People Are Incurably Religious
Reflecting on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: One Day after Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 2
Old Testament: Jeremiah 18:12-23
Epistle: 1 Timothy 3:14—4:5
Psalter: Psalm 101
Old Testament: 2 Kings 17:24-41
Epistle: 1 Timothy 3:14—4:5
God of power and justice, like Jeremiah you weep over those who wander from you, turn aside to other gods, and enter into chaos and destruction. By your tears and through your mercy, teach us your ways and write them on our hearts so that we may follow faithfully the path you show us. Amen.
So they worshiped the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. To this day they continue to practice their former customs (2 Kings 17:33-34).
Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are among the “New Atheists.” They are new because they have been bolder and more aggressive against religion in general and Christianity in particular. One of the laments of Dawkins and Harris is that they are disappointed that with all the advancement and progress the Western world has made, they struggle to believe the power that religion holds among advanced people. They assume that religious beliefs are primitive; for a bygone era when humanity believed in evil spirits and that mental illness was a sign of demon possession. They reason that since we are no longer so ignorant, religion should have been largely cast aside by now in favor of a more enlightened world view—one without God.
The thing is the new atheists have it backward. Religion is not something people can outgrow, though it can be rejected. In fact, human history has demonstrated that people are incurably religious. We will worship anything—images of wood and stone, hobbies and sex (some make sex a hobby), money and more stuff, reason and human achievement, and on and on and on. Human beings can fashion idols out of anything. Even atheists have idols.
Theologian Paul Tillich defined faith as “that which ultimately concerns us.” He was right, but Jesus said it better: “Where your treasure is, that is where your heart belongs” (Matthew 6:21). Idolatry cannot be restricted to worshiping an image of Zeus or Athena. We worship what or whom we put our ultimate trust in, what we deem to be most important and essential to life.
In 2 Kings 17, the Israelites worshiped Yahweh and other gods as well demonstrating that the God of Israel was just one more deity among others. Today there are Christians who worship God as well, but devote more time to other things and fit God in when it works for their schedule. God gets the leftovers of their time, talents, and money. That too is idolatry as God gets pushed off to the side. We claim that is not the case, but idolatry is a subtle thing. No one who commits idolatry believes they are doing so. No one confesses publicly, “Hey, I’m an idol worshiper.”
Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have their own idols they do not recognize, but the followers of Jesus must regularly assess their lives to see what they may have subtlety allowed to squeeze its way into their lives pushing Jesus to a place where he may still be important but not at the center. The truth of that is found in not what we claim, but in how we live.
Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’ (Matthew 7:21-23).
The proof of the worship is in the doing.
PRAYER: Hear our prayers, God of power, and through the ministry of your Son free us from the grip of the tomb, that we may desire you as the fullness of life and proclaim your saving deeds to all the world. Amen.
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