On Religion

Religion is what we make of it.  Religious traditions, broadly speaking, are not all bad, nor are they all good.  Those who reduce religion to being either all bad or all good make the mistake of thinking in all-or-nothing terms.  Only a partial picture can result from all-or-nothing thinking, which means either the bad caused by religion becomes ignored or the good caused by religion becomes ignored, both potentially leading to serious misconceptions about religion in general.  Blaming religion for evil in the world is also a misguided commonplace.  Religion, in and of itself, is somewhat like a tool.  Take a hammer, for instance.  A hammer can be used to build a shelter that keeps someone safe and warm or it can be used to murder someone and cause great harm.  But a hammer itself is not inherently good or bad.  Blaming the hammer for any evils caused by it wouldn’t make sense either.  Ethics enters the picture depending upon how and for what purpose some person makes use of the hammer.  So it is with religion.

At their worst, religious traditions are entirely humanmade creations that are used for oppressive purposes.  At their best, religious traditions are co-creations of humans working in partnership with Divine Inspiration, always and necessarily, which are used to support and enhance human spiritual flourishing.  Either way, people always have a part in making religion.  This fairly obvious observation shouldn’t be a threat to Christians either, though some might perceive it to be.  It really is only a threat to the notion that my religion somehow dropped down to earth from heaven as it were.  But the whole narrative movement of the biblical story surrounds God’s desire to live in loving partnership with human beings, which is mostly powerfully displayed in the climactic event of the Incarnation of God.  The God of Judeo-Christianity wants to live and work with people in history, even when it comes to developing religious traditions.  This God is willing to get involved in the messy and changing particularities of human life, meeting us wherever we’re at, for the sake of supporting us in moving forward towards a better future.  And human life and culture are full of particularities, which means that every humanmade religious tradition will be enculturated necessarily, with no exceptions.  So as time passes and cultures evolve, religions will always need reforming.  For what may have once been very relatable and helpful for one group in one culture in one time can become alien and perplexing to another.  But at their best, our religious traditions contain timeless wisdom and truths that simply need repackaging, not reforming.

 

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