May 7, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 19

Rev. Rich Lang

Nice gets results. But to solve social problems, religious people need to become revolutionary

By Rev. Rich Lang

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Churches are really very good at two primary social tasks. First, they give therapeutic spiritual shelter from the storm. To be part of a faith community provides a person with an extended family and a network of mutual support, affection and nurture. Given the stress we all face I can’t speak highly enough of this role in society. But spiritual therapy, as Karl Marx knew, can be an opiate that removes the believer from the struggles of the public square.

Churches are also very good at doing small things well. We know how to feed people, we know how to let our buildings be used for housing and community meeting areas and so forth. Again these types of spaces are truly needed in our society, and I’m grateful for every faith community that opens its doors for the common good.

But the problems we are facing are becoming so huge that these small efforts are not enough. Whether we’re talking climate change or America’s permanent war economy or too-big-to-fail banks or economic corruption, our faith communities have little capacity to provide an alternative to the mayhem currently destroying our people.

Basically, faith communities have taken the position that they can no longer be radical. When people come out of the storm to find sanctuary they don’t want the weather to come with them. They just want to pretend the world has become safe again. They don’t want to disturb the niceness of their neighbor in the pew by any kind of radical talk of societal change and revolution. People of faith want to pretend that the inner world is more important than the outer world. We pretend that if we change our individual self we will change the world.

But, seriously, that’s bullshit. The monk on the mountaintop might be all spiritual, shrouded in his oneness with all being, but what does it matter to the workers who toil away for less than $10 an hour in an economic system of plutocracy? Moses, for example, might have had his heart warmed on the mountaintop, but the Burning Bush he met there sent him on an intense life-or-death mission to free the slaves from the pharaoh. Jesus might love the world, but he still confronted the powers so intensely that they arrested, tortured and killed him for his efforts.

Now compare that with the proclamation and action of our faith communities. Creating therapeutic shelter and doing good deeds is not enough. We don’t need religion for that. We need religion to tap into the power that faces down death, and we need if for the inspiration that shows the better world that is possible. We need a religion that can teach us to see and feel life from the perspective of those who, though stuck in the storm, refuse to give up hope.

Where are such communities? Where can I find a religion that moves beyond being nice?

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