Many sincere people today are saying that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is responsible for the bigotry, hatred, and alienation in human society. They want more than what they find in any of the world’s religions. They want to make positive change in society and it appears to them that the major changes needed are blocked by the tenets of one religion or another. Therefore, if we are to improve the human condition we need rid ourselves of the religions that impede us.
This concern about the issues of the day creates intense anxiety and worry. If we look at our privileged position in life in contrast to those who barely eke out an existence, we grow anxious. We grow anxious over political inequities and expediencies. We want to heal but learn it is too late. We want to educate and are met with ignorance and hostility. We want to see change for the better and have to deal with wickedness, hatred, the ambitions of opponents, and bad institutions. We give our concerns devotion, passion, and strength. We must do so or we would never achieve anything.
A woman named Martha was caught up in the anxieties of her day. It is recorded in Luke 10:38-42. Like most of us she was caught up in the daily tensions of life and grew testy when it appeared her sister Mary did not have the same concerns. Jesus responded by saying, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Why was Martha so anxious and why are we anxious? It is because the things we are anxious about are not ultimate; they are finite; we can lose them in a breath; they all disappear the moment we die; they can be taken away.
Our religious concepts should be ultimate concerns, but too often, and perhaps most often, they, too, are finite concerns and not ultimate. Why do some people get so heated and anxious over defending a particular belief? Because it is a finite concern that could be taken away by further argument or study. Paul Tillich, a theologian of the last century [to whom I am indebted for much of my theology], often would refer to the “God above God.” By this he meant that the reality of God is more than our definitions of God.
Read what Jesus said about Mary. She “has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” What is that “good portion?” Her portion was an ultimate concern. It is a concern that goes beyond the needs of daily life.
Would the world be better off without religion? No, because I believe the content of ultimate concern is religious. We cannot escape religion if we have ultimate concern. This describes the many folk who claim to be spiritual but not religious. Or religious people who are not connected to an identified religious group.
I will go a step further and claim that if the message of Jesus is the content of our ultimate concern it will give us a framework from which we can put our finite concerns in proper perspective and help us to overcome our anxiety.