Jan. 11, 2019

Cross Purposes 30 / Reasons For Religion

An acquaintance of mine commented on how disgusted she is with religious people. “They aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. They are such hypocrites.” At first I was a little surprised at the rest of her remarks, some of which were quite heated and full of popular, over-used expletives. She claims to be “open minded” concerning just about everything. However, when it comes to “believers”, she cuts them no slack!

Instead of reacting to her reactions to believers, I decided to explore this a little myself. Is there evidence for her conclusions? This is what I came up with, based first of all on her challenge. After doing some self examination as well as a little spiritual “time travel” into the past to revisit some religious “worlds” of past involvement, I discovered that her claims may carry some weight.

These “reviews” amounted to the formation of a question: Why are people involved in religion, or “spirituality”, as some prefer, since they regard themselves as “spiritual” and not “religious”? Unfortunately the two seem to have become mutually exclusive in some minds. However, Lucifer is a spirit and he certainly “believes in” God, so I guess that makes him “spiritual” too, eh? 

Please, mind you, these are observations, not judgements. I cannot “judge”. I do not sit behind a tall desk, dressed in a black robe, a gavel in my hand dispensing sentences for crimes, offenses, or misdemeanors. But I can make observations about why people are religious / spiritual. Here are a few: 

1. You grow up in a tradition. The whole family - immediate and extended - follows “THE Tradition”. Blindly. You “believe” because it’s your family’s belief, but you may not really know God. You may be nominally Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Pentecostal, whatever. “It’s what we do.”

2. Religion is entertainment. You know - the parlor games crowd. Dabbling with no commitments. Spiritual one night stands. Tarot readings, astrology, palm readings... reading everything but the Bible. Seances, visiting haunted buildings, dancing in circle under a full moon, spoon bending, retreats and workshops on how to discover or enhance your psychic abilities or see auras.

3. You have a curiosity about the “unseen”. So you involve yourself in metaphysical research. The word itself simply means “beyond the physical”. There are many branches of metaphysical science. It’s essentially the study of how the unseen -  “energy” - effects the realm of matter, what we can see. It is the study of the interplay of cause and effect - prayer, positive thinking, science of mind, affirmations, and the like. Personally I do not actually regard this as a religion, except to add that paradoxically all religions have metaphysical practices and tools. Metaphysical “science” observes and theorizes how religious practices work, for example, how does prayer / ritual affect physical situations? This could also include the effects of light or color (art and symbolism), sound or vibration (music), and integrative healing settings.  

4. Another reason why people do religion is that the church basement is the nearest thing to an exclusive social club where you can get the latest gossip about who should be excluded from your clique. The rule of thumb is to always bring your yardstick to the quilting circle. That way you can decide how someone who’s not there does not quite measure up to your standard for them, but you yourself indeed wind up being tall in the saddle of self righteousness, pilgrim.

5. Or maybe you are someone who likes to win, even at church in the men’s Bible study. You like to impress with all your knowledge, which certainly exceeds that of anyone else in the room. But you’re on your fourth marriage, and your current wife hasn’t yet mentioned to you that she’s filed for divorce. Your his-hers-ours batch of kids are pretty much little hellions whose respect you’ve never managed to win, and who may, if they’re fortunate, not grow up to be like you. But you’re too heavenly minded to be any earthly good, so who cares?

6. Maybe you’re afraid of hell when you die, and the life you’re living now is riddled with guilt and drama. So you’re into chastisements, punishments, penance, and really love a good hellfire and brimstone sermon every now and then. Your life is so bad that this kind of thing actually gives you comfort. It leaves you temporarily feeling better (or bitter?) about yourself, and you think if you can please God with your ego attempts at being good. Self righteousness and self efforts surely will give you a better crack at Heaven.

7. Then you may be one who chooses a religious path that shows you how to keep your sunny side up, but the reality is that you’re torn apart on your insides and the outside of your life. It’s a place where you can learn principles and affirmations that basically instruct you on how to serve a gourmet dinner on top of a dumpster, but the garbage and its smell never get taken away, as the inner stench permeates every area of life. You just can’t get away from it, because you haven’t realized that it’s what’s inside a man that defiles him, as Jesus taught. It may be a religion of “getting ahead” in the world, or how to attract more stuff into your life. But it isn’t changing you, and that’s where the work needs to be done.

8. You’re into politics, so you join a religion that may run anywhere from ultra-conservative right to ultra-liberal left. Whatever it is, it must be politically correct, having its particular agenda for mankind, just as long as it’s a religion informed by those who know what’s best for everyone else - “the” cause or party you blindly support with vigor. You may have never really heard Jesus when He says, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

9. Last but not least, is that of Jesus Christ’s Way of salvation through His cross and resurrection, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s not about tradition, habit, religion as entertainment, trendy spirituality, the unseen, Bible thumping, gossip, self righteousness, fear, guilt, positive thinking, politics, or even how to have a better shot at your fifteen minutes of fame. 

It is about the narrow Way! It is about the Jesus Christ way of inner spiritual transformation! It’s your real reason for being! It’s about being freed from sin, death, the world’s way of doing things, and the hooks of the evil one on your Soul.  At some point you’ve come to the place where you’ve experienced the life-transforming call of Jesus Christ the risen Son of God. You’ve heard Him say within you, as He looks into your Soul, takes you by the hand, and says, “Follow me!” And you surrender in full!

You leave your “stuff” right there and walk away from it. As the Door opens, you walk into the transforming power of the Presence of the Living God, as He seals the promise on your Heart, “I will never leave you or forsake you!” And everything changes, especially your priorities. None of those other “reasons for religion” can hold a candle to His divine reality.

If you’re like me, and you’ve been in those other spaces or something close to them, the people who questioned you then may really criticize you now. They may always see you as they formerly perceived you, refusing to admit that a sea change has occurred, and this can be deeply disturbing to them.

When St. Paul was still Saul of Tarsus, he was a Pharisee who had overseen the martyrdom of many Christians. But when Jesus introduced Himself to Paul in a blinding vision, it transformed him beyond his former identities. The old Saul was gone, whether anyone was for him or against him. He now labored on behalf of those he’d formerly persecuted, in order that Christ be formed in them. (See Galatians 4:19). In other words the change was so radical that his name was no longer Saul, but Paul.

Being made new - going from inner darkness and sinning to being radiant and shining with God’s own Light through the Holy Spirit living within - is what it’s about. This can only be brought about through surrendering to the Cross, where we are made a new creation in Jesus Christ!