Friday, July 01, 2005


America is thought to have been founded by seriously religious people, like most things- partially true. Actually more people came over here for economic opportunity. Nevertheless there was enough religious sentiment to make it a prominent part of colonial history.

In 1739 a great revival of religious interest began. The Great Awakening is thought to have been precipitated by a sermon by Jonathan Edwards called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. This was not the God of Jesus, but it caught the imagination of millions of unlettered and superstitious people. It actually set the motif of American religion from that day to this-- a religion to a large degree based upon fear.

To unsophisticated people even today the fear of hell gives a powerful impetus to the religious impulse. It seems to me important to understand and sympathize with these materially minded millions who don't have the benefit of enlightened minds.

God will get you and put you in a dreadful black hole where you will burn forever if you don't do what the preachers say you must: most often to "accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, to confess His name and believe in your heart" all that you've been told to believe.

Obviously this is a caricature, but with reasonable accuracy it reflects the religious ideas of multitudes. If we are awakened, we have an opportunity (and an obligation) to address this issue in people's minds.

What can we offer in place of it?

Salvation? You are saved from what to what?
From hell to the golden streets? Hmn! As a young pastor I found that most of my congregation were less in need to salvation than I was, although they were very complimentary about my sermons. I came to feel that preaching was like plowing the sea.

Then I was led to the jail and the court and witnessed the release of numbers of low bottom alcoholics (drunks, they were called) into my care. I felt like this was more like it: they were being 'saved' from drunkenness with all sorts of consequent social disorders to sober lives, supporting their children and being civil toward their wives.

So when people ask me if I've been saved, I ask them, 'from what, to what'. No doubt there are lots of things many of us need to be saved from.

Certainly we need to be saved from materialism, from commitment to possessions as the road to happiness and fulfilment, from a consciouness almost devoid of a spiritual dimension.

And for the uninformed multitudes? From the fear undergirding their approach to God. From the O.T. God of wrath to Christ's God of love. How in the world can we do that? Only by doing what my old friend said: 'love the hell out of them'.


kiznath said...

I would agree that religion today is largely based on fear, but not just the fear of hell - I would add the fear of not being right. Debating, using the Bible to back up all sorts of arguments - the fear of being wrong has overtaken the loving, doubt-accepting aspect of God.

On salvation - my co-worker had that exact experience, having been asked when he was "saved". He was a little offended and avoided the question, but wondered what the questioner would have said if he had responded with "Saved from what?"

Larry said...

"the fear of not being right": that's a good point, kiznath. It's especially true, I believe, among intellectually oriented folks.

I must say that the first thousand times I've been wrong were the hardest.