mark Hemmings. One of my personal favorites, taken of a theater production in Budapest.