Over a decade ago, I attended a church where the pastor said this from the pulpit (loosely paraphrased from memory): “See this book in my hand?” he nearly shouted, “it’s the Word of God. Don’t question me… my interpretation of this book. It’s my job to tell you what this book says. You don’t need to read it yourself.”
I remember the train wreck in my head. I wanted to stand and shout, “NO!” remembering that every man works out his own salvation with fear and trembling, and having the feeling that if he broke out the kool-aid after service I should hit him with my Bible and run for the exit as fast as I could.
Everything that man said in his sermon, by the way, I completely disagreed with. I was essentially shunned later for saying (out loud) that what he had preached was not in The Book, and his edict of keeping Bible interpretation to himself and the hope of keeping his young flock scripturally ignorant so they wouldn’t see what a unbiblical power trip he was on was completely wrong.
Before I left, I encouraged everyone I could to read the Bible for themselves…to make up their own minds…to use their brains and not become mindless sheep. I have no idea what happened to most of those congregants, but I do know that those of us raised in the church with a good handle on our theology left and didn’t look back.
I guess how I was raised and then my experience with the arrogant Bible-thumping, “hear me, don’t read,” pastor has left me often questioning what I hear from the pulpit and beyond. I was not allowed an opinion or to think freely as a kid and that Sunday epiphany showed me how dangerous that mindset really is.
Why are so many Christians willing to hand over their brains at the chapel doors and willingly digest and accept every word that a human being says from the pulpit (or the pages, or the internet)? Why carry the Bible to church if it’s not going to be read at home? Studied? Most of us feel a certain comfort with our pastors, and know, deep down, they’re not going to lead us astray. Right?
For the most part when hear a sermon, I find that the pastor and I are on the same page and I don’t have to worry what’s in the coffee served after the service. Still, beyond the creeds and doctrines, sometimes I hear things spoken (from many pulpits) that make me wonder, “really? Why?” or “Why not?”
When I was a kid, I was told not to read certain books. You know the list. Catcher in the Rye was always at the top. Today, you will most likely find the Harry Potter series on many conservative lists. I used to play along. Not read what I wasn’t supposed to, tow the line, say the right things…and have no idea how to join in the conversation except to say, “I have heard it’s wrong/bad/forbidden… banned.”
These days, tell me not to read something or tell me it’s controversial and I’m more likely to at least research the book (movie, article, author) if not read the book itself. Make up my own mind. Think. Process. Decide.
I may yet agree the banned or controversial material is indeed not fit for public consumption. Or… I may say, “I agree,” or “he has some valid points,” or “why not?” In some circles, that heresy could get me crucified. Outside the box is a scary place apparently and lately I seem to find myself outside of the box or fighting to get out of it.
When did having a brain get so dangerous? When did thinking outside the box become so taboo? Why not give people credit for having the brains and discernment to decide for themselves whether or not someone’s words or ideas are something to absorb or adhere to, or to dismiss? Are today’s Christians that theologically lacking that the thought of encouraging them to educate themselves about the “other side” or “grey area” of a conversation is out of the question?
I don’t know what the answer is or where this rant came from. I guess I’m just tired of hearing “but I’ve heard it’s bad,” or people believing something “because so and so said so.” If the thought process ends there, it’s dangerous.
I don’t know why I feel like apologizing for not giving so and so the power to think for me. I may agree with so and so at some point, but it will be because I informed myself, sought God myself, used my brain, and made a decision… or I may not agree with so and so… and it’s okay. It really, really is.
There will be no bra burning at the end of this post, but sadly I feel sort of revolutionary in my thinking right now.
But at least I’m thinking… with my own brain.