After a long sip of the latte, Mr Athena said; “Let's continue our time together with a brief history lesson.”
A brief history lesson? That seemed to be about as exciting as watching paint dry. All I could think of was memorizing a series of now meaningless dates and places the night before final exams and then promising the Almighty a wide variety of benefits if He saw fit to pass me on. Time to stop the runaway train...
“Mr. Athena, I have come to deeply respect the wisdom that you have gleaned after years of study but I do see myself as a most unworthy recipient of your wisdom. Perhaps we can bypass the history portion of your wisdom and fast forward to the sweetened and condensed version that my very soul desires?”
Mr. Athena stared at me for a moment and with a huff said; “I suspect that you don't see the connection between historic thought and where you are today, Mr. Think He Is A Free Thinker?”
Again with the patience that only age spots can bring the Teacher began again to teach;
“The truth of the matter is that your thinking isn't really free at all. Your thinking is a product of many factors that you may not be aware of: the times in which you live, your cultural and societal influences, and so on. In the same way, the pillars of your faith were also bound by the times in which they lived. If you are to become a truly free thinker, you must first come to understand the many ways that those who came before you were significantly influenced by the times in which they lived.”
“Here we go. I suspect that things are about to get a bit more complicated” Eutychus replied wishing that he had either a beer or a well prepared Latte.
“Yes, it is. Religion is an odd blend of culture, belief, authority and so on. Let me broaden your horizons a bit.” And with that the Teacher began to teach yet again.
“The faith that you were raised in was born in that very cauldron. Where do I begin? Social, cultural and religious change never occurs without a good dose of passion. Mom had a saying “You can't fry chicken unless the grease is hot.” Your faith as a Protestant came from a passionate period in history where a community protested the state of religious affairs. What brought people's blood to the boiling point was the practice of indulgences. Simply put, it was the practice of selling blessings through the church and believe me, that practice still continues. Unfortunately, I see that practice in full operation in many churches today. The appeal is a bit different but nowadays a spiritual leader with an exotic lifestyle openly states that the road to that lifestyle and the blessings of God is to give generously to his ministry. You have heard the appeal; “Sow a seed faith blessing into this ministry and await your blessing.” These appeals are little more than indulgences warmed over.”
After a brief pause, Mr. Athena began again. “None of that makes any sense to me. God gives generously to everyone without cost. The rain falls and the rainbows created are posted for everyone to see; the evening sunset is on daily display for anyone who pauses to enjoy it. Beyond that, there are no shortcuts to a close walk with God; that walk is obtained through the often forgotten disciplines of prayer, reflection, meditation and so on. The journey down the road of grace is yours alone; that is the challenge and the ultimate blessing of having a God who is willing to draw near in a meaningful way.
“At any rate, the indulgences drove the Protestant Reformation for everyday people were tired of being fleeced by a religious organization that was getting richer as they were getting poorer. They were weary of grand cathedrals with minimalist ministries, stained glass windows designed to block the the view of the very mission field that the church is called to serve.”
“I am in a total fog Mr. Athena and I have to admit that I am having quite a time connecting these dots. I just don't see how all of these tidbits have anything to do with what I believe.”
“Yes, of course,” Paul replied looking off into the distance. Yes, many people feel that way. Think of all of these events as seeds being planted. Seeds are incredibly small but have immense potential within them. So it is with all of these “tidbits” that I am sharing with you. They all grow into belief systems that have been placed upon you. Since they are the only belief system that you are exposed to, you now are far from objective in critiquing them.”
Little of this was making any sense to me so I had to try to bring all of this theological stuff into an arena that I could understand.
“Paul, I appreciate all of your elegant meanderings but I still don't see any of this building to the level of deep concern let alone the high water mark of religious thinking. There has to be something missing from all of what you are telling me. I may not be the most spiritual man on the planet and I don't think that I'd make a very good monk but I suspect that most people like me consider spiritual things as they relate to other areas of their lives.”
Paul looked me in the eye as said;
“That is true. What makes you think that you are so different from everyone else? Spiritual matters as significant as they may be are not always the most pressing matter of the moment. There are times when the tyranny of the urgent demands your full attention; it is hard to focus on spiritual matters when you are afraid of being evicted or you are staring at a layoff notice. The truth of the matter is that the people who crafted in large measure the way that you have come to understand and relate to God were dealing with people who like you were wrestling with some very real everyday economic challenges.”
“The general mood of the time was governed by the Renaissance, a period in European intellectual history which is a link between the Middle Ages and a more modern way of thinking. This period was dominated by a desire to return to the good old days by largely rediscovering classical Greek philosophy.”
“Church folk sort of jumped on this parade late in the game and repackaged the Renaissance as the Reformation. Getting back now to your point; please don't think for one moment that everyone everywhere collectively came to the theological conclusion that the church was off kilter. Heck, you can't even get Baptists to agree with each other; you have Pimitive Baptists, American Baptists, Mssionary Baptists, Pogressive Baptists and so on. “
“The reformation had little to do with theology and a whole lot to do with economics. From what I have seen, the reformation was largely a peoples revolt against the oppression of the Medieval Church. This oppression was focused against the church's indulgence system or as I have shared earlier the thinking and practice that blessings from God can be purchased for a fee. Beyond that there was the interplay between religious authority and power as it impacted upon the pockets of the poor.”
“You would think that this was the case for the language of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an indulgence is “a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins” which of course was sold by the church to poor folk. Ultimately they got tired of shelling out cash, land and possessions to the church in order to obtain forgiveness and hence the times were ripe for change. In other words, an entire community was tired of being forced to shell out money to the church and were looking for somebody somewhere to articulate the wrongness of the church.”