I believe that religion is a natural reaction to a human being’s desire to understand their place in the universe, and I believe that a church is natural social growth highlighting both our importance as individuals and our improvement as a group.
I also believe that many people (aided and abetted by their own churches) have forgotten that religion grows from thoughts of our own place within the wheels, that religion has value to change only to the extent that we use it to change ourselves; and that much of what we call religion in modern America is a cloaking device for legalizing and normalizing authoritarian systems and methods. I also believe that the church, as it is known to most Americans, is a profitable business designed for its own stability and profitability, and not an organization designed to encourage and foster the personal growth of its members and communities.
I also recognize a certain number of realities: money is a requirement for any type of societal structure, social or physical; the church is a ritualized, established, and cherished part of many lives; and it is often easier and more comfortable to blame the attitudes and behaviors of others for societal ills than to examine our own attitudes and behaviors… and their results.
I want a church that I want to go to, a church whose vision and mission are germane to the individual search for meaning from which all religion grows, a church where scripture is treated as an operating manual for this life and not a Get In Free card for the next one. It’s weird to say this as someone with my history (Christmas and Easter congregations as a kid, returned to church as an adult only to leave after several years), but I want to go to a church that teaches love, forgiveness, brotherhood… all that Christ stuff, basically. Not casting first stones, neither condemning; feeding and sheltering the poor and sick, protecting and teaching the children.
I couldn’t find that church, so I’m starting it.
Stripped to the bare bones, my problems with the church as an instrument of religion in modern America come to this: the dependence on money to be an operating societal structure has created an environment where many churches have justified and normalized acting as would a profit-making business, and that the focus of change has been on forcing a behavior on others through enacting authoritarian control rather than changing ones own behavior through prayer and effort. There are plenty of other issues I have with modern American religion, such as exclusivity, divisiveness and a growing sense of unease and/or unwelcomeness among the congregations, but it also seems that many of those problems build their foundation on one (or both, often enough) of those two main sticking points.
Although I have found it necessary to dissociate from my traditional church, requiring that of others seems to be flirting with the divisiveness abyss… I also feel more likely to be heard if the message is something that can exist and grow alongside current reality.
The framework I envision, then, is one which can stand alone or alongside an existing belief system, with a focus on interpreting and acting on that belief system’s scripture and methods through this new set of eyes. I can see members of my church being Baptists, Methodists, Hindus, Jews, or Muslims and all being able to work together and discuss their various methods and scriptures from a larger framework. Without an existing external belief system, my church will call upon scripture and methods from across times and cultures to examine common themes and ideas (although my own background as a Methodist in America during the late 20th and early 21st centuries is certainly going to affect my choice of source materials, particularly at the beginning).
The first part is blazing the trail, and that work will largely be mine, I suspect. There needs to be some basic scripture, or at least some kind of documentation, that carry out and demonstrate the ideas and methods being promoted, the whys and wherefores of the limits and boundaries we agree to work within. This body of work will need to include an overview of the existential foundation of the question the church hopes to help answer and an explanation of why it is the best place to start, examples of traditional scriptures and lessons cast within the new lights, and methods and systems for individuals to use in growing.
I have begun writing this material. In particular, I’ve written about my belief that science and religion are complementary disciplines that do not share the limitation to our three-dimensional perception of space-time, and about my belief that religion is active and effective in making change only when it encourages and directs individual change on the part of its adherents rather than authoritarian enforcement of change on others.