Some years ago I visited a Roman Catholic parish in one of the poorest areas of Mexico City. Mass was being held outdoors, and I arrived as people were setting up plastic chairs and wooden benches in a circle around the brightly dressed altar. The Virgin of Guadalupe smiled her approval from a mural on the side of the church as a few stray dogs settled down to nap in the warm dust.
Have you got good religion? Enslaved Africans in the antebellum South asked this question when they created a spiritual that offers a poignant and penetrating perspective on the state of Western Christianity. The famous line from “Have You Got Good Religion?” is a critique of Americanized Christianity.
For most of canonical history, Mark's Gospel has been considered an ugly
duckling and its author a clumsy yokel. It can hardly be a coincidence
that this Gospel was recognized as a swan and its author newly
discovered as a literary genius after the development of sophisticated
cinematic technique prepared us to read it better.
The story of the widow’s mite offers a profound contrast between two types of temple worshipers. But we often misinterpret the reason for Christ’s comparison. He is not preaching a lesson in personal piety and sacrificial giving—although pastors like to use this story during stewardship campaigns. It is critical that we hear instead an indictment of the preference we show to the rich and successful.
My favorite Kierkegaardian parable is called “The Man Who Walked Backwards.” The Danish philosopher was particularly hard on religious professionals, and claimed that inconsistent behaviors most often accompany exorbitant professions of good intentions: