The Talmud tells of a rabbi who hosted a great celebration in his home, inviting all of his friends, family and followers. A friend inquired about all the singing and dancing when there had been no new birth or marriage.

The rabbi explained: “Yesterday, I was going about my business with the elders of the village when a woman approached and asked me to come to her home because her daughter was ill. I could not interrupt my appointment with the village elders, so I told her to go home and wait. When I finally arrived at her home later that evening, the girl had died.

“Later that night in my home I woke up and prayed: ‘Please let me resurrect the girl tomorrow! If she lives, may my name be taken out of the Book.’ And God accepted my offer. This morning, I went to the girl’s house and resurrected her. And now I am celebrating with my disciples and all of my family and friends.”

“What are you celebrating?” his friend asked.

His face beaming, the rabbi responded, “I am celebrating my freedom. For the first time in my life, I can serve God not for the sake of my rewards but for the sake of my love for God.”

Religion at an infant stage is religion grounded in a system of meritocracy, governed by a modus operandi of rewards and punishments. Religion that requires fear and guilt as motivation for doing what is good and right is not at all attractive or compelling.

Religion at this stage of development is dualistic, exclusive and often judgmental, having very little moral worth or value. The God imagined tends to be vindictive and arbitrary. This kind of religion rarely advances issues of justice for the disadvantaged, peace and good stewardship, and care of the planet. Religion at this level usually focuses on heaven and hell and is primarily about escaping this world.

It is characterized by a clear-cut division between the insiders (the saved, those going to heaven, those who possess the truth and so on) and the outsiders (the unsaved and so on). As a society grows spiritually, the power of this type of religion over the people gradually loses its influence.

Religion that is more life-enhancing, affirming and morally compelling advocates doing what is right and good because it is the right thing to do. But still, we can go one step further.

The highest form of religion empowers a person or community to do what is right and good, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because the person or community is permeated and immersed in a divine, magnanimous, unconditional love. Mature religion is self-validating; it is egalitarian, holistic, inclusive, transformational and filled with compassion and grace.

As a Christian, I believe that mature Christianity can be a global force for good, greatly contributing to a flourishing life on earth. Unfortunately, a lot of Christianity is stuck at the infant level. Mature religion can transform the world; infant religion can destroy it.

Chuck Queen is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky. He blogs at A Fresh Perspective.

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