Religion a Soother?

(The Nationalist, 4 November 2005)


Do we sometimes think of religion as a soother, that it’s about making us feel good, or providing comfort and consolation? The Gospel can be powerfully challenging in ways that are distinctly uncomfortable. It’s about choice, decision, commitment; it’s against putting things on the long finger, or treating life as a series of experiments, forever waiting to see how things work out, never committing ourselves.

Far from soothing, Jesus invites people to be alive and alert, awake and aware. Sometimes his message is blunt: get your act together; don’t expect others to do for you what you can do for yourself. For instance, no one can understand something for us, in our name. We either understand it, or we don’t.

Jesus calls on us to take responsibility for ourselves. It’s common enough to hear people blame someone else for what’s wrong in their lives. They blame parents, schools, the boss, neighbours or “society”. A minor example is litter: people blame the council for not picking it up, but not themselves for dropping it. When there’s vandalism, people blame outsiders, though it’s often done by locals and we turn a blind eye to it. If parents are taken to task about their children’s misbehaviour, it’s not uncommon for them to respond with a blank denial, ‘My child would never do a thing like that’.

Rights and responsibilities are reciprocal, two sides of one coin. If we claim rights, we have to accept the responsibilities that go with them. With power comes responsibility. We can’t claim power or authority, and then disclaim responsibility if we neglect or misuse them.

We shouldn’t allow ourselves to get into a mentality of helplessness and dependence, where we refuse to acknowledge responsibility for ourselves, and then expect others to solve our problems for us, even when we have brought them on ourselves. That’s the attitude of a child refusing to grow up.

One of the Gospel parables is a tough one about responsibility. It’s tells the story of a group who acted irresponsibly and then expected others to provide a safety net for them. They knew what they should have done but postponed doing it until too late. There’s something of that in all of us, so no one can be too enthusiastic in pointing an accusing finger.

But the punch-line is that the context of that parable is about judgment at the end of life, and its message is: “Get ready”.


For those in a hurry: ‘Find the key to your heart; you will see that this key will also open the door to the Kingdom of God’. (Saint John Chrysostom)