I was reading Richard Rohr this morning – his Yes, And… book of daily meditations. Writing about how a person develops a sense of the sacred, he notes that in the first half of life, many people’s spirituality is self-centered. He says,
Christians in the first half of life become obsessed with dying a happy death and going to heaven. Even religion becomes a rather privatized “evacuation plan for the next world” (as Brian McLaren calls it), and the clergy seldom recognize that much of religion is trapped at the individualistic and egocentric level. No actual love of neighbor, outsider, the poor, or even God was really necessary. This is garden variety first-half of life religion, and it has passed for the real thing for much of the Christian era.
The truth of Rohr’s insight seems obvious to me, but it runs counter to the dominant emphasis in popular religion, which focuses on “getting saved” and “being good” and “going to heaven.” But that emphasis on escapism from this world cuts the heart out of Jesus’ life and message. He came to establish a new community he called “the kingdom of heaven.” This was a transformation of this world, not an escape from it.
To the degree that we have bought into the popular, “evangelical,” message that Christian faith is about believing some idea so God will approve of us, accept us, save us, we have failed to grasp what Jesus was about. Jesus came to heal us of our divisions and gather us into a new community. But that’s hard. That takes courage and humility. It puts us up against the way of the world.
It’s easier to believe that Christian faith is about “believing” something so we can get a ticket to heaven, rather than about following the way of Jesus and joining his new community. But it’s wrong.
So, I apologize for whatever I have said that has reinforced that distorted message. The world needs people who are committed to the project Jesus came to start — the transformation of this world and the healing of all that divides people and destroys life. Clearly, we have a lot of work to do. Let’s not get distracted by “heaven,” but remember that Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven is among / within you.”