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Why Religion May Turn You Off

As a kid I memorized a routine by comic Andy Griffith called “What It Was, Was Football.” I recited the thing any time I thought I had an appreciative audience, and in those entertainment-starved times, it was more often than you might think.

The routine was about a yokel who accidentally wanders into a football game, knowing nothing about what was going on and in his “hick” accent – which I believed I had nailed – describes what he sees. Though it’s not nearly as funny as I thought it was at the time, if you’d like to hear Griffith’s account you can do so at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNxLxTZHKM8.

I recalled all this when thinking about how long it often takes to appreciate something sufficiently to embrace it or reject it, and failing that, how we simply become indifferent or hostile toward it. As in many human endeavors, it normally takes years to learn the rules and strategies of football, and only then can you learn to appreciate it.

Difficult to get people to pay attention

This occurred to me in thinking about this blog and how difficult it is to get people to pay attention to anything having to do with religion and spirituality. And more specifically still, that skeptics searching for God may be as clueless about the language and practices of religion as Griffith’s character was about football, and that may have a lot to do with the difficulty they have in appreciating God and religion.

On a recent retreat, I listened to Trappist monks chant Psalm 135 (136 in non-Catholic Bibles), an ancient Hebrew poem-song in which the author recites a line that recalls some great attribute or action of God followed in every verse by “for His love endures forever.”

At first, the psalm seems annoying in its repetitious monotony. Then you have to get past the temptation to try to separate the myth from reality in a song clouded in ancient Hebrew history. After that, to understand and appreciate it, you have to have experienced God in your life, which requires openness, patience and the “accumulation” of some amount of faith.

If you have never knowingly experienced God’s love, or been willing to acknowledge it, the psalm is nonsense. But once you have allowed God in, it makes total sense and you can relate to its author, who is giddy with gratitude.

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good

For his love endures forever

Give thanks to the God of gods

For his love endures forever

Give thanks to the Lord of lords

For his love endures forever

To him who does wonders

For his love endures forever

The psalm continues like this for another 22 verses.

The possible reactions to the psalm illustrate that just as people who don’t understand football may be heard to say they “don’t know what all the fuss is about,” or “what’s the big deal?” many people  surely don’t get it when it comes to God and religion for similar reasons.

So what is the appropriate response from believers to people who don’t get it? Some would say that none is necessary. People either accept God and religion or they don’t, and if they don’t, it’s their loss.

That wasn’t Jesus’ approach. He never failed to invite to the table those who were indifferent and considered by religious leaders to be outside God’s love. According to The Message translation of Mathew’s gospel, Jesus was invited to a dinner by a tax collector, where “other disreputable characters” were guests and where the Pharisees complained that Jesus was “eating and drinking with crooks and sinners.”

Who needs a doctor?

When Jesus heard their complaints, he responded, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders – an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.”

Of course, this invitation applies to everybody because, though it’s a cliché, we’re all sinners. We don’t live up to our own expectations let alone God’s.

So like the appreciation of football and other pursuits, you need an understanding of God and religion before you can appreciate them. Millions who are indifferent when it comes to God and religion may have had years of religious education but no doubt received answers to questions they didn’t have at the time.

For them and all skeptics seeking God, self-education may be called for. And though religious “culture” may turn them off, they must be open, patient and resolute in their search. And it’s up to believers to patiently invite and encourage them, but not to judge them.

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