Re evaluating the 20 per cent

The Pew Poll that 20%  of Americans have no religious preference shocked people.  But I truly believe it needs to be rephrased.  Wording in polls, after all,  is key.  But this poll still captured my interest. I just had a hunch  this was,  like most polls, a semantic  significance,  so  I informally talked to my own  soldiers at my annual  training as we had talks with  “chappie” over coffee et alia.  Mind you,  I WAS NOT proselytizing (as this is verboten now, but we can  always talk matters of faith). I just love talking to my soldiers. Service members are a true cross section  of culture.  Soldiers don’t mince words when talking to me. They  will cuss like they  are sailors,  say  they’re sorry and progress to tell me the BLUF, bottom line up front. They  will honestly  tell you  exactly what they  feel or think.  Kind  of like your older relatives, who have reached twilight years and  who  open  their mouth  and will tell you exactly what they  think of “aunt Betty”  or “uncle Ralph.”

Universally what I saw was not as dismal  as prognosticated. While they certainly did not identify with  a particular faith group,  they  did affirm  the essential  concept of the Christian dogma  that God is love.  This is the Person  they  said they  believed in.  Not a Jewish  conception or Muslim or Christian, but still affirmed God’s essence as love.  So  invariably, I would ask  the service member  how they  thought Christian  teaching related to this love. What I observed was  there was a disconnect between  this concept of love and the dogma of the Church and worship. Many knew Bible facts,  but few of how they  fit together in this scheme of love,  which,  after all, is the whole purpose of the Law and Prophets. So  I was afforded the rare pleasure of talking with some folks, sometimes for hours,  about how mercy and truth are met together.

 Atheists are not moral  reprobrates.  They  are genuinely sincere people

Now let me swing to the atheist discussions.  Atheists are not moral  reprobrates.  They  are genuinely sincere people, for the most part, who  have legitimate concerns with organized religion as such.  So  one particlar officer  said, “chappie  I am  an atheist.  I believe in Newtonian  physics.”  Of course,  this is alright with me.  He then saw morality as following a Newtonian  sense that every (moral) action  has an equal and opposite reaction.  Wow, who can resist seeing the thoughtfulness here? This led to a long discussion  about the nature of love, and on a deeper level, in Orthodox theology,  the divine energies.  By the end,  he was wanting to visit church for a liturgy.  He saw how faith  and science intersect.

Let’s go further down the atheist road.  This member was a devout Christian,  then abandoned his faith  for just a raw militant  spaghetti monster style faith,  Richard Dawkin’s style.  He is open about the apparent contradictions in the Old Testament and the seeming barbarity of it.  Do we dismiss these arguments?  Or can  we say  we reason  together with them,  like Prophet Isaiah said to do?  I took him  back to the maxim,  God is love. He affirmed it,  but could not make sense of the stuff in between. We had a nice cup of coffee together and talked about this.  He attended my service the next day  and we had a great discussion  about the nature of revelation  and it’s record in the Old Testament.  Now he is still an atheist, or as he puts it now,  quasi  agnostic,  but he sees I am  not just following something blindly,  and he is open to  possibilities.

Love alone is credible. Cardinal  Balthasar

This all led me back  to an interesting set of essays by Cardinal Balthasar that love alone is credible.  The universal  belief of all those I talked with, who  said they  had no religion,  was exactly that.  The Christian  message is still in our culture, it just needs to  be connected to dogma, namely, the conscience of the Church, and liturgy,  the worship  of the Church.  So I remain optimistic.  The 20% are just honestly trying to find  where the expression  of what they  already believe,  that God is love,  and alone credible,  lies.  This presents a challenge; belief and ethics, faith and works, must coexist in a community. May  I, as a pastor,  be shepherding with  this  in mind.

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