Extreme Christ


Jesus earring

So there’s this tattooed, progressive, vulgar woman making the lefty church rounds spouting her particular message about Jesus Christ in her own distinct way. Minister Nadia Bolz-Weber’s delivery seems to speak to today’s generation of disillusioned youth seeking some kind of spiritual catharsis from an unconventional source.

Her style is really nothing new. But lately she’s been drawing a new audience — regular folk. Turns out that you don’t have to be some violence-desensitized, angst-ridden twenty-something in order to be turned off by traditional, organized religion. It’s a rising trend that shows no sign of slowing. The most rapidly growing religious identity in the U.S.? Athiesm, agnosticism or unafilliated.

People have problems with religion, at least the traditional model be it Catholics, Protestants or Evangelicals. They’re just not filling the pews anymore. Some feel the exodus has to do with the political involvement with conservatives in government. Others blame secularization. Personally I feel there is a bit of hypocrisy in how people act compared to what they profess to believe. I also think  too many people use their religion to justify divisiveness, violence and outright avarice.

In the past maybe young people felt obligated to stick with religion despite their reservations but I don’t think that guilt is working anymore.

Movements from unconventional ministers like Bolz-Weber are growing and in different manifestations. Many of these non-denominational churches are centered on a dynamic personality, like Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer. Others are based on a theme like Cowboy Church. I once went to a service crafted entirely for bikers. People are capitalizing on those seeking God in a nontraditional setting.

It bothers a lot of people. Even Pope Francis, the loose-talking Jesuit recently named pontiff, is facing backlash from traditional Catholics irate that he’s doing such cavalier things like not judging gays and granting interviews to athiest journalists.

I’m a faltering Catholic, a heavily liturgical denomination. The mere presence of a guitar at a Protestant service rubs me the wrong way because the only version of Amazing Grace I’ve ever heard was accompanied by an organ. Sadly, contemporary is just not my cup of tea. I can see why some are repulsed by Francis, Bolz-Weber and Biker Church.

Yet, so what? To me all of those who have been devoutly religious their entire lives should be happy that the prodigal children have found another path to the same destination. Even if they don’t like the way the message is presented, they should at least rejoice that the lost are found.

Some of the deniers are more afraid that the newcomers are changing the message. Legitimate fear, maybe, but I think that fear is usually based on the notion that unless someone’s worshiping the way they worship, then they’re not true believers. Ironically, this is the large part of the reason why people get sour on God in the first place — worshipers look at those who believe different and condemn them for being different. This irks me particularly with Christians because Jesus preached the exact opposite. There’s a certain instance in the Bible when His disciples walked up to Him complaining that there was a man performing miracles in Jesus’ name. He rebuked their intolerance.
“Anyone who is not against us is for us.”

-Mark 9:40


Quiz Me



Insecurity is sometimes seen as strength when it comes to questioning people about religion. When some are confronted with a different point of view about the Almighty, they refuse to listen. They walk away, satisfied that they dodged the devil.

I can’t imagine that is what religious founders like Mohammed or Christ would want. I would like to think that their foundation was strong enough to withstand questioning from a skeptical non-believer. How solid can a belief system be if the ideology is so weak that followers refuse to listen to criticism?

If you don’t question yourself or your beliefs, how do you ever know that you’re right – or wrong? Worst yet, when you live in your own intellectual universe, do you eventually stop caring whether you’re right at all?

Anyone who has faith in anything ought to feel strongly enough to test the tenements now and again. To me, religious people should almost want to walk around challenging people to quiz them on the ideals they hold dear. This gives them a chance to fortify their beliefs and showcase the spiritual monument to the unconverted. Would you expect a vacuum salesman to sell a vacuum without running it on the carpet first? Wouldn’t you offer a free sample of pie if you’re trying to get customers to buy it? Wouldn’t you test-drive a car before you sign on the dotted line?

Customers ask for demonstrations of goods and products. Voters vote for or against incumbent politicians based on their job performance. Investors check stock prices every day to see how they performed on Wall Street. Why don’t some of the devout provide substance when religion? Why do religious people turn away from deniers who aren’t buying it?

Of course, there are many believers who are secure and who are willing to defend their values and who have questioned their own souls. The thing is, they don’t walk around looking for a fight.

And I’m not saying believers should issue talking-points or a bullet list of a religion’s aspects. They need to be able to handle debate, dialogue and follow-up questions. I’m also not saying that the religious should go out and confront their intellectual opponents. They should be ready when they’re asked to defend their beliefs.

But if the religious are not willing to question what they preach, then they shouldn’t question those who doubt.