Religious zeal not conducive to progress
By STEVE GUSHEE
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- All great religions look forward to a better world, driven by their trust in a gracious God and the inquisitive spirit God gives his creation.
Religious institutions, on the other hand, tend to look backward to some imaginary golden age and try to preserve that fantasy -- and the power they derive from it. Signs of the success of such reactionary attitudes are increasingly visible and disturbing. A new Dark Ages triggered by religious conservatives with increasing power could descend on this country, as it has in much of the Muslim world.
Islamic leaders dominated by an unreformed faith have crippled many Muslim countries. As those leaders forced the faithful to practice their faith by looking backward, those countries have suffered enormously in their quality of education, social development, economic prosperity and personal freedom.
The political rise of religious movements in America now threatens our future. Little things add up. Blocking stem cell research for religious reasons, preventing potential medical breakthroughs, is an example. Another is the thinly disguised religious motivation behind the prevention of medicines like the morning after pill from getting to market. The silly attempt to insert a valid faith statement like Intelligent Design into science classes makes research a theological rather than a scientific discipline. Fossilized attitudes toward women and homosexuals retard social development.
The Holy Spirit blowing where he will is at the heart of a vibrant Christianity that looks forward to new things God has promised to do. The resurrection of Jesus opened the future to that graceful opportunity in which the faithful could know God in ever new and powerful ways.
The great gift of the Gospel is the imperative to risk new life, discover -- and serve -- God through heretofore unheard of ways. The disciples did just that, adding gentiles to a Jewish sect, moving into a Greek civilization from a Hebrew backwater and ultimately overcoming the world. Much of western civilization is rooted in the driving energy of an energetic Christianity that too often has had to fend off the church to express the Gospel.
The institution of the church has long been reluctant to greet any new day. It argues that God is already fully known. Such a closed approach to faith shuts down initiative and stifles hope. As religious groups gain political power, they impose their will, enshrine the past and kill the spirit. The descent begins.
Steve Gushee writes for The Palm Beach Post