Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy


Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind'

Religion is life


On a recent surfing safari of the Internet I came across an editorial by a newspaperman of Quaker background making what struck me as a typically Quaker plea for religious charity in our social rhetoric. He allowed that religious people are supposed to have concerns about social injustice, poverty, welfare, and other issues often considered socio-political. But he lamented the tendency of "some people" to try to force others to believe or behave as they do, by enacting laws defining what we all can and can't or should or shouldn't do. In other words, he was saying those who want laws defining marriage and making it difficult for pregnant women to get abortions are selfishly attempting to impose "conservative ideology" on the whole populace. But to me, more pointedly, he was saying that religion must be defined as relating to devotional activity, corporate worship, and charity toward the poor, but when it tries to exceed those limits, it becomes ugly. It becomes il-liberal, and we all know that liberality is commended in the New Testament.

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:

Central to all of Runner's teaching was the insight captured in the slogan "life is religion." Every aspect of human life stands in the service of either the true God of biblical religion or some substitute or idol. There is no religiously neutral ground. It is, therefore, impossible to demarcate some province or provinces of human life and declare it "secular" in the sense of being exempt from the claims of Jesus Christ. Every attempt to construct a "two-realm theory" that contrasts sacred and secular, or holy and profane, spheres of life must be resisted. Specifically, this means that human rationality is not an autonomous function unaffected by spiritual commitment but is rather deeply engaged in the fundamentally religious nature of the human being. The "dogma of the pretended autonomy of theoretical thought" must be unmasked for what it is, an idolatrous figment of the human imagination. Consequently, all academic work, whether in philosophy or some other field of scholarly inquiry, is directed by some spiritual impulse, is controlled by presuppositions of an ultimately religious nature.

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

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Today's chuckle

Kids' prayers

Dear God, did you mean for giraffes to look like that or was it an accident? Norma

—Sent by Trudy Myers


Thought for today

Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but, far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong things at the tempting moment.

—Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)


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