On Bogus Religion and Elitism

I came across this passage in my reading this morning and it struck me. Like so many things, this connects to some of the things I’ve been working on and thinking about these past few months. Back in January, I went to a great workshop with Soulforce on “Christian Supremacy,” and that has got me thinking a lot about where supremacy, elitism, and what Rohr calls here “sacrificial or bogus religion” play into our attitudes about ourselves and others.

“There is an early state “holiness” that looks like the real thing, but it isn’t. This is sacrificial religion, on which the scribes and Pharisees in every group pride themselves…All zealots and ‘true believers’ tend to be immensely sacrificial on one highly visible level, and fool almost everybody. ‘I sacrifice myself by obeying these laws and attending these services or even serving the poor.’ And by being more heroic than you are, they might think. Often they do not love God or others in such heroic ‘obedience,’ they are merely seeking moral high ground for themselves and the social esteem that comes with it (See Luke 18:11–12). Or as Paul puts it, ‘I can give my body to be burned, but without love, it is worth nothing’ (1 Corinthians 13:3:). Most bogus religion, in my opinion, is highly sacrificial in one or another visible way, but not loving at all. Yet it fools most people. I will not dare to name names here, but you can fill in the blanks.” (Breathing Underwater – Richard Rohr – p.23–24)

As I read this, I did that really “bogus religion” thing where I first thought about who else this applies to, but as it steeps down into my bones, I can’t get away from the query: “How can I make sure I am not falling into this trap?”

In the book Breathing Underwater, where Rohr compares AA and Christian Spirituality, he points to AA as having a process to do this kind of elitism. AA does not reward this kind of “worthiness” behavior and puts everyone on equal ground, “I am an alcoholic.” With this confession of unworthiness, “Suddenly religion loses all capacity for elitism and is democratic to the bone.”

Or as Paul once said, “It is when I am weak that I am strong.”

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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.