The Other Religion that Plagues American Christianity
Many words have been said about threats to Christianity from other religions. Maybe you’ve had thoughts like this yourself— even left-leaning Christians wrestle sometimes with what to make of what God is doing in the lives of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, etc. It’s a mark of our era that we must wrestle with this question in a way that wasn’t necessary before easy travel and instant global communication
But all the while I believe there IS another religion that is plaguing American Christianity, perhaps even all of western Christianity.
When I first started studying hope, I started with Jürgen Moltmann. Starting in the 1960s he wrote all sorts of landmark theology with hope as its starting point. Traditionally the story of Christianity is told from the fall to the new creation— in that order. But Moltmann flipped it and put eschatology, the theological term for “final things,” at the beginning. And such his theology of hope was born.
But you don’t have to get very far into his book, Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology to find a quote that rocks me to my core:
“The most serious objection to a theology of hope springs not from presumption or despair, for these two basic attitudes of human existence presuppose hope, but the objection to hope arises from the religion of humble acquiescence in the present.”
- Jürgen Moltmann (Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology, First Fortress Press Edition ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 26.)
That’s dense. Let’s unpack it.
“Objection” is an argument against something; for our purposes, I think we can safely substitute the word “opposite.” So what, then, is the opposite of hope? Not, Moltmann says, blindly assuming that God’s promises are true (presumption.)
More to our purposes, though, “despair” is also NOT hope’s opposite. Think about that for a moment... It’s tempting to think that wailing “woe is me” when all seems lost is the opposite of hope. But the only way you can cry out in despair is if you have some idea, some vision in your heart, of the way things SHOULD be. Indeed, you cry out precisely because you know better!
Instead, Moltmann says, the opposite of hope is the “religion of humble acquiescence in the present.” Humble acquiescence might be said like this: disempowered acceptance. You’ve given up. This situation isn’t going to change and there’s nothing you can do about it. So, <big sigh>, this is my lot in life and I guess I’ll just have to live with it.
Do you see how that’s WAY more hopeless than despair? When you think there’s nothing you can do and that things will never get better, you’ve found the “most serious objection” to a theology of hope.
Lamentation, a form of despair, is a sign of great inner hope, a longing for what will be. But a disempowered sigh is quite the opposite.
But if you’re keeping score at home, you may notice I skipped over a key word Moltmann uses: “religion.”
Well now that’s strange, isn’t it? Why would he throw that word in there? Is “humble acquiescence in the present,” a sigh that this is simply our lot, a religion? Where are its churches? What are its hymns?
Let’s come at it from the other side: if you don’t have hope— including an EMpowered REFUSAL to accept that THIS world will never change— then at the very least the religion you are practicing isn’t Christianity.
In short: lack of hope is a religion. And not a Christian one.
LINK - So the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, when they hang their heads, sigh, and say, “We had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel?” In that moment they had departed from Christianity, at least as it should be.
LINK - And all the churches I’ve been a part of who apologize as soon as you hit the door? Congregations that sigh and say, “Remember the days? The ones that are gone now? See how our world is just going down the tubes?”
That attitude is not only something other than Christian, indeed I believe it to be the biggest threat to the faith of Jesus that we face in the American church right now.
Jesus’ birth and resurrection changes everything and God making all things new. Yeah, stumbling blocks remain, kingdom construction is messy work. But if we don’t believe it applies to our lives here and now then we’ve missed the point on a level so fundamental.
The good news is that God is making THIS, new, too. We do not have to simply accept that this attitude runs rampant in our world right now. Step one, I think, is to suss out why hope in this world is so hard to hang on to right now. Step two is to do something about it. Much more to come.
Title image: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:J%C3%BCrgen_Moltmann_im_Hospitalhof_Stuttgart._M%C3%A4rz_2016.jpg" title="via Wikimedia Commons">Maeterlinck</a> / <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0">CC BY-SA</a>