Religion. The word itself can be so off-putting, particularly, and most importantly, to those outside traditional religions. In a 2010 article in the Psychiatric Times, Dr. Simon Dein discusses “Religion, Spirituality, and Mental Health,” While much of the article illustrates how strong faith and religious practices can create pathways to mental health, Dein also says that “Religion can promote rigid thinking, overdependence on laws and rules, an emphasis on guilt and sin, and disregard for personal individuality and autonomy.” This pompous self-aggrandizement has, in many ways, coopted the meaning of the word, “religion.”
Damage done by religion
Throughout history, so much damage has been done in the name of religion. We modern Christians like to point out The Crusades: wars fought in the name of Christ for about 200 years, beginning in 1095; and The Spanish Inquisition, a 350 year system of torture that impacted over 150,000 people who were deemed not quite Christian enough. But what about more recent examples of how the church has failed in its stated intent to love God and love people?
Racism–both overt and sinister–is as common among professing Christians as it is anywhere else. Divorced? Some churches won’t let you serve in any leadership roles. And get this: just last week one of my cousins was told he could not be a deacon in his church in south Georgia because he–wait for it–chews tobacco (you can’t make this stuff up). Plus, I’ve not even mentioned the church’s treatment of the LGBTQ community. Those individuals have been wholly ostracized from almost all churches until the last couple of decades. We could go on to talk about clergy sexual misconduct, greed, and abuse; or congregational gossip, judgment, and alienation. The list is relentless in its recitation of failures of the Christian religion.
Religion. It can be nasty business.
The strength of religion
But, though it’s hard to fathom that something so awful could have any redeeming value, religion can also be a balm to the soul. Religion is reciting the Lord’s Prayer, reading scripture aloud, joining together in Holy Communion, singing hymns that have deep connections to the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, and bringing our concerns before God in prayer. It’s godly community and shared commitment. Blessing our food before meals is a religious act, as is reading devotions. Religious practices help us come back to the Truth and to remember who and whose we are.
Religion. Is it good or bad? It seems to me that the answer is “Yes.”
What role does religion play in your life?
What role does religion play in your life. You might recognize ways you yourself are complicit in some of the negative views of Christianity. For goodness’ sake (literally), let’s all root out those troublesome thoughts and behaviors.* More likely, though, you will notice faith practices that you do . . . well . . . religiously, habits that add depth and meaning to your relationship with God.
Religion, not unlike the internet, can do infinite damage, and it can do a world of good. It’s freeing and life-giving; it’s also oppressive and deadly. Religion can create division, but it can also manifest the kind of unity we are all seeking. Religion is complicated, as are most things of value. As for me? I’ll quantify the value of my religious behaviors by measuring them against Christ’s injunction to “Love God, and love people.” Are my actions loving? That is, are my practices helping me to love God or love people? Then hey, call it what you want, but that sounds like the real deal to me.
Bottom line? When in doubt, remember that love matters most. Always.
*For example, the time about 25 years ago that I got hopping mad at teenagers wearing their ball caps in church. Luckily God kept my mouth shut, but I was definitely fussing at them in my head. #religiongonebad
If you are interested, join us at Ecclesia, in person or on Zoom. You’ll find worship rooted in tradition, strengthened by innovation, and designed to remind you that you really are loved and there really is not one thing you can do about that.
Join us in person at 11:00 at Oakley United Methodist fellowship hall, 607 Fairview Road, Asheville. Click here to join us for online worship at 11. If you have not downloaded Zoom previously, you may be prompted to do so. If asked, enter the password “Ecclesia.”