In ancient Greece, religious pilgrims made a twelve-mile journey from the city of Athens to worship at the holy shrines in Eleusis. The road – a white, stony path through the verdant plain to the sea – was called “the sacred way.” But not all those found along this road could be considered holy. One such individual was a nefarious blacksmith and innkeeper named Procrustes.
Preying upon the tired and unwary, he would invite pilgrims to spend the night at his roadside bed and breakfast. Many a sojourner accepted this offer of hospitality as his home was immaculately clean, his kindness so timely, and his appearance resembling that of a benevolent grandfather sitting on the porch smoking his pipe.
Before a traveler knew it, he was well-fed, had enjoyed a steaming bath, and was tucked neatly into Procrustes’ guest bedroom where the bed, according to the innkeeper’s claim, would transform those who slept in it into the perfect specimen of Greek beauty. Sinisterly, after the traveler fell asleep, this is where the innkeeper became the blacksmith and hospitality became torture.
If Procrustes found that his sleeping guest was too short for the bed, he would stretch the pilgrim on a rack until he fit. If the traveler was too tall, then portions of his arms or legs would be sawed off. Thus, when the visitor left the next morning (if he was able), either by extension or amputation he was now a perfect, beautiful Greek: One size, by Procrustes’ standards, fit all.
Today, along our own sacred paths, the same tactics are employed against spiritual seekers. Many religious institutions wish to turn out cloned, carbon-copied, replicas, each believer looking and behaving as the next one, like automatons rolling off a conveyor belt.
All must read the same translation of the Scripture. All must share the same theological interpretations, profess identical confessions, and come to the same conclusions in matters of faith. All must have the same communal habits, the same social and political allegiances, and take the same side on any argument.
And heaven help if you are one of those who can’t “stay with the herd.” Your convictions will be stretched and torn and any divergent opinions you hold will be sawed off as quick as a whistle. Only when you and your faith fit into the prefabricated, modular, standardized, and uniform template of conformity – only then will you be acceptable to God – say the Procrustean machinists of today.
Contrivances such as these stamp out expression and individuality; they reduce the diverse, beautiful collage of faith to a monolithic snapshot; and they suppress the human conscience. The late Herschel Hobbs said it best: “Each individual is competent to relate directly to God without coercion. Violation of conscience is the worst of all tyrannies, and it is made worse by its claim to be in the name of God who created man to be free.” In other words, when it comes to faith, one size does not fit all.