I recently heard something from my home pastor that created an unexpected “ah ha!” moment for me. She was speaking of the ongoing reform in the Christian faith and how it is challenging many pastors & parishes: Historically, the Great Question that people want faith to answer has been “what happens to me after I die?” (or the variation, “will I go to Heaven or Hell?”). For centuries, all religions––not just Christianity––have been doing their utmost to answer this. However, times have changed. The common man is no longer a destitute, illiterate farmer with no concept of even the fundamental knowledges (math, history, writing, existing technologies, etc.); Even the poorest or most ignorant today devote some portion of time to higher thinking. That was the reason that Winston Churchill introduced his prison reforms a century ago––providing reading material, lectures, and concerts to prisoners. He understood that times had already changed greatly, and intellectual material was necessary for even the lowest of society.
Now Christianity is facing the similar need for reform: People are caring less about their faith’s answer to “what happens after I die?” and more about the answer to “what is the meaning of life?” People want meaning. They want to be able to feel a purpose to their life, to have a purpose themselves, and know there are reasons for the things that happen.
For individual churches today, this means finding new ways to reach out and address these searches for significance–– thus the reformation, or re- forming, of what “church” means. Church, as simply the Sunday service, does not address this question for everyone. For example, I learned all this from my pastor at a five hour poetry & spirituality workshop on a Thursday. Churches are exploring new avenues of “church” to address this new(er) question, and to begin the slow change of what Christianity looks like in the church.
However, the reason this created that “ah ha!” moment for me has more to do with evangelicalism than these positive and exciting changes in the church. And not any kind of evangelism, but the very in-your-face, off-putting kind which has a lot of Hellfire & brimstone, saving your soul, etc. After learning this from my pastor, suddenly it seemed very obvious to me why so many have grown to openly resent evangelism (and, often, Christianity along with it): The main question being addressed by that kind of “advertising” is one that relatively few people find themselves asking. No one wants to hear from a religion that they are going to fiery eternal torture. That may have inspired Mediæval peasants, but it is no longer what inspires people to change.
I cannot completely denounce the Hellfire & brimstone religion since numbers clearly support it: One estimate stated the existence of over 1600 megachurches in the US with an average attendance of almost 4,000, and many more around globe (including one in Korea with attendances of over 250,000). Clearly this old approach really works, and for a lot of people. However, this is not the general impression I have ever gotten from peers.
So what does inspire people? When I started thinking about it, I realized the answer is something I see again and again online and in person: People are inspired by refraining from judgement, accepting others, loving equally, giving fully, acts of kindness, building peace… All of these revolve around intangibles like love, peace, charity, and goodness. I do not know whether, deep down, we are basically good or basically selfish and evil. However, I repeatedly see that many many people want to derive meaning from their lives and to have their actions––good actions––reflect that. This returns to that question, “what is the meaning of life?” and this is the real question religions need to be able to answer if they want to meet people’s needs.
Instead of trying to burn each other in various Hells, oblivions, or otherwise, what would happen if we all focused on something more meaningful?
The Holy Bible (NIV, Quest Study Bible)
Megachurch Definition. http://hirr.hartsem.edu/megachurch/definition.html
Rev. Elaine Hewes
Winston Churchill. http://www.history.co.uk/biographies/winston-churchill
This blog is written by me, Katie Buerger (unless noted otherwise) and maintained by UPCaM@Case. I am a current sophomore at CWRU, and have been an UPCaM member since my first year. Because I am Spiritual Potpourri’s exclusive writer, this means the opinions and perspectives given in blog posts are limited to my views. I think myself to be open-minded, but I am human. I do research my topics (all the sources are listed at the bottom of each post), but I ultimately can only write from my perspective as a Christian. I try to write to a general audience (not exclusively to Christians), but I do at times make assumptions about the knowledge of my readers. However, I would like to assert that my views are not representative of UPCaM’s or Christianity’s – they are mine alone.