Saturday, December 18, 2010

That Loaded Word “Religion”

“Religion” seems to be a mostly pejorative word in our culture today. “Spirituality” is quite popular as it is far more conducive to an individualistic mind-set. I think this identifies the problem with religion. Religion by its nature is corporate. This implies common forms, which necessitates shared traditions. And who decides the shape of the forms and the source of the chosen tradition? The despised issue of authority begins to enter the discussion. Ah, yes, religion is a loaded topic.

Since spirituality is “personal” there is no need for an authority prescribing good ways to come to God and serve Him. This avoids the horror of any practice being “wrong” because getting rid of religion avoids any claim of –– heaven forbid (if you personally choose to believe in heaven) –– truth and right.

So I see ads for “churches” targeting people who are sick of religion –– people who want a church that is not church. In other words, come to Jesus (they are “Christian” ads) in a setting of your choice and offer to God whatever expression is most “meaningful” to you (since all that matters is the individualistic heart). Don’t get bogged down with a bunch of antiquated baggage. Find out how Jesus can give you “your best life now.”

These were some of the thoughts that came to me as I sat in a sanctuary a couple of weeks ago and looked at stately pillars upholding arches with painted images of our Lord, the Holy Family, the Apostles, and early Fathers of the Church. As I sat preparing for the service to begin, adding my prayers to the organ prelude, I was so aware of an “Other” –– so much greater than my little individual heart, yet drawing me into the greatness of what it means to belong to the People of God.

I want religion. I want to belong to something big that has a continuity with what God has been doing in redemptive history for thousands of years. I want a basis for believing that a particular expression is, indeed, true and right (Apostolic Tradition). I want a religion like that advocated by St James: pure and undefiled (1:27). I need a religion like that because I need to become pure and undefiled in order to see God (Mtt 5:8).

Give me that ol’ time religion....

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