I like rituals. They can be beautiful and very meaningful. They help us to identify ourselves. I will say more about that in next month’s issue. Right now, I am saying that we have to be careful not to let rituals and the trappings of religion become the main menu.
I visited a man one day who seemed very ill at ease. Fumbling for words, he said rather apologetically, “I’m not a very religious person.” My immediate response was, “Good; I don’t believe God calls us to be ‘religious’.” He looked puzzled, but I continued, “The more I study Scripture, the more I see that we are called to a way of life—a way of relating to each other, to ourselves, our families, the world around us, and to God.” Jesus didn’t say, “Go into the world to be religious.”
It’s easy to get “hung up” over religion—to worship the container rather than the content, to value the nets more than the fish, and to allow the trappings of religious symbols, rituals, creeds and doctrines to become a substitute for a vital relationship with the God of all creation. Religiosity (the way we go about worship) can be a sure way to avoid a deep spirituality, a hindrance to living the gospel in everyday life where decisions, behavior, speech and motives really matter. Unhealthy religion is the cause of much misery in the world.
History tells us that people have done many terrible and demonic things in the name of religion. Much trouble in the world today relates to belief systems. Beliefs can separate families, nations, and neighbors. People die to defend their beliefs, which many times are prejudiced and dangerous. Will we ever see and understand that all of us are interrelated, regardless of our religious labels? We are all connected to the family of God, despite our differences. This is a concept that many refuse to accept because their ego is tied to their beliefs and they want to think they have the corner on the “truth”.
Our pride and ego cause us to believe that our “brand” is the only brand of religion. We simply do not have God in our back pockets. There are many roads towards understanding Deity. We tend to see God through our own cultural lens. God is clearly beyond human comprehension. Any image or idea of God falls short of the reality of God. It seems to me that “God is Creative Love,” the Source of all being. But God, for man, is a projection of their own humanity.
I was shocked to read that some minister in California approved of the Orlando tragedy, implying that God wanted to wipe out all gay people. How sick can you get? Jesus said, “Come unto me all you that are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest” (modern translation). We can be so conditioned or blinded by our culture or religious heritage that we only see and believe what we’ve been taught. We need to make room for other possibilities. To use a modern cliché, we need to “think outside the (theological) box.”
Salvation or enlightenment is not something we do. It is something we experience when we become free of all prejudices, judgments and labels. We must become empty for God to fill us. Being judgmental becomes a roadblock to having fellowship with other people—Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Muslim or whoever.
Speaking of Muslims, this is not a good time to be one in the Western world. Some see all Muslim people as a threat. Popular opinion blames the Moslem religion itself for violence, suggesting that there is something inherent in Islam itself that causes followers to be violent. That equation needs to be challenged in the name of truth. Good Muslims need to speak up. Painting all Muslims with the same brush is like painting all Christians with the same brush. Fr. Ron Rolheiser said in one of his columns, “Islamic militants no more speak for Islam than Hitler speaks for Christianity. Authentic, God-fearing Muslims are the first victims of Muslim violence.” ISIS and Al Qaeda first establish themselves by terrorizing and killing thousands of their own people—God-fearing Muslims. They have killed more Muslims than they have Christians or persons of other religions, according to Fr. Rolheiser. So, we need to find out the truth before we label people the wrong way. Even then, labeling is not cool.
One other thought: religion becomes unhealthy when we feel more guilt than grace. God is not “out to get us.” There’s no such thing as a little black book. Rather, I believe God is a forgiving and loving God, and seeks fellowship with all of God’s children. May God help us, then, to accept God’s Grace, and to live and to “help live,” regardless of our religious boxes. Let us find not only the words, but also the music.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Amen.