Surrogate Spirituality

The passage in 1 Samuel 8 where Israel asks for a king is a pivotal point in the biblical narrative. It recalls another pivotal passage where the people ask Moses to go up the mountain in their stead to hear the voice of God with all that accompanies it.

Both represent our inclination to engage surrogates. Rather than immediate experience we prefer reported experience. Rather than immediate living, we prefer dispensed living. Rather than live life, we prefer watching it. Rather than enjoy, appreciate and embrace our condition, we prefer comparing and competing with others.


The biblical stories consistently intimate a few reasons:

  1. Fear: We are afraid of direct experience, especially of the Unknown. We tremble in the face of Uncertainty and crumble under the weight of Mystery. We feel safer living a filtered life, an edited life, a sheltered life.
  2. Security: We would rather give up all kinds of freedoms than be exposed to risk. The ramifications of 9/11 is a case in point.
  3. Ambition: Israel wasn’t happy living quietly under the occasional guidance of the old prophet Samuel. They wanted to be like other nations, primarily in their ability to make war, which required a leader, a king.

The church has something to learn from this. Institutions like the church loves kings, and there are plenty of people who will step up to the task. We are afraid to experience the Unknown directly so we hire surrogates to experience it for us, then report to us their experiences and perhaps guide some of us who are willing to dabble in it experimentally. And churches, I’ve found, cannot resist comparing themselves to others and employing strategies to measure up to their competitors, even outside the church circle.

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  • I had to stop looking to the church to find the answers. We’ve made the church way more important that it’s supposed to be. We expect to find peace, security, hope, and faith from church. The only thing I believe we are ever supposed to find at church is fellowship. To find that other stuff we have to look within ourselves. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t play a part in all of it…I just tend to believe that He pushes us into ourselves to find all that stuff (because He put it there in the first place).

  • Ann

    UUUUuu … nail on the head, again. Only the intrepid (usually, the desperate), go to the depths. But it (going to the depths), is our ultimate calling in God. “Thou shall love the Lord your God with all you heart …”

  • fat radical

    brilliantly observant

  • “Rather than live life, we prefer watching it.”

    Rather than help the poor, we hire the government to do it.

  • fat radical

    I have a problem with the church, the worst bit is that I am a part of it. Making us all the body of Christ…………..Jesus, that was a brilliant idea if you wanted to give us a conundrum that would take us thousands of years to work out

  • We can’t change the way people are.
    If we can avoid responsibility and accountability by having someone else take charge, we’ll normally go for that option. “The path of least resistance” and all that…
    Avoiding accountability is also one of the appeals of belief in a deity.
    Most people are quick to let others die for them, suffer for them, pray for them, etc. Of course on the other hand, we are also willing to reward those who accept responsibility and decision making power in ways that are disproportionate to the benefit that such arrangements may offer. Anything to avoid risk.
    From my experience serving in the US military and then later as a private soldier in the Middle East, I’ve learned that despite cultural differences, people everywhere are basically the same. Fear, ignorance and laziness keep most people from taking direct action or from making a real difference in the world around them. Whether they are a Bedouin from the Saudi Eastern Province or a retired auto worker in Detroit they are most likely content to watch as events unfold around them and shape their existence. It’s not a good thing, it’s not a bad thing…it just is.

  • Would this also apply to the crowd’s call for Barrabas?

  • hm. interesting dale. would you like to expand on that?

  • @Daniel,
    “Rather than help the poor, we hire the government to do it.”

    I’m not sure if that’s an accurate portrayal or assessment of the situation. We are the government. As we have (to one degree or another)representative government here in the West, who or what is the government if not us?
    I have a difficult time believing that care for the poor wouldn’t be even worse than it is already if left to the whims of a few charitable people or privately funded organizations. Someone needs to pay for these things and without tax funded programs, some would be be inclined to pass the responsibility on to someone else in the hope that they will pick up the slack and do the right thing. By general social consensus “we” have all been enlisted to help the poor through the mechanisms of the government taxation and redistribution. While some may (rightfully)protest against excessive taxation or inefficiently run social programs, I can guarantee that you will never see someone protesting specifically and solely against the concept of charitable care for the poor and needy.

  • Lynn

    So, it’s just natural human nature that people sit in churches trying to achieve what God told them to do by figuring out how to do it vicariously, right? Plus some things are done more efficiently and fairly by groups giving money and having a system set up.

    I used to think about hearing who all was in the hospital and we were supposed to pray for them. I’d feel guilty because I figured everybody expected the pastor to go visit them, and I should be doing that to show I cared. But when I actually did that once, I realized that the person probably felt like my visit was more of a little extra burden. Not that it wasn’t pleasant, but did they really want acquaintances popping in to show they care when they are lying in a hospital bed? It was awkward.

    Hearing about what you’re supposed to do at church and actually attempting stuff can be awkward depending on your personality. So if you don’t have “gifts” like those around you, you come each week and feel guilty instead. Or you keep trying to figure out HOW to love your neighbor as yourself. It’s all very vague and confusing. At least to me.

    One issue I have is people are different. Some things come easy to some people but are very hard for others. We differ in abilities, personalities, social skills, etc. And those with ability in an area can be judgmental of those who lack that ability. Like if God said, go build houses. Well, no problem if you’re a carpenter. But if you can’t hit a nail hardly, just makes you feel lousy instead. There’s a lot of stuff like that at churches.

    Add to that how per the Bible, you’re supposed to be a new creature and be full of joy, etc., and you’re hearing constantly about answered prayer, experiences with God, etc., so you basically are miserable wondering what the heck is wrong with you.

    Sorry, you obviously got me going there. Oh well.

  • Lynn

    Plus, I noticed that people in churches are not different from people in other settings. The social set-up is the same. If they are a back-stabber at the office, they are also one at church. If they are a gossip, they are a gossip at church too. My problem was I kept expecting them to be very different than the unsaved. That problem perplexed me from when I was a kid, and probably was the main underlying issue-or at least one of them-that eventually caused me to leave the church.

    When I did start questioning, they also “let me down” because they weren’t all loving and accepting, etc. They were human beings in a social organization who subtly encouraged me to move on to another church. Where was the love? Where were all those Christian virtues I’ve always heard about? I realized that they did not care for me as an individual. They cared only about followers who towed the line doctrinally or at least kept their mouth shut if they disagreed.

    So as was said in “Harvey” “people are people wherever you go.” That is the truth.

    Okay, rant over.