(The suggestions in this reflection are not intended to be a litmus test for post-modern belief, rather prompts for continuing the conversation. There are questions at the end to encourage us to do so.)
Christianity is one of the great religions of the world. If you Google “religion definition” the first entry is: “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” No wonder people today would rather say: “I’m spiritual, not religious!”
This is an unfortunate definition. It is narrow. And a caricature. It gives prominence to the “God of Supernatural Theism,” a God that still is but never was. (I refer to the God of Supernatural Theism in our eNewsletter Awe and Wonder, Here and Now.) The Google definition also emphasizes “belief.” Marcus in a number of places unpacks his understanding of “belief” and disentangles it from the 6, or any number of unbelievable “things you must believe before breakfast.”
But the word religion comes from the Latin religare which means “to bind or tie together.” I suggest religions are our efforts to bind or tie together some kind of congruent, hopeful, tolerable narrative or framework to help us make sense of the varied experiences of human life. They are arguably responses to what we might call “The Sacred” or “The More,” the fact that we exist at all. And they reflect our hope that “the game is worth the candle.” Human life is filled with awe and wonder and things that make us fear and tremble. Religions attempt to explain and perhaps at their best provide open-ended questions for what we can’t fully know or control or understand.
The Search for God
Religions are ostensibly about our search for God. And according to Google’s first definition, a “superhuman” and “personal” God. Because we want it to be. We want “God” to be characterized by love. I think this is a noble instinct. I suggest that religions truly express our deep human need for God. An overarching framework or underlying reasonability that we can trust with our lives if not our future. We have a need for connection with things seen and unseen. We ask the big questions: what is the nature of Reality, what is our purpose, is there meaning in all this? Throughout our history, we have attempted to name our origins, describe the wounds of our existence, suggest a remedy. From the beginning, we have tried to bind or tie together a story to live by and die by. These stories are archetypal. And they are brilliant. Brilliant human constructions that reveal our longings, hopes, and fears. They show off our ingenuity and artistic flourish. They display our richness of self-expression and our capacity for compassion and empathy and longing for justice.
The Dark Side of Religion
As human constructions, religions also have a dark side. They have been the greatest means for legitimating war, oppression, power and control. A devastating amount of blood has been spilt in the name of “God” or the “values” of religion. Those atrocities are about us.
For good and for ill, religions have played a decisive role in human history. And will for time to come.
So, religions then and now, I suggest, are efforts to bind or tie together a narrative or framework, to present a vision that helps us live. And we gather to tell our story again and again. And hope for a fresh word.
Central to the Christian story is Jesus. Jesus is one of us. A human being. If he is not, he is of no earthly good to us. He shows us our capacity as human beings and our need and capacity for God. The heart of Jesus’s teaching I suggest is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (How are we doing at that?). And how we love our neighbor and ourselves is how we love God. Might it be said that there is something inextricably bound between the human being and the nature and character of God? And what is at stake is nothing less than humanity’s future, and God’s as well?
Christianity is one of the world’s great religions. The Christian story is a powerful story of hope and possibility. Even as it tells the story of the suffering of the innocent. How do we tell this story today? And how do we live to keep hope alive?
As you continue the conversation:
- What do you make of the suggestion that we have a need for God as distinct from ours being a search for God?
- What difference does this emphasis make?
- What of the suggestion that the human being and the nature and character of God are inextricably bound?
- What of our responsibility for our future and God’s?
- How does this way of thinking stack up against your understanding of Christianity?
- What do you make of it?