ANOTHER VOICE is back and online again….

For many people, a vacation is a time of R&R: Rest and Recuperation. For me my days of R&R were that but also another kind of R&R: Reflections about Religion – with serious concerns about contemporary religious distortions, like QAnon.

QAnon is particularly alarming. The QAnon conspiracy movement uses overt religious language linking itself directly to the Bible, to Christianity, and to God’s work in the world. The current US president does not question the truth behind the claims of the QAnon conspiracy movement but offers them his help, praises them for “loving their country,” and for supporting him. QAnon members in fact are a politically-focused religious cult and they believe the current US president is a divinely-sent Messiah who is working at great personal cost to defeat “leftist evil” people and to usher in a great golden age American Utopia. QAnon, like a contemporary virus, is unhealthy religion.

All religions are organized systems of beliefs and practices (symbols, rituals, codes of conduct, etc.) that, ideally, point people to the Divine and help them find answers for the ultimate questions of human life. Ideally, religion interprets and strengthens authentic faith experiences. Sometimes however, religion focuses more on ideology than faith and becomes a an unhealthy cult that worships its leaders and controls people through emotionally-charged rhetoric, falsified information, and unquestioned obedience to authoritarian leaders.

The signs of healthy religion and unhealthy religion are very clear. Healthy religion maintains a balance between belief and moral behavior. When this balance is lost one risks slipping into a form of religion that becomes an impersonal and dehumanizing ideology.

Some R&R : “Reflections about Religion” for contemporary consideration:

1. Healthy religion is grounded in contemporary Reality with all of its ups and downs. Unhealthy religion is grounded in fantasy and longs for the good old days, which of course were only good for a select segment of society. Consider, for example, nineteenth and early twentieth century white, Anglo-Saxon, male-dominant, Protestant America.

2. Healthy religion builds bridges between people. Unhealthy religion builds walls and creates barriers separating people into qualitative classes of people.

3. Healthy religion promotes a basic sense of trust and relatedness to people and to the universe.

4. Healthy religion stimulates and encourages personal reflection, questioning, and responsibility.

5. Healthy religion promotes human sexuality as a mutually affirming way of living and being with self and others. It does not use and abuse others just for personal (“Grab ’em by the pussy”) genital gratification.

6. Healthy religion encourages intellectual honesty and a serious examination of doubts and uncertainties.

7. Unhealthy religion stresses feelings rather than thoughtful reflection. It is afraid to question.

8. Healthy religion supports and empowers people.

9. Unhealthy religion imposes power OVER people in often dismissive and demeaning ways.

10. Healthy religion promotes hope-filled love, compassion, and collaboration.

11. Unhealthy religion demonizes one’s opponents and validates hatred, cruelty, and violence.

12. The historical Jesus practiced and advocated healthy religion. Healthy and genuine Christians follow his example.


One of my Covid-19 lockdown activities has been sorting books in my home library: deciding which ones to keep and which ones to give to the university library. Something I do each year; but this year I was a bit more aggressive, thinking other people could use the books that now simply gather dust. As I was dusting and sorting, one book slipped off a shelf and fell on the floor: The Courage To Be by Paul Tillich. I picked it up and immediately said to myself: “That’s it!”

Paul Tillich (1886 – 1975) was a German-American theologian and philosopher who moved to the United States after fleeing from Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Tillich taught at Union Theological Seminary, Harvard Divinity School, and the University of Chicago. He is recognized as one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century. In his 1952 book, The Courage to Be, Tillich stressed the phrase I had underlined years ago: “courage is directly tied to being, or a self-affirmation of one’s being.” In his book, Tillich explored the conquest of anxiety and the meaning of courage in the history of Western thought.

My point this week is not to get into a philosophical discussion about Paul Tillich’s perspective but rather to stress the absolute necessity of maintaining and helping others to maintain the “courage to be” in our pandemic and chaotic days.

Courage affirms who we are. It enables us to maintain our sense of dignity and self worth. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The courageous person is not the one never feels afraid, but the one who conquers that fear. It is an individual and a group effort. Courage, compassion, and collaborative action create a hopeful tomorrow.

As Christians we draw our strength from the teaching and action of Jesus of Nazareth: the courageous man of God. The Gospel portraits speak loudly and clearly. Today I stress just a few that have always touched me:

– As I write a couple weeks ago, Jesus courageously worked against an ingrained prejudice against women. He defended the woman about to be stoned to death. He ignored the taboo about men speaking to women in public. And he welcomed women as his disciples. Later women were the first to announce that he had bern raised from the dead.

– Jesus courageously combatted the ingrained prejudice against foreigners. This of course is the focus of “The Good Samaritan.”

– Jesus courageously denounced religious hypocrites. He called them “blind guides” who “disregarded the more important matters of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” (Matthew 33 and Luke 11)

– And something that certainly has a contemporary ring: Jesus courageously struggled against angry and violent protesters. Recall for example the scene in Matthew 26: “At that time Jesus said to the crowd, ‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching and you did not arrest me. And the reaction from the crowd: “Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him….”

– It is important to remember as well that Jesus knew fear. As he realized his violent death was immanent, he experienced terrible anxiety and fear. After the “Last Supper,” he went to the olive grove Gethsemane with disciples. He began to be “….greatly distressed and troubled and he said to them: ‘my soul is very sorrowful, even to death’….and he fell on the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass from him.” (Mark 14) The,portrait in Luke is more dramatic. There the fearful Jesus begins to sweat drops of blood. (Luke 22:24)

– My favorite images of Jesus the courageous are in the Fourth Gospel. The Jesus who stands before Pilate is strong: “…the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone the side of truth listens to me.” Later as he carries his cross to calvary, he needs no help and he doesn’t fall down. The strong and courageous man. (John 18)

Courage is fortitude, strength, endurance and the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation.

Courageous people strengthen and enCOURAGE others.

In our Christian faith, hope, and love may we continue strong and supportive of others.


P. S. I am taking a couple weeks away from my computer for R&R and will return at the end of August.

Remember the Serenity Prayer attributed to the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 – 1971)

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

Courage to change the things I can.

Wisdom to know the difference.