Kennedy's 'Postcards from
Religion is life
The trouble I see in that editor's approach, which is one widely seen in American media, his working definition of "religion," is that it tries to put God into a box. It limits God to Sunday worship and maybe morning and/or evening prayers, but little more. I see the God of biblical history wanting first place not only in the meeting house on Sunday but in the board room on Monday, the butcher shop, the council and legislative chambers, the playing fields, and the assembly lines. He is Lord of all or, as has been said, He's Lord of nothing. I know I was teaching this same outline to my Sunday school class in 1964, but I'm no less convinced about it now 40 years later.
The subject line I chose for today, "religion is life," seemed a fitting continuation of the train of thought in Wednesday's "Defining religion." Beyond religion's being "that which is most important in your life," religion also should be, I think, your life itself. To the Christian, that's not some abstract thesis or hypothesis, but a personal encounter with a living Savior, Christ the Lord. If I can't speak without bridling my tongue for the sake of my Savior (as the New Testament repeatedly enjoins), how can I eat, or work, or buy, or sell, or vote, or anything that impinges on any other person in my world, without channeling those actions through the matrix often summarized by "what would Jesus do?" but which, I think, more important to us should be expressed as "what would Jesus have me do?" I prefer that turn of the phrase because whatever He would do would be backed by transcendent knowledge of the universe, the past, the future, and the motives of everyone involved, whereas I'm somewhat more limited.
"Life is religion" was a major theme in my master's thesis at UCLA, circa 1971. In that attempt to describe a distinctly Christian theory of mass communication, I leaned heavily on the Dutch pastor-journalist-politician, Abraham Kuyper, who said something very close to "life is religion" in his famous Stone lectures on Calvinism at Princeton University near the beginning of the 20th Century. But it was a Kuyper disciple, a history of philosophy professor at Calvin College in Michigan, H. Evan Runner, who is credited with actually reducing the concept to those three words: Life is religion. Al Wolters, himself a historian of philosophy and in his early life a student of Runner at Calvin said this (to choose a pithy extract) in an essay on "The Importance of H. Evan Runner" commemorating Runner's passing in 2002:
To circle back round to the Quaker editorial writer's lacking understanding of religion, I must admit that there are voters who consider themselves Christians, conservatives, and some other designations, who would support laws defining marriage forever as a relationship between a man and a woman only because they don't like homosexuals, or worse. But the Christian reason for supporting such laws is that they do it because we love homosexuals, and heterosexuals, and children, and families, and we want what is best for all of them. Likewise, some may oppose abortion because they can't stand the idea of liberated women enjoying sex as freely as their male counterparts. But the Christian reason to oppose abortion is because we love babies, we love their mothers, and we want them both to have what is best for them and for our society, because God hates murder but loves the weakest and neediest segment of any population, the children.
Political rhetoric is a shorthand form of speech that can sound ugly, especially when it is used to rally the already persuaded. But the right thing always requires saying anything worth saying in the right words and in the right serving, not mastering, inflection.
Webmaster Jon Kennedy