I haven’t been able to shake Mike’s excellent post from Thursday. The identification of need with belief strikes me as an important one for our faith.
But I haven’t been able to shake it not just because of the insight it provides, but because I’m a step outside of the world Mike describes: frankly, I don’t need the church to be true.
That’s not to say I don’t believe, or that I don’t participate. I do both. But I don’t need the church to be true in a way that previous generations may have.
Partly, I live in a disenchanted world. I don’t need religion to explain the world I live in. Science can do that. I may not understand the intricacies of evolution or of the Big Bang, but I could if I’d focused on science rather than music and literature. The world around us is spectacular. It’s beautiful. And it’s explainable.
I don’t need religion to live a good life. I can act ethically without fear of hell or hope for heaven. Many people navigate life admirably without religious belief. Many people fail miserably in spite of religious belief. (Also, the reverse: many fail without religious belief, and many navigate life admirably with belief.)
I don’t need religion to get ahead. My Mormonism doesn’t open a whole lot of doors in Chicago, or in academia. (I’ll note that it also doesn’t really close any doors in either place.)
I don’t even need the community that religion provides. Most of my friends are the parents of kids my kids go to school with. Or people I work with, or people who live in the same building I live in, or people whose kids do the same activities my kids do.
None of that is to say religion doesn’t explain the world I live in, doesn’t aid my living a good life, doesn’t provide me with a community. It does all of those things. It’s simply that I don’t need religion to do any of those things.
And what does that mean? Maybe nothing. But more and more I believe it means that we need to think carefully about what we’re offering. To the extent that people don’t need religion in the same way they once did, our truth-claims may not be enough to capture their interest.
Does that mean we should give up our truth-claims? By no means. But we may have to recognize that they, standing alone, may not be enough; what does it matter if we’re the only true and living church upon the face of the earth if the people we’re engaging with aren’t choosing only among churches, but also among church and non-church?
Ultimately, a large part of the reason I attend church, a large part of the reason that I engage with the church, is because I’ve chosen to. But that choice can be a hard one, for all sorts of reasons. If we want to care for Jesus’ sheep, we need to engage them at the level they need. We need to be open to the idea that “One True Church” is answering a question many of our neighbors don’t have. And we can’t take for granted that they want religion—if we want to be truly pastoral, we need to give them a reason to choose belief.