Worse than a horror movie, a religion is not American
I don’t like horror movies at all. I don’t like free blood and guts. And I think the world is scary enough like that without me sitting down in front of a suspenseful TV show. I basically avoid anything in entertainment, even close to the horror genre.
That’s why I surprised myself the day I pressed “play” in Episode 1 of Netflix’s limited series “Midnight Mass”. I knew the show had the potential to make the hair stand on end, but I had also heard that it was a fascinating parable of religion in modern America. This prospect was beyond my apprehension and I ended up binging the series – twice.
“Midnight Mass” tells the story of a young man who returns to his hometown after being released from prison for drunk driving. His hometown is on a small island with a hundred inhabitants and a church. This church has a new young priest who shows up at around the same time to replace their longtime pastor who is recovering from an illness after a trip to the Holy Land. After a series of inexplicable (even miraculous) events have occurred, the whole island is engulfed in church events.
Without spoiler, I failed to shake the reflections sparked by “Midnight Mass”. I called it a parable because I interpret it as a warning about what can happen when sincere and well-meaning people of faith turn their religious experiences into a tool of coercion and manipulation.
Sadly, I fear that the church in America is following the horrible path marked out by the “Midnight Mass”.
Last week, a prominent political leader, as he stood on the dais in a church sanctuary, expressed his belief that for America to be “one nation under God,” it must have one. religion. To the cheers of the participants, he seemed to suggest that the only viable religious expression in our country should be its understanding of religious faith.
For me, this is the plot of a horror story.
Our country was founded on the idea of religious freedom. Neither the state nor the majority can tell others how to live out their beliefs – or lack thereof – in God. The American experience is based on the assumptions of pluralism and tolerance. But these days, it’s not uncommon to hear from religious and political leaders that to be a good Christian you have to be a patriot in some way, or to be a good American you have to be a Christian.
The reality is quite different.
In fact, Jesus, both in his teaching and in his example, showed us that his disciples are not to be known for the coercion and judgment of others, but rather to be known for their love. Love means striving in our private and public life for understanding and justice. There is no other way to follow Jesus.
Robb Ryerse is the pastor of Vintage Fellowship in Fayetteville. He is the author of “Running for Our Lives: A Story of Faith, Politics, and the Common Good”. Email him at [email protected]