Tell me all your thoughts on God (A Case for Modern Religion)
The following post is intended to be a response to a post by Tom Slatin, whom inspired me with his list of journal promptings to begin this blog. Tom recently posted a blog titled “Criticism Of Modern Religion” (which I recommend reading before continuing reading my blog). I found his post to be a strong articulation of what I feel is a growing sentiment towards modern religion. It seems that his prompting “Tell me all your thoughts on God” would be the appropriate place to give a respectful counter-point to his posting. I hope this blog finds you well, Tom!
Because “religion” can be a relative label of a number of different practices and beliefs, it would be of benefit to attempt to come to some type of agreed upon definition of what a religion actually is. Unfortunately, blogs are, at least immediately, one-sided and therefore I am stuck attempting to provide a definition that I believe both (or all) parties could agree to. Let me pose that we use a blend of Merriam-Websters 3 definitions and say that religion is the organized practice and beliefs of a body of people that have to do with some form of deity and afterlife.
With 84% of the world being “religiously affiliated”,it comes as no surprise that one might feel surrounded by religion. Which is why I personally find it a little confusing when some of my fellow Christians lament or toil over the “path we’re on” in the United States. Certainly they too see the countless number of religious buildings, billboards, and books that are being constructed around them? Now, there is an argument to be made towards the dilution of religion as it occurs in America. If you were to believe, as I do, that religion actually should affect your behavior and lifestyle in a meaningful way, the average American doesn’t seem particularly distinguishable from the other singularly based on which religion, if one, they claim as their own. As Tom points out, generally speaking it would seem that we inherit religion from our parents and name it our own whether that distinguishes our behavior from our friends of different or no religion around us. Perhaps religion that does not distinguish us in any meaningful way is, as Tom suggests, unnecessary.
But I am religious. And while I do not feel particularly led to defend the merit of all religion, I can and will make a case for the faith I have committed my life to: Christianity. I understand this is relative to my paradigm and may even confirm Tom’s point, that religion can be “intolerant” and exclusive in nature because of its implications. But it is the best I can give you while remaining honest to my own convictions. The point is to show the inclusiveness, healing, and necessity of Christianity. If you gain anything from this post other than that, then consider that nothing more than a failure of me to properly articulate those points.
Let us start with the inherent exclusivity of disagreement. Believing anything is directly exclusive to anyone who does not believe that thing. The moment you claim that something is so that someone else says is not so there exists exclusivity. That is, that person holds a believe that because you dissent, you are excluded from. Saying that the world is round immediately prevents me from accepting the argument or belief from others that the world is flat. Now, what I choose to do with that dissent is incredibly important. But there is a growing sentiment in our discourse that simply because we disagree with someone on something that we must somehow reject or correct them. To those who live their lives constantly looking to correct those who dissent, there is exhaustion and eventually cynicism. On the other hand, there are those who say that dissension, particularly in religion, does not matter. That essentially “no one knows the truth” and therefore any support for a religion is proselytizing or intolerant.
And while I would absolutely agree, that we are all absolutely limited in our capacity to know all things, I would pose that there is such a thing as a better answer. That not all things of religious nature are equal without being measured for value. For instance, a religion that by principle promotes greed, exclusion, vengeance, war, hatred, unforgiveness, and violence are religions lesser than those that do not. And much like governmental preference, there is reason to promote some better more beneficial religions above others. It is then equally an excluding action to say that all religions are essentially the same or boil down to an approximate point, because that assumes a plain exists above all religion where the person making this argument can see all things for what they are while those of all other faiths are limited to a scope below that person.
Furthermore, if there is such thing as a truth; if there is such thing as a God, then certainly the religion that centers most approximately upon Him would be a better religion than those that do not? Perhaps that is a thing that is unknowable. But I personally share the narrative and testimony of men much wiser than myself who, like St. Augustine, say “For where I found truth, there I found my God, who is the Truth itself, which from the time I learned it have I not forgotten.” Faith is believing as much as one can in something that cannot be completely confirmed until later. And that causes me to both tame my tongue from dismissing the beliefs of others, but also comfortably living in a degree of confidence in the divinity and authority of the Christ of the Bible.
What I find Christianity does allow, that is not true of all faiths, is inclusion. That does not mean that there is not sacrifice or expectation involved in conversion. The establishment of a self-sacrificing relationship with Christ (which is, what I consider conversion to Christianity) is available regardless of your sex, your race, your age, your sexual orientation, your class, or your past. It does not say to anyone “this is not for you”. It also does not say to anyone “you must do _______ to earn this”. Christianity, as I understand it, says “come as you are, but leave better than you were”.
There would be no point in attempting to argue that religion (Christianity included) has not contributed if not caused some incredible terrors to take place in our world. The problem we have, as Tom argues, is that any Church (that is group of religious people together, in whatever religion) is made up of us. Broken, selfish, emotional, near-sighted people. And for all the selflessness, love, care, healing, charity, and joy that religion can bring, it can just as swiftly be used to justify or encourage violence, rage, vengeance and abuse. Because so much is done in the name of religion, we must concede that it at very least appears to be responsible for these things. But being a man of faith, and particularly a man who reads the Bible, I am convinced that those terrible things done in the name of religion are not done because of religion but rather are done using religion as a hostage to protect the criticism of those people doing what is wrong. These cruel actors as often as not would be doing these things under some other guise where they not using religion as their motivator. Now, certainly there is some religious connection to offense – for instance, human sacrifices, etc. But that goes back to my previous point that there are clearly some religions that hold virtues better than others, and so they should not be treated or accepted equally.
What I cannot concede is that if someone is reading the words of Jesus and his apostles when they are acting out terror in the name of religious direction. Consider the apostle Paul’s letter to Corinth:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
And then his letter to the church of Galatia
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Operating under the argument that some religions have stronger value than others based on their merit, the case of religion at large being unnecessary might be a difficult argument to resolve. I cannot help but compare religion to government. Government, like a Church, is a body of people under certain tenants, expectations, and occasionally common direction. Like government, there would appear to be a case for its necessity in spite of the evil that takes place within its structure (and in its name). I think this comparison properly illustrates my feeling towards organized religion. While I see the terror of it and its abuse, I also believe us to be creatures who desire and even need structure within to live. I believe that government provides us with a structure of finances and laws in which to live together in society. I believe that likewise religion establishes a shared structure for spirituality and treatment of each other that governmental laws cannot and should not speak to. For instance, there is no governmental law that requires me to be honest with my wife, but there is wisdom and morality (as established outlined in religious law) that directs and ought to cause me to be honest to her.
This all works under a large presumption: that there is a God and a Truth. If those things do not exist, then maybe religion causes some of us to be selfless, forgiving, kind, compassionate, and honest. But perhaps some of those people could and would find ways of being those things without religion. If there is, however, a God and a Truth, then perhaps we are created as wayward children in need of something greater than ourselves to direct our paths towards something counter-human. If God exists, and we are in fact flesh born to wander from God, then perhaps we very much need the Author of this whole “life” thing to intercede for us and direct us and correct us into something that we wouldn’t and couldn’t be without the structure and narrative of religion which points to Him? It is my belief that the practice of religion gives us a rail to run on that leads us to a path of following someone meritorious enough to be followed.
Were it not for my religious body, that is the Church, it would be nearly impossible for me to feel as convicted, encouraged, mentored, cherished, charitable, and humbled as I do. I am not sure of the necessity for religion for all others, but I know I need my Christ, my Church, and my religious practices (that is disciplines such as Scripture, prayer, worship, etc) to be anything more than the selfish, prideful, unfocused man I was without them. And it would feel heartless of me not to attempt to persuade others to at least attempt to experience that same freedom, strength, and joy I now know.