"True God or God-Lite?"      Genesis 32:22-31   August 3, 2008

What do Britney Spears’ maternal instincts, the owner of HomerSimpson’s local convenience store and NBC’s sitcom My name is Earl all have in common?

“Karma, baby!”

It's a line borrowed from Alicia Keys’ song, “Karma”: “It’s called karma, baby … and it goes around. What goes around comes around. What goes up must come down.” Although the lyrics are lame, they do point to the way that Hindu concepts have become part of our pop culture landscape.

Hindu is hip and Karma has gone kitsch.

Earlier this year, Britney Spears had her baby son blessed in a Malibu Hindu temple — a blessing he will need if he travels a lot in his mom’s SUV. Apu is the loveable Hindu owner of the Kwik-E Mart who sells
Homer tofu hot dogs and other convenience store delights, all under the shadow of statues of the gods Vishnu and Ganesha, which are featured prominently in his store. In addition, the popular first season of My Name Is Earl had Earl righting a list of some 200 wrongs he had committed, all in a karmic attempt to offset his past follies with good deeds done in the present.

According to a USA Today article in 2006, these are all indications of our societal interest-without-adherence approach to Hindu. The title and tagline of the article read, “Hindu Lite: Pop culture plays fast and loose with an ancient faith.”
Now that is a caution that we Christians should consider. Perhaps we need to be careful not to fall victim to the same thing — a Jesus-esque sampling of Christianity … with no actual theology involved.

Christianity Lite that follows a diet

All of the taste with none of the cost. Jesus-Lite.

Something nice to sample from the cosmic buffet of spirituality — take what you like and leave what you don’t. God-Lite.

However, true Christianity won’t have that. It doesn’t know that kind of diet adherence.
Jesus is rather invasive, quite frankly. His Lordship covers the entire life of the believer. God’s desire is for holistic and balanced followers who allow him to speak into every area of their lives, not just those that are convenient and comfortable.

So if we are honest and if we are growing, this makes faith somewhat displacing. It feels as though following Jesus is so difficult as to be a bit unattainable at times. Instead of losing hope and accepting a form of choose-what-you-like Christ Lite, today’s passage gives us real theology to live by and insight into the complex character of God.

What started out innocuously enough with a reduced calorie beer for confirmed couch potato athletes (Miller Lite, with that cutesy spelling) has mushroomed into lite hot fudge sauce, lite potato chips, lite pizza, and my favorite, lite ice cream. (In some cases, a lite touch is just what we need.)

However, the "lite" label has been used on so many different types of products that it was recently hauled before the FDA in an attempt to make it actually mean something specific. But "lite" seems to have taken on a life of its own, reaching beyond calories, fat grams, or sugar levels. Indeed "lite life" might be an appropriate euphemism to describe the new philosophy of those who were once the power-hitters of the 80s and 90s. Not only does this huge consumer group demand less fat and fewer calories, they want low-stress jobs, undemanding relationships, and a manageable, compliant universe.

This quest for a lite-style lifestyle extends to matters of faith as well. Not wanting to be challenged too deeply, confronted with ambiguities too mysterious, or embroiled in a relationship that might be inconvenient, people are also looking for a "God-Lite."

In contrast to the recent past, when academics were writing massive treatises on the "secularizing" forces of modernity, it is now not uncommon for scholars of every field to argue that the need for religious faith is as basic as people's need for food, water and sex. People today are not becoming "less religious," they are just becoming less "organized" religious.

One of the more revealing of these arguments suggests that "films have supplanted institutionalized religion," providing humans with "a new, more humane, religious experience" than that which was provided them by the organized religions (Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopalian, United Methodist, UCC, Roman Catholic, etc.).
Psychohistorian CarlA.Mounteer, in "The Religious Experience of Modern American Film," takes a rather interesting look at this phenomenon,
"In this new religion, as in the old, the ceremonies take place past the end of a long aisle at the end of the building. The congregation sits in "pews" and watches the miraculous events unfold. Money is frequently given. The consumption of food, especially bread (or bread like substance, popcorn), is an integral part of the ceremony. Silence is strictly enforced and deep offense is taken at its violation."[i]

The subjects covered by these new "religious films" also have definite slants. Psychohistorian Mounteer has looked at the religious dimensions of recent American films, including "spiritual science fiction" and its chief prophet StevenSpielberg, and believes he has discovered a new "disguised and unrecognized" religious faith aborning.[ii]

If you have seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T. (1982), Cocoon (1985), Always (1989), Field of Dreams (1989), The Abyss (1989), then you have first-hand knowledge of this new religion. What is common to all these movies, and central to this new form of religion, is that there is no sin, no evil, no divine punishment, no guilt, no unpredictability on the part of the divine. In contrast to "institutionalized religions," which Mounteer claims depend upon "psychological terror" for their authority; these films portray a benevolent deity who does not require that responsibilities go with rights.
In short, Mounteer believes these films convincingly counter the failure of modern religion to provide the reassurance that God loves us and will not punish us despite our failings. They also affirm that eternal life is guaranteed to us despite our faults. These films negate the possibility of our own eventual nothingness by forcefully and convincingly portraying for us the reality of eternal life. Thus, they soothe people's greatest horror: the inevitability of their own death and nothingness.[iii]

This so-called religion can be dubbed God-Lite. The human desire for supernatural identity in the universe is assuaged, but at the cost of human, and divine, individuality; not to mention responsibility and accountability.,

Compare this God-Lite of "sweetness and benevolence" to the God Jacob wrestled in the night at Peniel.
Jacob's relationship with the divine is not symbolized as beautifully backlit and shining, with an orchestral score swelling in the background. Jacob's relationship finds God in the dark, grappling on a muddy riverbank. The relationship is hard-fought and hard-won, but it is the source of Jacob's entire future, his reason for living.

Christianity has often stressed the loving and supportive nature of God, the "gentle
Jesus meek and mild" image of our Savior at the expense of the complex nature of the divine. The Old Testament, with its stories such as Jacob at Peniel, the entire enigmatic Book of Job, its straightforward telling of struggles of the prophets with Yahweh, denies any simple one-dimensional image of God.
God is loving and judging, fully trustworthy yet wholly unpredictable. Above all, God is the source of life and strength but as a force beyond human control and comprehension. 
Making God overly accessible, undemanding, and completely nonjudgmental domesticates the divine. Ironically "... the more it is insisted that God is ever-loving, ever-patient, ever 'positive' in his relationships with men, the more religion becomes a cradle or a cocoon, the less true it is to reality of human experience of God"[iv] Scripture reveals a God who is gentle, yet powerful; kind, yet severe; forgiving, yet righteous.

It is only by acknowledging God's "otherness," God's transcendence, that both Christianity and Judaism have remained capable of supporting true expressions of faith and love throughout the ages. A God-Lite could never have survived the Babylonian exile,
Roman persecution, Constantinian Approval, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, Darwin or MTV.

It takes more than a God-Lite faith to face a world filled with nuclear weapons, acid rain, politically orchestrated mass starvation, joblessness and despair. It takes a God who knows our deceits, our weaknesses, our sins - and yet who loves us enough still to wrestle us back onto the paths of divine purpose and hope.
No God-Lite could have hung on the cross. No God-Lite could experience resurrection and thereby offer salvation to all humanity.
The New Age movement arose out of people not wanting to be accountable to a holy and just God. Religion without personal responsibility. God made in the image of your choice. Spineless.
Movies and video games created a God who sits in the background and cheers us on as we decide the outcome of the game of life and death. As if we have that power!
The God of the Bible, God of Christianity and Judaism, is not a lite touch.
A "God-Lite" religion does not address the realities of our lives. Only the true God will do that. Let us pray ….
Rev. RosemaryStelz

[i] CarlA.Mounteer, "The Religious Experience of Modern American Film," Journal of Psychohistory, 20 [Summer 1992], 54.
[ii] ibid 54.
[iii] Ibid 62-63.
[iv] David Clines, "Yahweh and the God of ChristianTheology," Theology 88 [September 1980], 327.
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