Throwing Out the Tree with the Christmas Lights

With the title, I was trying to make a play on the common saying, “Throwing the baby out with the bath water”.

It’s a stretch, I know. What are you gonna do?

(That reference should make sense by the end, at least.)

A friend posted this article on Facebook, and I thought it went nicely with the news about the recent “mass” exodus. I won’t recap the whole thing – it’s a short article, and an interesting read – but I figured that I can paraphrase enough of Inouye’s argument to wet your appetites.

Inouye contends that there are two ways to think about religious tradition. The first way (and the inaccurate way) is to think of it like a string of Christmas lights –

“If one junction along the string is flawed, then the whole string is dysfunctional. Or, if the whole string is functional, then every single junction must be perfect”

The other way, the more accurate way, is to think of it like the process of baking sourdough bread –

“From start to finish, it’s all a process of fermentation-what we would normally call “food going bad.” It begins with the starter, an unruly colony of wild yeasts and bacteria swimming together in starchy soup. There is nothing lovely or pure about sourdough starter. Its exuberance makes it sour on the verge of stinky, fermented bordering on decayed. Yet, when introduced into a properly balanced supply of flour, water and salt, the starter is a catalyst for building a complex, living community that results in heavenly bread.

“Religious traditions, like sourdough, are complex, living things. They are both organization and organism, created and sustained from many different processes and actors, shaped by time and their environment. They even can be naturally subject to corruption.

“And yet they are also susceptible — through this same process of leavening — to producing goodness. Appreciating this goodness, and engaging productively with the complex processes that create it, is a project of intellect, not ignorance.

What do you think? Do we throw an entire religion out with the bathwater if something seems amiss? Or is there something more complex to it?


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