The recent media attention that Fox News personality Brit Hume drew for himself by suggesting that Tiger Woods find his way out of his current marital and image problems by converting from Buddhism to Christianity, because Christianity offers a “better” (perhaps easier) form of forgiveness, has gotten me thinking about salvation and atonement. Particularly, it has begun me thinking about how many religious traditions try to “advertise” their faiths as offering some kind of practical benefits… and even, as in this case, suggesting that one can “trade up” to a religion that better suits your needs.
In other words, it is the promotion of these religious traditions as commodities.
It is not surprising that this is a factor in how we relate to religion in our current American culture. We are so formed by capitalism that there are few parts of our lives that escape from its ideology. We see this trend of “Join our religion for what it can do for you” not just in the kind of Evangelical Christianity that Hume is professing, but also in schools of Yoga that focus on how that faith practice will give you “six-pack abs”, or schools of Buddhism that offer to help solve emotional and psychological problems. We see it in Christian churches of the prosperity gospel, which tout that belief will lead to worldly gains. We see it in schools of Islam that offer fantastic rewards in the afterlife for sacrifice in this life. We even see it in Unitarian Universalism, when we put together ad campaigns detailing the wonderful benefits of liberal religious community, rather than the commitment to giving a gift to the world by leading a prophetic life.
I know that in our society we have created a meme where the only form of promotion we understand is of the “What will you do for me” variety, but I believe that this form of thinking has serious effects on religious traditions that form their identity in full or in part from this kind of self-promotion. What religious tradition each of us is called to should be a matter of deep conviction, of values, and of practices that feed our souls and call us to a deeper relationship with ultimacy. When we seek to expand the call to our tradition among others, it should be for the same reasons. The primary question our religious traditions should ask of us is what we have to give, not what we want or even what we need.
I believe it is a cheapening of the message of Jesus of Nazareth when you portray the reasons why someone should become a Christian as what benefits they might reap from such a profession of faith. The Jesus I know would ask his followers what their faith called them to give, not what it calls them to take.
For it is in what we give, to others and of ourselves, that we find atonement and salvation.
Yours in Faith,