Madison Church

Challenging Religious Comfort | Suspicious Faith (Part 1) | Stephen Feith

October 30, 2023 Stephen Feith
Madison Church
Challenging Religious Comfort | Suspicious Faith (Part 1) | Stephen Feith
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Imagine walking a path of faith, hand in hand with Jesus, that is not dictated by dogmas but a journey of self-discovery and critical examination. Can we genuinely experience spiritual fulfillment without questioning the very foundations of our beliefs? It’s a journey that invites us to dig deep into the philosophies of Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche. We take a closer look at Marx's perspective on religion being the opium of the masses and Nietzsche’s critique of Christian morality. Can we discern between societal conditioning and divine truth? Can we unravel the threads of religion and tradition to reveal the purest essence of faith?

As we navigate through this intellectual expedition, we also turn the spotlight on Freud's viewpoint that considers religion as a human creation serving as a source of comfort. How does this perspective resonate with the New Testament's description of God's love? This love, we find, is not just something God does, it's a part of his very being. This episode isn’t about cozy reassurances; it's about challenging ourselves, stirring the pot of comfort, questioning what we've known, and unlearning what needs to be unlearned. It may feel unsettling, but remember, even Jesus challenged the status quo. So, let's embrace this discomfort and take a leap of faith into a more meaningful spiritual growth and a closer walk with Jesus. Join us, and let’s experience this journey together.

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Speaker 1:

Good morning and welcome to Madison Church, to our online audience. I'm Stephen Feith, lead pastor, and we're thrilled to have you with us today and, as I do every week, I want to extend an invitation to you to join us in person sometime soon. Now, for those of you who are new, new word of Madison Church. You picked a weird weekend to be here. I'm just going to lead with that. As I was seeing some new faces walk in, I thought you've probably not heard a talk like the one I'm going to give today, which could be good or bad. Well, I'll let you decide that, but it could be good or bad. We are embarking on a unique learning journey the next few weeks and we're going to study and talk about the thoughts and beliefs of three renowned atheists. We're going to talk about Sigmund Freud, karl Marx, we can talk about Friedrich Nietzsche in a series that I've called Suspicious Faith. Now, your first reaction is probably why we're at church talking about Jesus singing songs, about God asking the spirit to move? Why in the world would we talk about atheists here? Well, they have suspicions about our faith. Some of you know that. Some of you love and you have friends who are atheists. They might be brothers, sisters, children, parents. You know that they have suspicions about our faith. But the reason we're having the conversation here at Madison Church is because sometimes their suspicions are spot on. Sometimes their suspicions are more true and correct than they are false and incorrect, and we should talk about that. Why is there a discrepancy in that, for example? I want to talk about Freud a little bit more today. But Freud suggested that faith fulfills an unconscious psychological need. So he said you know, if faith comes out of this, your child and you need something to cling on to, because there's so much hopelessness in the world, and so you kind of we've created God, we've created religion, and so the question for us then is does my faith, does your faith? And only you can answer this. That's why the mirror's here today. I want you all to. I'm not going to try to blind you but Does your faith provide genuine spiritual fulfillment, a connection with God, a real connection with God? Or is it just psychological reassurance, just something to help you sleep at night and get through this life until you pass on? Marx's perspective forces us to examine the role of religion in society. He famously called religion the opium of the people, highlighting its potential to use for use of control of people and the masses. Historically speaking, we've been guilty of that Within Christianity. People have used our faith to justify oppression when all along it should be used to promote justice and equality. Nietzsche critiqued Christianity, christian morality, particularly our emphasis on humility and self-denial. His ideas prompt us to question whether our faith fosters moral growth or stifles individuality. So these observations about how our faith is and how it's lived out, it's not new to them. For a second, let's take a detour. This isn't just three classical atheists, really smart people, who throw out these ideas. Jesus is the first one to call people out on these exact same things. Jesus, we have four biographies of Jesus and all of them are full of Jesus' challenging people of faith and religious leaders. There's a scene in Matthew 15. Jesus is approached by a group of Pharisees and they criticize Jesus and his disciples for not adhering to the traditional Jewish hand-washing ritual before eating. This is in the book, it's in the Old Testament. This is the law. You have to follow it, and if you don't follow it, this is sin and it's a grave offense. Well, how does Jesus respond? I mean, jesus is the sinless Son of God and so, if it was wrong, he shouldn't have done it right. Jesus says you hypocrites. Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God. He says you say the right things, you do the right things, but your hearts are far from God and it's all fake. What kind of sounds like a lot of what I've read about Sigmund Freud this week and Karl Marx. That's what they say. They say look at all this man-made stuff. And Jesus is saying the same thing. He's saying look at this outward religious observance that you guys are so careful about getting right, but inside you're rotting. Inside you're far from God. Inside the discrepancy is huge. If you will focus half as much as what's going on inside, god would be way happier with you. This story exemplifies how self-serving interpretations of faith have been prevalent throughout history. So there's a little good news, bad news, good news it's not just us, it's not just Westerners, not just the 21st century. We're not the only ones who do this, who conjure up ideas about God and then make rules and regulations and walk and follow in them. This has been happening for thousands of years. It was happening at the time of Jesus and it was happening back when Isaiah was on the earth, because he's writing about it for his time and their time. I love the line in the song. I think we're going to sing it next week. It's called Make Room and the bridge says Shake up the ground of all my tradition, break down the walls of all my religion. Your way is better. So the heart of this series Suspicious Faith is just that. Let's rip up critically, examine the traditions, let's evaluate our religions, because I want to find out what's me so that I can know what's God, because his way is better. That's what we're trying to do throughout this series and, additionally, like I said, I know you have friends and family. They're not here today. They won't be here anytime soon, right? They're not just non-Christians, they're atheists, they're agnostics and they're smart and they know why they believe what they believe and we want them to listen to us and, trust me, they've listened to a lot of what we've had to say and now maybe it's time to listen to what they have to say, because, again, it's not all wrong and perhaps this makes you nervous. Perhaps you're watching online. This makes you nervous. Don't log off just yet. If you're in the room, don't walk out just yet. Okay, we're seeking the truth at Madison Church. Wherever that leads us, let's just go there, because Jesus declares he is the truth in John 14-6. So I have this firm conviction in my life If we're seeking the truth, we're going to find Jesus. If we find Jesus, we are going to find the truth, and so we just want to pursue truth throughout the next few weeks. And if you find something in your life throughout this series that isn't truthful, it's not of Jesus and you're better off for it, and so I think this is going to be a real win-win for all of us here today. Now, as we go over the next few weeks and maybe you're talking about these things there is an important thing I need to clarify. I'm talking about suspicion, not skepticism. Suspicion, not skepticism, and I'm going to just briefly distinguish the two for you. Skepticism involves critically examining facts and seeking truth through questioning and evidence evaluation. So skepticism encourages us to analyze the claims, the theories and the beliefs within religion. We're looking for proof, we're looking for evidence. We're all for that. At Madison Church, we do lots of series on just that. Can we trust the Bible and where it came from, and can we trust the resurrection of Jesus and how? So we talk about skepticism a lot, but this series is about suspicion, which seeks to uncover potential duplicity and hidden motives within individuals, not just me, and not just the church down the street, and not just the church from a few hundred years ago, but you and me, us we want to be suspicious of our own faith. What's going on in our own lives? So let's get personal, as I give an example of the difference between suspicion and skepticism. We believe in miraculous healings at Madison Church. If you checked out our website, you know that's true. We weren't hiding it from you, we put right on there. We believe in divine healing. Dan gets up here every week and says we're going to have an elder go to the back, and here's why we read the passage in James skepticism If you were being skeptical of this, you would examine the claim. You want to see the evidence of people being healed. You want to consider alternative explanations. Was that person really healed by prayer or was there something else going on? That's skepticism. Suspicion, in contrast, examines the motives and intentions of Madison Church. Suspicion of our faith and why God answers prayer. You're like what do they want out of this? What is their selfish motive? Is it personal gain? Is it power? Do they just want recognition? So suspicion is different than skepticism, and we're focusing on suspicion motives behind the scenes, beyond the evidence, the next few weeks. Skepticism scrutinizes external evidence objectively, while suspicion uncovers hidden motives, both in others and within ourselves. So think of this series as being handed a mirror into your soul and your unconscious and the thoughts and traditions and religions that you've held on to. And, as I mentioned earlier, we're going to begin with Sigmund Freud. Freud's insights will challenge us to explore the layers of our faith and understanding how psychology might be screwing up some of the things that we believe. Freud, if you didn't know, was born in 1856 and he's kind of like the father of modern psychology. He's an Austrian neurologist, the founder of psychoanalysis and a lot of big words there, but essentially counseling as we know it today and therapy as we know it today. I don't think I'm incorrect for saying this, but he accelerated that movement and really got it going. Now, not a lot of people practice what he practiced. As a matter of fact, if I'm understanding it correctly. You actually got to go and get a special degree in order to do the kind of therapy that he did, because there's not a lot of evidence that it works real well. But Freud for 130 years ago. When you think about how taboo counseling and therapy can still be today, in 2023, with all that we know, for Freud to be doing this 150 years ago, 120 years ago, it's fascinating. So he was a pioneer. He explored the unconscious, the role of sexuality and human development, the dynamics of human psyche, and Freud believed that at the heart of religious beliefs no matter what your religious beliefs are, but for our case, christianity, the heart of our Christian belief laid a single and central concept. It was consolation. We needed comfort. Life is hard, and so we create God, we create religion so we can find a source of peace, a refuge for all of us human beings when we face life's challenges and, worse yet, the existential crisis, the uncertainties. What happens after I die? Well, freud says enter in God. Here it was rooted in what he believed is our pursuit of happiness. You see, for Freud, the ultimate purpose of life was pleasure. That was everything that you do, he believed it was ultimately driven by pleasure. Every decision we make is about seeking out pleasure and avoiding pain. It was very black and white to him. What do humans want? We want to be happy. What don't we want? We don't want to hurt. And in this pursuit of joy and happiness, religious beliefs emerge as a powerful mechanism to provide that peace, comfort and reassurance that we so desperately want when we're facing things in life that are just so heavy. He says, in our moments of vulnerability, we, as humans, we find peace in the idea that there's a benevolent, loving heavenly Father who would protect us and love us no matter what we go through. And Freud contended that religious beliefs and their quest to console us and offer us reassurance served as a psychological construct born out of the human need. So he's saying you know why you believe in God? Because psychologically, over millions of years of evolution, your psyche has developed this for comfort, as a way to deal with life. In other words, what would I say Freud is saying about us? We make God in our image. That's his critique of our faith. We make God in our image. If I want peace, well then God is the God of peace, and if I need happiness, god is the God of joy. And if I'm powerless over a situation. God is the God of strength. The thing is, is all those things could be true and I believe are true but we have to recognize those areas in which God has an attribute that we're not really given them credit for or that we don't value because in ourselves we don't value it. And in doing so we miss God, because God isn't like us. We miss aspects of God that are so big, so multi-dimensional, because it's so unlike us. And so Freud brings up something interesting, and it's to get beyond yourself. And if you have your values, that's great. Continue to have those values, but maybe explore the areas of God that you're not immediately focused on, that you're not immediately drawn, to push beyond some of those things. Now let's talk about who is God, since I mentioned we're created in his image. He's not created in ours. Going back to Isaiah again, isaiah, speaking on behalf of God, says my thoughts are nothing like your thoughts and my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God, is just. God is pointing out the things you think and the things I think aren't just different. There's a huge chasm between it. Like, imagine trying to walk to heaven right now, wherever that is. That's what God is saying. That's how different they are. What my way and your way. They're so different. So, as we're remembering that, the next I'm going to talk about a couple of God's attributes. Remember that it's not just that we're finding peace and comfort in God. We're trying to seek out who God is on his terms. And in the New Testament, specifically 1 John, when I think of God's attributes and who God is, I think God is love, because so often in the New Testament that is the theme. And why do we have Jesus? So God loved the world that he sends us Jesus. And in 1 John that's what we read God is love. Now, the notion that God carries love. It has significant theological weight. It conveys that love isn't just something God does. It's not just something God does. God does love you. But in the New Testament we read that God is love. It's an inseparable part of his being and as such, it extends beyond our comprehension and it transcends our limits to love. You may not know this. You are limited in how much you can love and the depth of your love. There's a limit there. Think about in eighth grade, ninth grade I shared a story last week about that with me. Right, you think you love someone and you think it's so deep and if you had faith, you're praying Jesus, I just want her to be my wife, I just want him to be my wife, and you're praying and you break up. I will never love again, says 14 year old me. I loved again and again and again and again, until eventually I found Megan. And that's where it stops. But we have a limit. There's something that people can do to make us stop loving them. There is something that we can do Now. Freud would say we want God to love us because we feel unloved. You can hear him saying that. Right, like we want peace, we want comfort. So God is the God of love because we feel unloved and it makes us feel good that our Father, god, is love. However, that's not as simple as that because, remember, with Freud, everything is about pleasure and happiness. So I'm finding pleasure and happiness and being unloved and thinking about God loving me, except that God's love doesn't necessarily bring you pleasure. For example, god's love knows no boundaries or discrimination. He loves those who not only believe in him, but God loves those who don't believe in him. God loves those who choose to love and God loves those who choose to hate. God loves those who do unspeakable crimes, terrible things, not just to someone else somewhere else. Think about the person in your life, a person in your life, people in your life who have hurt you, who have cut you deep. God loves them just as much as he loves you. Does that bring you pleasure? If so, you're a better person than me. Doesn't bring me any pleasure. It's just the fact I have to accept it challenges our tendency to show selective love. God's love is unconditional. There's nothing that we can do or anyone can do to make him love someone or you less. It is just unconditional. He forgives our sins, he forgives our weaknesses, he shows us mercy, and that's challenging to us because he says as I have loved you, so you love the world, so you love your enemies. And so, going back to this idea of God loving those people in our lives, that we just cannot stand. He says as I have loved you, now the command is for you to show them the love that I've shown you. Does that bring anyone pleasure. See, we're getting deeper here. Now, right, god's love is all about radical. It's radical and it's transformative. Then it calls us to love and care for others, as he does, and that's going to push you beyond your comfort zone. So as we begin to think about Freud and his critiques well, I'm on love, I want a God of love we begin to see that the God of love, if we understand it in its fullness, not just the parts I like, not just that he loves me and he loves the people that I love. But as we begin to understand the fullness of God's love, we realize this is quite hard, this is quite difficult, it doesn't bring me pleasure right now. But it's not just God's love. That's one attribute. But God is also holy. God is set apart. We read in 1 Peter you must be holy in everything you do, just as God, who chose you as holy, for the scriptures say you must be holy because I am holy. And Freud would say we want God to be holy because we're unholy. We want God to be perfect because we're imperfect. And so I know I'm going to mess up and that's quite troubling for me. I don't like messing up. I imagine most of you don't like messing up your spouse. As hard as it is to believe they don't like messing up? Okay, and Freud says we create a God. Then who is holy, because that gives us peace. I'm imperfect. I wish I were perfect, so God is perfect. But God's holiness should evoke a ton of discomfort in all of us. Okay, god's holiness serves as the ultimate moral standard, challenging us to lead lives of righteousness and purity, even when it conflicts with the culture around us and our tendency to compromise our moral values and ethics. This is about beliefs. God's holiness should challenge your beliefs. You haven't figured out all the theology in the world. You're not the one person who's gotten it right. All the other theologians are a bunch of schmucks and they don't understand it like you do. Because you know all of you have different thoughts on this and if God never disagrees with your beliefs or it only happens, like once a year, we're probably very limited in our understanding of God's holiness. His holiness exposes the sin in our lives and it compels us to confront our imperfections, and we need repentance, we need redemption. This is about our actions. If God never, ever, disagrees with a decision that you have made, you may have created God in your image. The holiness of God calls for deep reverence and worship. God's holiness, by definition, means I can't worship me. It cannot be about me, it's got to be about him. In other words, it's about God's pleasure, not my own. So for Freud, who would say well, we've created a holy God because of our desire for pleasure, that's quite the opposite. There, embracing God's holiness is not all bad. It helps us lead lives that lead to personal transformation. Now, that can be uncomfortable. Growth, as I've experienced, is often uncomfortable. But acknowledging God's holiness encourages us to lead lives marked by integrity. That's what we do. So God is love, god is holy. God is also just. God is also just. In the New Testament, the idea that God is just is explicitly conveyed and affirmed over and over again. Reading from the amplified version of Romans 2.11, god shows no partiality, no arbitrary favoritism. With him, one person is not more important than the other. So what would Freud say? Because I feel unimportant, because I've experienced injustice, I want God to be just so that I can be important and I can feel justice, or experience justice in my own life. But now let's talk about the different ways that this God being just is uncomfortable. God's justice impartially judges our actions and hearts. That means, when we screw up because we're not holy, we are equally held accountable and judged for that in the same way that everyone else is, and it's not always negative. It could be positive you do good things, you get the little pat on the back, but it's both. Divine justice extends to all people without discrimination, challenging our tendency to judge others based on personal biases and prejudices. I don't know if you know this. We have an election season coming up. I've been dreading it for about three years. We have one coming up. We have one coming up, and what's going to happen next year? You're going to be pulled in directions. If they do their job well and they will do their job very well you're going to be pulled in one direction or the other, and you're going to become convinced because it happened a few years ago, and it happened a few years before that, and it happened a few years before that that anybody who is not a part of your party or your platform unfathomable, and I know within the room we've got people on both sides, so you're thinking of someone else who's sitting in the room right now. That is actually happening, and God's justice, though, extends to both. We're all held accountable for our beliefs, for what we do with our money, how we speak to one another, even in an election year. Look, I've read the Bible cover to cover. There's no election year exemption for being mean to each other. So you're called to the same kind of love and kindness next year as you are this year. Justice, God's justice, seeks to restore and renew individuals rather than merely punish them, and so there does come discomfort from recognizing that God's justice arises between what we want and what God wants. And then people that we think deserve this maybe God judges differently than us or people that we don't think deserve that. Maybe they did. And how does that all work Cosmically? That was a previous series. We did Check that out from last week. But acknowledging God's justice challenges our understanding of fair justice. It doesn't necessarily bring us pleasure. Even if I grew up with a bunch of injustice around me and I really want a God of justice, that means that I could be on the other end of being judged. And so the challenge today is to nurture a healthy sense of suspicion toward our own beliefs. That's what I want you to think about. I want you to get suspicious about your own belief. If your ideas of God's love, justice and holiness have not been challenged recently, you are not growing and I hate to break it to you, but you are not following Jesus very well. And that's not to be mean, it happens to all of us, but that's the point of the series. Become suspicious of your faith Is what I'm doing following Jesus, or is it not? And if it's not, let's correct it. Thoughtfully. Examine your beliefs, consider the factors that have influenced these beliefs, and it's time to ask critical questions with an open mind. Look in the mirror, not the person sitting next to you, not the person you came with, but your own mirror. So our exploration today and the next couple of weeks is going to be rooted in suspicion. I hope you'll come back. If you're watching or listening online, I hope you'll come visit. It's going to be rooted in suspicion, but it's going to be guided by a dedication a following Jesus wherever he would lead us, and trust in that when we pursue truth, we find Jesus, and anything we lose in this series makes us better off than we were before this series. Now you might experience discomfort. You might experience discomfort. I've never been one to shy away from that with you all here, so I'm glad you're here. For those of you who have shown up more than one week, that's great Thanks for being uncomfortable with me. But that's where growth happens. It happens in the fields and in the ground of discomfort. It's in these moments we're going to grow. And just remember, in the next couple of weeks, pursuing God, the real God, is not a destination, it's a journey. So when we get to the end of the series, it's not going to be like well, I figured it out, check, been there, done that. It's a journey, and it's a journey marked by growth and self-discovery and a deepening connection with the divine. It will lead to a more meaningful and fulfilling spiritual life. And so today, the next couple of weeks, embrace the discomfort. I promise after this series, we're going into a warm and fuzzy Advent series that you're all going to love, okay, so in the next two weeks, let's be uncomfortable together, let's question our assumptions and let's unlearn the things in our life that need to be unlearned. And in doing so, you will find the real God waiting to meet you with open arms on this remarkable and ever-evolving spiritual journey.

The Concept of Suspicious Faith
Religious Comfort and Challenging Beliefs
Embracing Discomfort