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.