We are alive in a time when religious authorities, including God, are suspect.
The first six letters of the word authority spell author. Who is the author of our religious traditions and texts? True believers are convinced. They tell us the author is God. They say, everything in our scriptural texts ultimately comes from God. That sounds seductively comforting. There are no more questions except how to interpret “God’s word.”
After the Enlightenment, the historical critical method of reading scripture, after Spinoza, Darwin, Freud, Einstein and the convincing explanations of scientists, it has become impossible for many of us to just assert scripture and religion comes directly from God. If our scriptures originate with God, they appear terribly contradictory, imperfect and outdated. It also seems that our notions of how God operates in the world, regarding undeserved suffering and evil, and whether there is a God have increasingly come into question. The old belief that God’s ways are not our ways and we should just accept that fact, seems to no longer be very convincing. This deterioration of authority has been going on for over 350 years.
So, how do we, religious people with open eyes, talk about the authority of our scriptures, our religious traditions, our religious leaders and God, without closing our eyes and pretending there are no questions or doubts?
First, we must be honest. While, religious authority has diminished over the last three hundred years in some circles, other people continue to assert their faith in the mystery of God and the scriptures. The matter of religious authority is not settled but in dispute.
Second, here is a way you can check your own views on the authority of your tradition.
Look at the way you live your life. What parts of your religious tradition are binding on you? What parts are not binding? What parts do you ignore or not think about? What parts are the most important and cannot be compromised? What parts do you think can be questioned and/or changed? Who told you, you had the right to make such determinations on your own?
Whether you or I like it or not, authority is not what it once was. Being religious or not being religious has become an authorized personal individual choice. Everybody has a right to decide for him or herself what is true and what is not true.
Some would say we are living within a crisis of religious authority. Others would applaud the demise of religious authority. Some respect religious authority while others feel suffocated by that same authority.
While we can be envious of religious innocence and certainty, we ought not be naïve about our situation. Let’s face it.
The real problem is this: Many of us want to be both modern and religious. But we are not sure how to do it.
Question: Has our rebellion against religious authority made us behave better, care more, act with courage, honor and civility toward each other?
P.S. The Blog is on leave until September 1. Talk to you then. M.H.