Friday Forum: Does religion suck?
I get into rather quizzical debates sometimes through text-mediated conversation. But it’s common parlance to hear something like “I’m spiritual, but not religious” in many circles. I have been in groups that advocated using words like “follower of Jesus” or “Christ-followers” rather than “Christian” and, to some degree, some of the arguments have merits.
But it seems to be rather common practice to knock religion. But like any theology that can be expressed in 140 characters or less, I think it’s worth unpacking the idea.
Wordnet gives religion two principal definitions: 1) a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny and 2) an institution to express belief in a divine power. Even in the exemplars provided by the site indicate confusion around the word: “he lost his faith but not his morality”; “he was raised in the Baptist religion”; “a member of his own faith contradicted him.”
So we see some assumed connection between religion, control, destiny, institutions, faith, and morality. Really, it did not take too long to arrive at these potential zones of synergy and conflict. After all, who generally likes beliefs that control what one does or does not do?
Ironically, two important things seem to be missing: truth and grace. Unless truth and grace get dismissed outright as “religious words” most people will talk about grace and relationship.
Interestingly, I think the aspect of relationships already occurred in the sense of institutions. Yet most of our profound relationships do not carry a sense of being an “institution.” Marriage is regarded by some as a gift, a mystery, a journey, and as an institution. It is something that has been around a long time that shapes how we relate to one another. I doubt most people within a marriage regard their marriage as an institution, preferring to regard their marriage as a relationship.
So it is with communities of faith, at least to me. A long-standing historic bond with those who have gone before creates a rise to an organic outgrowth of relationships. We’re good at having communities of faith, organized around so many different themes. Even a community of doctors is a group of people who strive “in good faith” to perform a particular role in society. It strikes me as absolutely critical to know how core beliefs mark these assorted communities.
But it seems that oftentimes “religion” gets used as a code word to go after historic practices of people of faith, assuming that the only reason why people engage in the practices is out of some terrible sense of manipulation. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m a master of guilt, black and white thinking, and painting myself into a box. And I think that in that sense, there is a lot in me that just needs to go. Yet it is also compelling to me to note how engaging in corporate action with the members of my own community is often the most freeing thing that can be done as we share, often times hard-fought, core beliefs. Without the common core, I think we would be sunk. Without some common experience to guide us, I think we would create our own.
Often I think we would rather use morality than truth to guide our common experiences together. We want to be “good, moral persons” so we construct our own definitions towards that end. Then we use that construct of morality to try to beat persons into submission. It’s really not a wonderful experience for anyone involved. It leaves one in search of grace and truth. But it also seems to me that grace and truth travel hand-in-hand, a journey which must always be modeled by those who come before.
I would posit that we need historically-enduring relationships to point the way towards grace and truth. And I think creating space for shared experiences that endure through time makes the linkages possible.