Monday, September 13, 2010

Folk Religion

Round where I live, there's a pretty strong belief in a folk religion. The beliefs go something like this:

  1. Everyone, well, except maybe the really bad people, goes to heaven when they die.
  2. Heaven is probably disembodied
  3. The main attraction of heaven is meeting up with everyone we know and love
  4. In the meantime, those who have died are “looking down on us”.
  5. This is “Christianity”
  6. Celebrations in Christianity are having a christening for babies, a church wedding (optional), and a Christian funeral, as well as turning up to stuff at Christmas and occasionally Easter. After all, that's what you learn about in RE. There might be more beliefs about Jesus and stuff, but they don't really matter and all boil down to this.
  7. Anything more is optional, and is nice for those who need it as a support or to help kids learn about stuff.

Every single one of those beliefs is, of course, wrong.

It's also peculiarly resilient as a system of belief. In large parts of England, people question it and reject it. Those are the parts I've been better trained to reach. But here, by and large, it remains unquestioned by most people. But it's resilient because people won't change their ideas unless they're explicitly contradicted and argued and shown the truth. Merely preaching about the importance of stopping to think doesn't help when they just stop to think the same wrong things over again.

But contradicting some of those facts makes only a tiny amount of difference - I mean, what good would it do them if they change their minds to think of heaven as resurrected rather than disembodied, but still hold onto their universalism and the highlight of heaven being other people?

Other facts are ones that the church often acts embarrassed about – the fact that the Bible clearly teaches that some people (and not just the really bad ones) are going to hell, for example. And that's almost certainly inappropriate for talking about at a baptism or funeral which are the only occasions these people come to church.

Which means it's back to preaching the importance of responding to God...

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