May 17, 2012

A reflection on 'I sure am glad I'm not religious'

The other day - I think it was a Sunday - I saw a tweet that said something like,

I sure am glad I'm not religious.
I did not directly reply, but merely tweeted out to the world,
A little respect, please, for the sustaining narratives that help us stay alive and remain compassionate.

I have no reason to believe that the person who wrote the original tweet would ever have seen my response. It wasn't really even intended to be a response. Or I guess it was. I don't know.

Lately I'm picking up on an out-and-out vibe of hostility against religion that seems much more forceful than ever before: that religion is beyond outré, beyond obsolete, or more than mere professional mythology. That it's fundamentally useless, offensive, corrupt and corrupting - graft at its lowest that exploits and manipulates basic human fears and desires. That in learning to place our trust in something that is not us, we do a disservice to humanity.

And I get all that, but I can't get with it.

Certainly the amount and kind of violence of all forms and manners of subtlety done on our planet in the name of religion is overwhelming and disgusting, calling for the deepest repentance. I don't mind my own faith traditions being painted with that broad a brush. Where the church has failed it needs to be corrected - thoroughly, consistently, regularly.

But to suggest religion is just overall some scheme to rob people of their power and give up their money is just kind of lazy and uncharitable.

Christianity as I know and practice it is not about these things. It's about giving out of one's best self in the recognition that all life is vastly interconnected through a creative, beneficent, and intelligent force that is beyond our capacity to name or encapsulate. It is about allowing oneself to be fundamentally inconvenienced for the sake of something greater which, surprise of surprises, is often reflected in the love of a neighbor or an enemy. It's about learning the lore that tries imperfectly (but at least tries) to describe the human journey in terms that are not purely selfish. It's about the symbolic touchstones that animate that journey and give heft to life-moments, pointing to a wider reality than the one contained in the immediately knowable.

I believe God - this shorthand name that falls so far short of our capacity to contain the meaning it attempts to ascribe - is manifest in many things, and was particularly manifest and incarnate in an actual person called Jesus, whose vocation was multivalent - to teach, to give, to feed and heal, to speak directly and clearly of the concept of love of one's neighbor, and, at the last, to die and be really actually dead and then not be dead, and all as a sign that God's purposeful and persistent love is greater than human selfishness.

I believe in a Spirit that continually animates the enterprise of God's activity.

I believe these things not only because I was raised with them but also because I have seen their evidence whether or not I cared to receive them, and believing in them doesn't make me weak-minded. It gives me the strength to give and give and give.


Willa Goodfellow said...

Bad stuff going down in the name of religion. A lot of really bad stuff.

Bland stuff going down in the name of "spiritual but not religious." As self-serving and self-righteous as some of the religion stuff, but without any basis for self-reflection, repentance and reform.

I kinda think the "spiritual but not religious" is the more deadly. It robs humanity of the counter-narrative that gave Moses power against Pharaoh.

Nevertheless, a lot of really bad stuff going down in the name of religion. It remains to be seen how deeply we must die before we can be reborn. I think for some of us it will have to be literal. I think it will even have to include the Church Pension Fund. You, Torey may still be too young to understand that some of us would prefer the former death to the latter.

Jeffrey Holton said...

I assume you saw the highly publicized "Jesus vs. religion" YouTube video of six months ago or so.

I don't think it's a new idea. There is a very strong push in the evangelical world to villainize religion and elevate faith in Jesus in such a way that they are antithetical to each other. I can understand the premise, since I used to be a proponent of the teaching. I don't agree with it anymore.

I now find religious observance to be a reinforcement of my relationship with God, just as date night is a repetitive, ritualistic reinforcement of my developing relationship with my wife.