Difficult Religious People and the Questions They Raise for Us

Today’s question comes from Yvette. She has recently reconnected with an old friend who had a difficult childhood. Her friend was not spiritual/religious when she was a child: in fact, she wasn’t spiritual/religious at all until a tragedy happened to her.

Since she has turned to God, her friend sometimes expresses beliefs that are troublesome and acts out in hurtful ways (i.e. condemning toward others at times and self-loathing at other times).

This raises a couple questions for Yvette: (1) isn’t [finding religion in the midst of a crisis] kind of hypocritical? (2) is there such a thing as TOO religious? (3) do you think God appreciates this? I mean, the way she is feeling? Or the way she has turned to him?

Let me take those questions on briefly, and then invite you into the conversation.

Question number one: isn’t [finding religion in the midst of a crisis] kind of hypocritical”. My most direct answer is no. There are lots of things that bring people to a place where they suddenly feel the need for God. Some people who were never interested in church, for instance, suddenly want to find God when they have a child and feel the need to have beliefs to pass on to their child. Others who were never interested in church suddenly feel the need for God when something incredibly good happens – and they feel the need to express gratitude to One far greater than themselves. Others – such as your friend – find religion in the midst of turmoil.

There is no “right way” to realize one’s need for God and/or a sense of spirituality. How we get there isn’t an issue for me: the only thing that matters is that we get there.

Question number two: is there such a thing as TOO religious?

My answer to that question will certainly be different than some. That’s because some people separate spirituality from religion. They see spirituality as that genuine yearning to be close to the Divine while religion is simply a set of practices that is all about following rules and routines.

I don’t make that separation. I believe that religion – when practiced best – is simply one’s attempt to express one’s spirituality in a communal setting: a communal setting that involves not only those currently around you/beside you, but those who have gone before you as well.

For those who see religion simply as an attempt to follow (or enforce) rules and routines, then I would say, “Yes, you can absolutely be too religious”. What I mean by that is that you can be too rigid in one’s approach to life and too self-righteous: feeling as if you are better than others because you follow the rules and routines better than others.

For those who see spirituality and religion as things that go hand in hand, then I’m less inclined to answer with a resounding yes. Let me give you an example of why I say that. During the season of Advent (the four Sundays leading up to Christmas), Christian religion teaches that the Christ child came to embody at least four defining qualities – qualities to which he calls his followers: (1) hope; (2) peace; (3) joy; and (4) love. With this in mind, I find it hard to believe one can have too much hope, too much peace, too much joy, and too much love.

Of course, I realize that there are some who grapple with mental health issues who express their spirituality in troubling ways. I’m away of a woman, for instance, who believes herself to be the bride of Christ who is carrying Jesus baby. In this case, I would say her belief is more an expression of her mental illness (influenced by her limited religious background) than it is of healthy spirituality.

Question number three: Does God appreciate [the extreme ways] the woman is feeling and acting in response to her faith in – beliefs about – God.
One thing about God that I’ve learned in my practice of ministry (as opposed to those things I learned from books in seminary) is that God is far more generous with us than we are with ourselves and others. God has an ability to grasp what’s truly in our hearts and receive that (rather than the well-intentioned but perhaps misguided words and deeds we sometimes inflict on the world and on those around us).

So while an individuals actions might absolutely frustrate me to my core, I try to keep my frustration in check and realize that God’s perception of the person is far bigger and more complete than mine. This helps me realize that God can appreciate (or at least put up with) things that I cannot. That helps me cut the difficult person more slack.

How about you? What do Yvette’s questions raise for you?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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