May 25, 2004

Self-Help Jesus

Except in this case, without the Jesus part.

When it comes to religion, I'm a middle-of-the-road Southern Methodist. Of course to some people that's a very scary thing, but those people are ignorant and fun to laugh at (Secret Methodist Cabals? Sure, if by "Cabal" you mean "Pot Luck Dinner." ). Besides, at my church we never have to wear little white gloves while we eat raw babies. We're very progressive that way, because the bleach used to get the stains out of the gloves could harm the environment.

As a middle of the road Methodist, I'm a bit annoyed by the explosion of what I like to call The Self-Help Jesus Movement, in which the Son of God and His Dad exist solely to help you get a better job and live the American dream. I think it's the whole "what has God done for you lately" attitude underlying this stuff that bothers me the most, because in my naivete I figured that attending worship service meant you were supposed to, you know, THANK and WORSHIP the higher being, not ask Him why your stock portfolio wasn't perfoming at the appropriate level. Obviously, I have been misled. Religion is really All About Me. All hail Me! Oh, and Lord? While you're at it, the car needs an oil change.

Ironically, Judaism seems to be suffering from a bout of Self-Help Jesus-ism, except in their case I guess it would be Self-Help G-d-ism. Who knew that the Kabbalah was so simple that anyone could use it to end depression, create world peace and cure hemorroids? Besides Madonna, that is. Thanks, Hollywood, for participating in the commercialization of an aspect of a religion you know nothing about! Perhaps they could print up some trucker caps with this slogan: Kabbalaism - Like Scientology, only cheaper to join. That seems to sum up the Hollywood understanding of it, anyway.

I suppose I should be grateful that Methodism doesn't go in for the mystical, lest Demi and Ashton show up in Raleigh for the yearly Appalachian Service Project Birdhouse fundraiser.

Seriously, read the article.

Articles found via Dean's World and Twisted Spinster.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at May 25, 2004 09:08 AM

Good description of what's been bothering me for a long time about the 'Jesus is my best friend' movement. Please, people! The universe is a humongous, mysterious, and dangerous place. We don't need warm-and-fuzzy or WWJD bracelets - that's part of the feel-good movement.

I was raised in a mixture of Christian belief systems: Southern Methodist on dad's side, Church of Christ on mom's (and she blew them off because of their narrow-minded biggotry, but that's another story), and Catholic from 15 years of school. As a result, I'm not sure I buy any of the story about Jesus-as-God any more. Surely, he had some good things to say. But people are more interested in the messenger than the message nowadays, and that interest seems to be more of the rock-star-worship variety. No, thank you.

And if I have to judge Christians of today by their actions, well, that's a turn-off, too. Give me a caring humanist any day over sanctimonious holier-than-thous who do the right thing so they rack up brownie points for the next life.

I find my father's traditional beliefs from the Osage (a North American Plains Indian tribe lately from Oklahoma) to be much friendlier and more compatible with a peaceful inner life.

Posted by: Claire at May 25, 2004 05:26 PM

I don't think that the Kabbalahists in question are part of Judaism, properly. If they are at all, they certainly don't reflect on Judaism in general.

Claire: On the other hand, the friendliness of a religion shouldn't really be taken as evidence of its correctness; desiring a "friendly" religion is, in another way, all about "me", isn't it?

A religion where nothing is wrong and everything is right would be the easiest of all, of course... and about as certainly wrong. (And I say this as an atheist. But one that takes religion seriously - if you're going to believe, really believe.)

Bad christians don't taint Christianity in itself any more than asshat atheists taint non-belief. (Atheism as a "movement" is another matter, as nearly all those who "profess" it are, well, self-righteous bastards I don't want to spend any time near.) There are good Christians just as there are caring (secular) humanists (I count myself as more or less in the latter set, but hey - even Hitler considered himself a good guy, I bet. Nearly everyone does.)

Heck, perhaps a peaceful inner life isn't what we "should" be seeking, if we don't care primarily about ourselves - not that I suggest idealist altruism as the ideal, mind you. Maybe the "best" religion is one that causes you to have to work for a peaceful inner life, rather than facilitating it straight out?

(The above, to clarify, is not meant as an attack, but as a counterpoint. Just as one shouldn't assume that X is The Goal, one should not, having decided X is not The Goal, that Not-X must be. A peaceful inner life might BE the thing to look for in The Proper Religion... but we should not simply assume so... we may well be wrong. And if we take religion seriously, we should strive to not be wrong about it.)

Posted by: Sigivald at May 25, 2004 07:02 PM

the whole "Jesus is my buddy" thing bothers and alarms me, and I consider myself a fairly conventional Christian. (I think it's because I think the "Jesus is my buddy" movement almost tries to put the human on the same level as God by doing that. It's almost like those parents who want to be their kids' friends rather than their kids' parents).

The whole "Prayer of Jabez" thing (where you are supposedly supposed to pray for money, fame, whatever, and it's a good thing) gives me hives.

I tend to see the role of faith in my life as giving me something to lean on, something to reassure me that this world isn't all there is, and whatever good stuff and bad stuff happens is fairly transient. That there's something bigger than I am. And I find that reassuring. That the screw-ups I make (and I make a lot) aren't that big, cosmically speaking, and that I can ask forgiveness for them.

I also feel a certain duty that because I'm loved, I'm also called to provide what service I can. (That sometimes seems to be left out of the equation among the self-helper types, or at least the ones I've talked to).

I've said it before and I'll say it again: some of the worst 'advertisements' for God are some of those who call himselves His servants.

Posted by: ricki at May 26, 2004 11:21 AM