Religion’s Degree Of Difficulty

Earlier this month, Tom Ehrich, an Episcopal priest, wrote about a realization he’d had – “religion shouldn’t be this hard”:

Church should be a safe place — safe to be oneself, safe to make one’s confession, safe to love whoever one feels called to love, safe to imagine more, safe to fail. Instead, church often is a dangerous place, where people feel guarded, self-protective, hemmed in by tradition and expectation, required to obey rules. Church should be different from society. Instead, it plays by the same rules: get mine, be first, be right, punish the weak, exclude the different, reward the wealthy.

Dreher suspects that behind such rhetoric is “a standard liberal Protestant agenda.” He goes on to defend the idea that the religious life should be hard:

[A]ny authentic religion will, at times, be hard. Dying to oneself is hard, but in a Christian sense, if you’re not dying, you’re not living. The saying goes, “The Church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners.” True! But a hospital treats the sick, and helps restore them to health. It doesn’t confirm the sick in their sickness. If a man comes to church with racism in his heart, he is not helped by a church that refuses to help him confront it. If a businesswoman comes to church, feeling guilty for having cheated her clients by cutting corners, the church doesn’t make her healthy by confirming her in her okayness. Church does you no good if it confirms you in your liberal 21st century American prejudices, or your conservative 21st century American prejudices. Even though Pope Francis sometimes drives me crazy, I am grateful for how some of his pronouncements challenge even non-Catholic Christians like me to rethink my approach to life. Lust, greed, anger, lying — we are all guilty, more [or] less, of these and other sins. Every person who comes through the doors of the church — men, women, old, young, rich, poor, gay, straight, every single person — is a sinner who needs to change, to become more like God. If we are comfortable in our faith, we are doing something wrong. If it’s not hard, we’re missing the point.