We are amazed by the power religious belief exerts in our world. So much good—and so much bad—has been done in the name of religion; and at home and abroad, we are dumbfounded by the power of fundamentalism to wreak havoc on our social and political institutions. What is belief? Why is it such a powerful force?
When I saw first saw The Christians at the Humana Festival in Louisville, I was galvanized by how incisively the playwright explores the thorny topic of religious belief. He takes us inside a typical Middle-American church run by an ordinary pastor who has a gut-wrenching and revolutionary vision that threatens Christianity itself. Mr. Hnath explores this revelation with care and empathy, neither satirizing nor condescending to the church or its congregation.
We all have beliefs. Even atheists “believe” there is no God. Why do we believe what we do? Often we are conditioned by our upbringing to believe. Most of us outgrow our childhood beliefs in Santa or the tooth fairy. But we believe in God, or Jesus, or Mohammed or Moses, or nothing, much as a child believes. We give over blindly to our faith without questioning. We simply “know” things are so. And we base our lives, our daily decisions, and our commitments on that “knowing.” Our beliefs become a comfort, a challenge, a curse.
What happens to us when our beliefs are challenged? When a prophet comes to say, “What you are believing is wrong”? When laws change that affect our beliefs? Or when we doubt that our beliefs are true? We are beset with fear. It seems to us as if our entire reason for being has been negated, the ground we stand on taken away, our lives deprived of meaning. And of course, we humans are not at our best when we’re afraid. Fear makes us react in anger; we hate, we strike out, we withdraw, we mourn. We can become destructive, to ourselves and others. Our communities and families can be torn apart.
We feel deeply honored to present The Christians in our empathy gym. We humans are always challenged—perhaps, at this time, more than usual—to bring compassion rather than fear to conflict and misunderstanding, to try to understand those with whom we disagree, and to look deeply and fiercely at our own beliefs. The Christians takes us on a journey into belief, doubt, fear, and prophecy so that we may learn and grow.
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