This past week (3/6/2015), HBO’s political commentator/comedian, Bill Maher, spoke about salvation in this way: “Take any religion, let’s say, Christianity. First they invent a problem, like sin. Then they sell you a solution [getting saved].”* This was in the context of Bill and his guest, Lawrence Wright, discussing Scientology, a religion that certainly has a questionable marketing strategy. But, before we laugh with Bill and Larry, we ought to ask how Christianity is different.
My gut level response is with an image. Jesus on the hillsides of Palestine, healing the multitudes. People didn’t come because Jesus had primed them with an imaginary affliction. Jesus did the opposite of bait and switch. People came to satisfy curiosity. They left with a a free healing of some critical component of their complex spiritual/physical-life-journey. This is religion at its core, identifying the particular hollow part of an individual’s soul and helping that need be resolved. What each person needs from their religion is different. Most of us have a hard time verbalizing where we hurt. Theological concepts like sin, shame, guilt, grace, and salvation, are designed to help.
No legitimate religion sells a problem and then offers a solution. Mr Maher challenges us to do some real apologetics. How is my daily work, as a Christian leader, more like Jesus and less like the boogey man that he presents as the face of Christianity? Bill Maher deserves our respect — he has greater name recognition that Bonhoeffer, Bart, and Charles Schultz (the creator of Peanuts), combined.
Jesus might respond to Maher’s HBO show with; “You have heard it said, but, I say to you…” He would recognize that many people have had a bad experience of our religion. Then he would following up with a parable demonstrating radical love and forgiveness. For Jesus, God doesn’t need to be marketed or encased in shrink-wrap plastic. God’s grace and love are meant to be freely offered to all. The Spirit blows where it wills, not where the money is.
With this in mind, it is interesting to eavesdrop on Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus in John 3:1-21. More on this in my next blog: Nocodemus and the Three Stooges (3/12/2015).