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Religion and Anti-Religion

November 23, 2015

I have noticed over the past decades, and especially more recently, a growing rejection of religion.  People are turning against religious institutions–not just Christian, but any religion.  More people are becoming atheists or individualistic agnostics.  Coming together to worship and be guided by God is becoming a harder sell.

I think this is happening for several reasons.  First, of course, are the obvious examples of sick religion that are turning people off of religion.  The Catholic Church has been inundated with accusations of pedophile priests being protected.  Radical Islam has become violent, even blessing terrorist acts.  Judaism has often supported Israeli policies of settlement expansion at the expense of peacemaking and justice.  Protestants have been tarnished by personality-cult pastor-entertainers who espouse reactionary views.  The list could go on.  No religion is guiltless.

Second, an aggressive atheism that labels all religion as bad and all believers as idiots.  This viewpoint is found not only in a slew of recent books, but also in many television shows (“House” would be a recent example).  In fact, religion has pretty much disappeared from the lives of anyone on television or in movies.  When it does appear, it is almost always in a silly light.

Third, a pervasive philosophy of post-modernism that has led young people to the conclusion that there are no sources of authority, only opinions.  All beliefs are equally legitimate, so believe whatever is most fun or fair to you.  All institutions should be distrusted.

Fourth, a brand of political correctness that says all expressions of belief must be entirely innocuous.  No one must ever feel offended.

Fifth, a distaste for organization and meetings and leadership.  People today prefer to do things on their own, or in informal gatherings without leadership.

With all of this going on in our culture, no wonder religion is having a rough time.  It used to be that religion and its institutions were taken for granted by society.  Atheism and agnosticism were rare.  Back then the question was which religion was the best.  But now that all religions are under attack, Christians now frequently find themselves making common cause with Jews and Buddhists and any other friendly face who will take spiritual life seriously.  The question has shifted from what religion to be to:  Should I be religious, or should I be spiritual but not religious, or should I give up spirituality altogether?

I do not believe that all religions are equal or equally good.  Some are anti-science; some are anti-art and free thought; some are a violent ideology; some foster emotional immaturity.  There is such a thing as sick religion.  I think we need to have criteria for identifying what is unhealthy in a religion, and reject it wherever we find it–even if it’s in our own religion.

But I also believe religion is better than individualistic spirituality.  I’m not against people having a private spirituality, but if we want to cultivate deeper trust in God and commitment to doing God’s will, we will need the strength of a faith community.  And if we want to make structural changes to turn unjust systems into something more just, then we need to be organized.  Religion is faith organized; it is faith that is committed to nurturing faith for this generation and the next generation; it is faith that wants to make a positive contribution to the world.

And I believe that being non-spiritual is an inadequate basis for a fulfilled life.  Science–as true as it is in its own field–is too narrow a method for experiencing authentically all of reality.  Love and goodness and justice are commitments we need to make in order to be fully healthy–despite their objective nonexistence according to a materialist worldview.

So I commit myself to religion.  Not all religion.  To be committed to all religion is to be committed to no religion.  I must commit myself to a particular community–one that has a story and an identity and a strength and a healthiness that puts me into an authentic, healing relationship with the ground of all being.  So I am a Christian who worships with a particular Christian community.  In that community I become my truer and better self.

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