“Relationship” with God

Dreher has a post up in which some guy claims that three factors tend to keep the kiddies tied to their faith.

Dreher:

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/why-the-orthodox-and-everybody-else-leave-church/

The original article:

http://orthodoxyandheterodoxy.org/2014/04/08/losing-our-religion-on-retaining-young-people-in-the-orthodox-church/

The upshot here is a sort of inside baseball argument…is it intermarriage or some other factor that is causing the decline of the Greek Orthodox Church in the USA? Frankly, I really don’t care, and, as one of Dreher’s commenters puts it:

“Is it just way too simplistic to say that there is only one reason why someone would leave their church?

“- They think doing something else would be a better use of their time.”

Yeah, but leave that aside, for now.

And there is a lot of blather among Dreher’s commenters about “genetics” and what not as well, that wouldn’t pass muster in a ninth grade Biology class, but leave that aside too.

Also leave aside the first two of the three factors the GO guy mentions, namely:

“…a person is most likely to retain Christian faith throughout adult life if he or she had three meaningful and healthy relationships in their early to mid teenage years: one with faithful Christian parents, one with a faithful Christian mentor outside of the family, and one with God Himself.”

I mean, the first two seem fairly axiomatic. Kids, at least in the first instance, do tend to mimic what their parents do, rather than what they say. So, if their parents are “religious” in an entirely conventional but thorough going way (ie not only “go to Church” when they “have to,” but at other times too, also pray and otherwise do religious stuff at home, belong to Church organizations beyond the mere basic congregation, etc), that will have an effect that can be measured statistically. The second factor, while perhaps rarer, is almost tautological. If a kid has a devout, non relative, Christian as a mentor, and really thinks of him as such, his or her self, well then, duh, that probably will have an effect too, on average.

Of course, as another of Dreher’s posters mentioned:

“Even if this is all true, how do you fix it?

“Aren’t the ones lamenting this problem the faithful Christian parents….

“If you are a faithful Christian parent worried about your kids ending up leaving the Church, you have already have supplied relationship #1. As for relationship #2, the mentor, you can try to hook your kids up with somebody who feels the same way you do, but there is no guarantee your kid will bond to that person in a meaningful way. And when it comes to #3, how do you make that happen? You can provide opportunities for religious experience for your child, but you can’t force a relationship between your child and God.”

And I agree. Of course religious parents already do thing number one, ie they are really religious, and not just going through the motions. As for number two, well, how can you possibly ensure that your kid finds a non family member Christian mentor to bond with and that, even if he does, they will actually bond? It seems to me that candidates for that role are probably rather thin on the ground. And the more they are responsible, parent-like Christians, the less likely, one might think, that a kid would see them as anything different than their parents, than the priests, the Sunday school teachers, etc. In other words, just another adult guy (or gal) who wants them to stay in the faith.

Number three, though, is what really got my attention, and why I’m posting. Not only is it impossible to “force a relationship between your child and God,” it is impossible for most of us to have such a “relationship.”

To me, the use of that term is almost comical, particularly coming from so called traditionalists. “Relationship” is sorta Sexual Revolution, but also sorta New Agey. Folks who are not married but who sleep together have a “relationship.” That’s what the word usually means. Friends don’t really talk about having a friend-to-friend “relationship.” Of course, when modified, when made more specific, the term can mean other things…eg the parent-child relationship, a sibling relationship, the doctor-patient relationship, the teacher-student relationship, etc. But to speak of a free floating “relationship” with God is, well, to me anyway, kinda weird.

It seems like a really “Born Again” Protestant notion too. A “personal relationship” with a “personal savior” and so on. At least back in the day, Catholics did not talk about “relationships” with Jesus; one did not speak of one’s “Walk with Christ.” You shut up and followed the rules, because God said so, according to your parents, the nuns, the priest, the bishop and so on up the ladder to the Pope. Your end of this non “relationship” was just that: to do as you were bidden. And God’s end of it was to tell you what to do (which the nuns, priests, etc took care of by mediating for Him, like a foreman on a job site). You had no “relationship” with Jesus and you were not “walking with” Him either. It would be almost blasphemingly presumptuous to claim otherwise.

But, beyond the Catholic and Protestant divide, the problem with the “relationship” thing is, as the poster hints at (but doesn’t come out and say), that there is really no such thing. A “relationship” takes two interacting beings, of some kind. I can have a relationship, I suppose, with a co worker, with a guy I see on the bus everyday, even with a dog or a cat, but I can’t have a “relationship” with a chair.

Much the same with God. The kids can’t be made to have a relationship with God because not only is it impossible to force such a thing, but the thing itself is impossible in the first place….

Look, I was young once. I tried to be “born again.” I tried to pray. I read the gospel. I went to church. And youth group. And youth singing group, and so on. And? And nothing. You pray, but there is no answer.

You read, and some of it is very good. Idealistic, perhaps, but inspiring. But other parts of it are absurd, some flat out wrong, and a lot of it incomprehensible. Its a book, nothing more, nothing less. It has some good ideas, and some bad ones. Of course, in the KJV, more than anywhere else (in English, anyway) it is kick ass as language and literature as well. Anything from the Bible that sounds cool or good in English is from the KJV. But, so what? Proust was cool too, that doesn’t make him God. And it doesn’t make Swann’s Way into the “Word of God.” You can study Proust’s full novel for the rest of your life, just as you can study the Bible, and you will then be learned (at least in that one field), and richer for the experience, but you won’t have any “relationship” with anyone thereby. You could stretch the meaning of the word and say you have a “relationship” with the author, but the author of the Bible is not God, at least not directly. So, OK, I can have a sorta “relationship” with Proust and with the various folks (scribes, priests, apostles, church fathers, etc) who wrote and edited the Bible, but that still is not the same as a relationship with God.

Singing group? Youth group? Church services? Beautiful. Its fun to sing with friends. Its fun to HAVE friends. Particularly given how harsh high school can be. Buuuuut, the “relationship” is with the friends, not with God. Same with Church services. At most, you have a relationship with your fellow congregants, not with God.

God just doesn’t do anything or say anything. You ask him questions, and he doesn’t answer. You pray for help, but it doesn’t come. Sure, sometimes things work out, but sometimes they don’t, and whether you pray or not has nothing to do with it. You simply can’t have a relationship with a rock. And, no, it doesn’t matter that they claim that this book is the “Word” of the rock, or that this institution is the “Church” of the rock, and so on. All you get is silence and nothingness. I can’t even say you get indifference, because indifference implies that there is someone there who COULD care, who COULD interact, but just chooses not to.

And that is why, I think, many people leave the Church (any church, not just the GOA, and not just the Christian church). As one of Dreher’s posters puts it:

“…18 years of going to…church failed to demonstrate to…their kids that there was anything to be had in church other than boredom and a sense of crushing obligation.”

And that is because, I think, of what would-be, wanna-be, believers call the “Silence of God.” God has nothing to say to most of us. Most of us do not receive even putative visions, answers, statements, etc. Not even in our dreams. To me, even “silence” is a questionable word. Because it too implies, to some degree, that speech could be forthcoming, but just isn’t, as a matter of choice. But a rock is not “silent,” rather, it can’t speak. Sure, lots of folks are put off by the supernatural claims, most of which have now been discredited by science and are in a state of semi abandonment (at least among the smarter believers). Others are more about the cultural relativism (ie why your Abrahamic “God” and not somebody else’s Zeus or Odin or Vishnu or whatever?). But what it really comes down to is that there ARE being better things to do with one’s time, and that is so because there is often nothing going on in church but boredom and guilt and obligation. And if there is anything else going on, “God” per se, has nothing to do with it. We like to have and be with friends. We like to celebrate stages in life. We like to make a big deal over the birth of our kids, and their growing up. We like to make a big deal out of getting married. We like to sing. We like pretty chapels and soaring cathedrals. We like Bach. We like poetry and chanting. Etc. And we like having relationships with other people.

But a “relationship” with God is pretty much a non starter. A one sided game of charades. You talk (internally and out loud) and God stays mum. You act, and God does zilch. You pray, but it makes no difference. And the lack of it does drive kids, and adults, away. Religion is simply “wrong.” Not wrong in the sense of evil, not necessarily (although it can be, in practice….it can be good in practice too, though, to be fair), but simply misguided. The study of God, theology, is the study of nothing. “Relationships” with God are nullities, because there is no there there to “relate” with. People, no matter how often they are told that the emperor has fine new clothes, eventually can’t deny his nakedness, and then they opt out, if they are able to. And, more and more in our Western society, they ARE able to. Folks no longer HAVE to have a religion. It is now OK, in many parts of the world, to not only be an atheist but to admit it too.

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