I wish I could say that I was surprised by the Rob Bell controversy from last week, but it is really just the latest installment of our cultural surrender to subjectivism.
To those who have erased all the lines in their endless search for equality, the difference between the holy and the profane is really just a figment of our collective imagination, either the result of one’s upbringing or of their reliance upon obsolete religious texts written two thousand years ago.
The definitions are disappearing, and while the church tries to fight the wars without, we forget about the wolves within. Maybe it’s time for a refresher.
There is a sense in which the only power God gave mankind is what he gave to Adam in the Garden: the power to name. Think about it. The ability to classify, define, and communicate was the first power and responsibility granted to mankind, and has become the basis of literally every single thing we comprehend as human beings: beauty, strength, virtue, mathematics, philosophy, science, art, government – even language itself.
The power to define is the power to know, in every conceivable way. Too often we get lost in Christian terminology and don’t realize that God’s consistent call to holiness in scripture is the single most empowering call in the history of the world. To say that God is holy is true because he is not like us. To say that believers constitute a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” is true because we are called to be separate from the world at large, in our thoughts, our words, and our behavior. To be holy is to be more than just human, and can distinguish a person in a way that no physical trait or personality attribute ever could. This is the call of the Bible.
A confused form of make-it-up-as-you-go relativism has been at work in the church for some time, but is just now hitting its stride within a millennial culture that is experiencing a rebirth of spiritualism that stands in direct rebellion against the militant secularism popularized by the “God is dead” generation. Many younger Americans who do not directly identify with any organized religion still claim to believe in God and tend to accept spirituality. The combination of religious decline with an increase in spiritual awareness creates a perfect environment for moral and ethical relativism. Far from the overt bleakness of secular humanism, the do-it-yourself faith concept allows each person to dictate their own belief, their own virtues, their own sins, their own heaven and hell, and their own god.
The discomfort of distinction is nothing compared to the hopelessness of worshipping gods made in our image: if God can be anything, then God is nothing. If scripture is broad enough to reconcile the teachings of St. Augustine, Martin Luther, and Dwight Moody, with those of Rob Bell, Joel Osteen, and Fred Phelps, then scripture itself is meaningless. If being a Christian means whatever we want it to mean, then it means nothing at all, and Christianity really is everything the secularists claim – a crutch for the weak and the fearful, an attempt by the ignorant to make sense of the unexplained.
But for those seeking an unbounded means of spiritual expression, or just something a little more flexible than the whole “holiness” thing, here are a few tips to building your own personalized spiritual encounter.
The DIY Faith Kit: Build Your Own Faith in Six Easy Steps
- Have a really, really emotional experience. Why should the power of emotion in faith be limited to Pentecostal churches? Often the best way to get your emotional groove on is to get a visit from an angel or prophet. If you haven’t seen either of those around lately, a combination of mind-altering substances, meditation, and near-death experiences can often be a useful substitute. Rock concerts, college campuses, and Las Vegas are great places to find all of those things together. A strong emotional experience is often a catalyst for spiritual awareness, and if you’re finding it hard to jump-start your spiritual senses, emotion is a great way to do it. Emotion also plays an important part in deciding which religious truth fits your lifestyle, and which might be better left to those bigots who embrace traditional morality.
- It’s important that you find a connection to something beyond yourself, even if that something is just your imagination. If you like the idea of a god (or gods), that’s cool – you can choose from a wide variety of deities including, but not limited to, Jehovah, Allah, Odin, Zeus, Buddha, Krishna or John Lennon. If “god” is not your thing, concepts like collective consciousness, self-actualization, material paganism, or societal advancement can come in handy. The best part is that any and all of these may be grouped together, since we all worship the same god anyway.
Once your supreme truth–giver is firmly in place, proceed to try to imagine what they want from you and structure your life accordingly. Every religion needs some sort of standardization, but with the DIY faith kit, that standardization can be customized to fit your individual needs. Just make sure that any rules you lay down are always dependent upon circumstance, and always remember that you have veto power in all moral decisions. Simply close your eyes, decide what makes you happy, and remember that your god of choice would never want you to be unhappy! It is not recommended that you refer to existing religious texts for your DIY faith. These inflexible passages tend to promote unhappiness and lay out truth claims that are uncomfortably exclusive. That kind of rigid dogma is also notoriously difficult to defend when speaking to others who may choose a different faith route. Your DIY faith, on the other hand, can easily be discussed with anyone, completely absent conflict! Just remind them that you have a right to believe whatever you want, and that your god is just as real to you as theirs is to them.*
*may not apply to Radical Islamists
- Choose a lifestyle to fit with your personal religion. Part of the fun of starting up your own faith is that you can then build a lifestyle to match, completely free of guilt or fear. Want to love your enemies? Great! Want to behead your enemies? Great! Just remember that the worst sin of all is judgment, so everyone’s personal priorities are equally valid!
- Every faith needs a motivator, and with your DIY faith kit, you can customize heaven and hell to fit your individual spiritual needs. Think of the absolute best thing you’ve ever experienced: Christmas with the family, your first time trying Oxycontin, that first night with your significant other, or that nature trip you took a few years ago. Any of those experiences can become your own personal heaven, to be sought after by following your prescribed faith path. Best of all, since you choose your own moral pathway, you never have to worry about being selfish or feeling guilty for pursuing things that make you happy. Because in the end, happiness is heaven for us all. The hell package is optional, but can serve as a useful attachment for those who might find they have a harder time refraining from self-destructive behaviors, or to those who simply need something awful to wish on that person who just cut them off on the freeway.
Evangelize! Once your faith is custom-built to suit your needs, it’s time to help others find their way as well. You will find that showing others how easy it is to explore their spirituality, without actually knowing what spirituality is, can be incredibly rewarding. Too many people still ascribe to outdated notions of sin and repentance, believing in a God who holds mankind accountable for their actions, and whose standards are completely inflexible. Many of these poor folks refuse to seek out their own fulfillment, content to live by rules written centuries ago by a bunch of racist, sexist, homophobic bigots who had little understanding of the complex nature of human happiness. But the DIY faith kit has something for everyone, and even Christians will find that they can have a completely satisfying faith experience completely divorced from the teachings of scripture. Several leading pastors have already adopted our simple process, and have had great success in leading people out of the past, and into a future of personal spiritual fulfillment.
Stop making excuses! Get out of those musty old manuscripts, and step into a bright new future, with the DIY faith kit!