Religions as well as individuals encounter existential dilemmas when confronted with changes in human societies. Tamim Ansary's wonderful memoir, West of Kabul, East of New York, contains a section describing the Afghan-American author's quest to re-encounter Islam while traveling across North Africa. One episode he describes is learning about how a religious tradition responds to the reality of human social mutability while cleaving to a belief in the unchanging divine. I am going to quote quite a long piece of it; it is worth reading all of this excerpt and wading through the gendered language about God.
Sound familiar? It certainly does to me. People who want to hold on to power always have an interest in promoting a source for laying down rules to which they control unique access. And this often takes the form of claiming that a particular historical era (as they describe it) has all the answers about the good life, so don't anyone go thinking up changes. The contemporary Roman Catholic Church seems to like medieval European Christendom as its reference era, while U.S.-based fundamentalism looks to an idealized U.S. suburbia of the 1950s.
More than once in his memoir, Ansary identifies with the Mu'tazalites, insofar as he is willing to take anything from Islam. That way is not the God/metaphor I live inside, but I too relate well to the idea of a deity that expects humans to draw first principles from Being and figure out what that means in the context of lived experience. That is, I believe we are all capable of being responsible moral actors, not dependent on the guys (it is nearly always guys) that claim to know how we should live on the basis of some past era. And that means we have to embrace change sometimes.
Once you start thinking that God's good really is good, not some arbitrary divine construct, as the Mu'tazalites decided, you find yourself wrangling with what that means in real human circumstances. I'm seeing that all the time these days: for employment I'm working for full inclusion of all people (that means queers too) within the full life of the Episcopal Church, a religious outfit that by and large has decided it has to learn to understand ancient truths within this actually existing human society. Change is hard.
That's what the Rev. Gloria was pointing to last Sunday. We don't always want the terrible responsibility that goes with discerning the meaning of the good as responsible adult actors. It would be a lot easier if God were that being in a book, fixed forever in a text, demanding only conformity mediated by a special class of priests who tell us the rules. Those people who enjoyed the excitement of Jesus's parade into Jerusalem also wanted the security offered by known religious authorities. They were ready to be led to kill the disturber of their known order. Jesus was saying there had to be change, but that unimaginable change could be of God. Humans kill people for such impudence.