Dialogue from the “The Dark Knight Rises” that makes me question and doubt my religious affiliations both broadly and specifically, (doubt and questioning are healthy and good; dropping your own “straw” of viewing religion and the world is good):
Commissioner Gordon to Detective Blake: “There’s a point far out there, when the structures fail you. When the rules [become] shackles.”
Later on Detective Blake says to Com. Gordon: “What you said about structures becoming shackles, you were right. I just can’t take it.”
Christ came along within a system of rules, a structure, that had become shackles to the people i.e. the Levitical Law and Old Testament Covenant. He was born into a religious elitism that made it clear who was included and who was excluded, who was chosen and not chosen, and who was right and who was wrong!
One of the many problems with Christianity in this day and age is that we’ve created shackles that, in part, caused Christ’s death, but that He defeated in His resurrection! Shackles such as “orthodoxy,” who is in and who is out, what it means to believe, who Jesus was and who Jesus wasn’t, what Jesus was and what Jesus wasn’t, legalism, fundamentalism, who can and can’t do this or that as a Christ-follower, what can and can’t be believed as a Christian, which denomination is wrong and which is right, which Tradition is most accurate and which is most inaccurate, whose interpretation of Scriptures is wrong and whose is right, and ultimately, who is and isn’t going to “heaven!” These are but a few examples of such shackles!
His birth, death, and resurrection liberated us from those evil shackles along with the existential shackles of death, meaningless, sin, and nothingness.
However, within just centuries of His liberation, Christians, the Church, got back to putting “structures” in place, which have since then become burdens and shackles to people.
I think Christianity, in general, as well as every Christian Tradition specifically, including the Episcopal Tradition to which I currently, and I say that lightly, currently belong, has put these “structures” in place that have become shackles, burdens, or as Jesus said, “Yokes,” which keep people weighed down, downcast, and distraught!
Christians use “orthodoxy” and other such shackles as a measuring stick for all matters concerning faith and practice. I, myself, am guilty of this. However, does that make it right? Do I get have the right to tell someone who believes in the spirit of what Christ taught and embodies that spirit better than I, but who doesn’t share my literal interpretation of the resurrection, among many views, that said person is wrong and doesn’t have Christ?
Do I have the right to tell that person their faith is lacking? Do I have the right to tell them they aren’t true believers even though they may be living more in tune with what Christ actually taught and preached than I, myself, am living? I think I have no such right!
I use to think that what we believed about Jesus mattered, but as I grow and develop in my faith and spirituality, I see that it’s more about what we do with what Jesus taught and modeled that matters!
There are those who don’t believe what most of we Christians believe about Jesus, but who do more in line with what Jesus taught than most Christians do; these folks are more in tune with Christ than most of us Christians.
Jesus didn’t teach a strict “orthodoxy,” but He did teach and preach a message of diversity, inclusion, and ultimately, love! He taught that the fulfillment of the Law is loving God and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self!
Any “structure” that is placed outside those perimeters is questionable, doubtful, and suspicious and has, more than likely, become a shackle! That goes for all matters of faith and practice of being a Christian, from baptism to last rights and every Sacrament in between.
Christianity is a faith of practices not beliefs! As Christians we practice our faith first and foremost because it’s a faith of practices not a faith of accepting a set of ideological beliefs that somehow “save us!” As such, that means there are many living out a Christian faith due to being more like Christ, even if they don’t mean to, rather than worrying about who or what Christ was and is, and accepting a set of ideological beliefs and presuppositions.
There are Christians outside the structures that have become shackles within our faith; we’d do well to remember that structures are more often than not avenues shackles take to latch onto us or that we use to shackle and enslave others in the name of “true religion,” becoming the chains of slavery loyal to ideological and religious purity, fanaticism, exclusivism, orthodoxy, etc.!
In closing, the writer of Hebrews gifts us with sage advice about what to do when our human-made structures that have become shackles:
Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”