Religionless Christianity

~Richard Rohr

Listen carefully to the many examples, parables, and metaphors used by Jesus. You will notice that they are more nature-based, lifestyle-based, relationship-based—much more so than based on any concepts of philosophy, academia, or churchiness. He says things like “Look at the lilies of the field” (Matthew 6:28) and “Observe the ravens” (Luke 12:24); he speaks of a woman looking for a coin, and a father running after his son. He does not talk about the candlesticks, priestly vestments, or what was later named “orthodoxy,” in fact he warns against such “righteousness.” Certainly in the three Synoptic Gospels there is no sense Jesus is walking around proclaiming eternal doctrines and dogmas. If so, he left an awful lot of room for misinterpretation, a contrary opinion, or even fuzzy thinking. Christian teachers must be honest here.

Jesus uses normal language that uneducated people can understand. Frankly, it is a bit disappointing. Jesus looks at things right in front of him, and talks about what’s real and what’s unreal, what lasts and what does not last at all. He often criticizes us for our lack of common sense, and lack of religious common sense: “You know how to read the face of the sky, but you cannot see the signs of the times. This is an evil and unfaithful generation” (Matthew 16:3-4). The problem seems to be that we too quickly made Jesus into “God” before we just let him be our daily teacher, lover, and friend.

[Adapted from the webcast What is the Emerging Church?]

Not a Competitive Religion 

Paul, a good Jew, quotes Deuteronomy, “The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (Romans 10:8), and begins with a challenge that we still need today: “Do not tell yourself that you have to bring Christ down!” (Romans 10:6). He knew that God had overcome the human-divine gap in the Christ Mystery once and for all. God is henceforth here, and not just there.

This is Christianity’s only completely unique message. Full incarnation is what distinguishes us from all other religions. This is our only real trump card, and for the most part, we have not yet played it. History, the planet—and other religions—have only suffered as a result. Incarnationalism does not put you in competition with any other religions but, in fact, allows you to see God in all things, including them! It mandates that you love and respect all others.

The mystery of the Incarnation is precisely the repositioning of God in the human and material world and not just part of that world. Common variety top-down religion often creates very passive, and even passive-dependent and passive-aggressive Christians. Certainly that is very common in my own Roman Church. Bottom-up, or incarnational, religion offers a God we can experience for ourselves and a God we can see—and must see—in everyone else. Any God on a throne does not achieve that purpose, but merely makes you fight other “thrones.”

[Adapted from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality]