Peace Garden Mama II

A garden blend of family, faith and following the muse

   May 20

faith fridays: is religion a dirty word?

I’m feeling a little sorry for religion these days; it seems to be getting a bad rap. And to be honest, I’m beginning to feel a little annoyed and a bit defensive for it. I just can’t help but wonder whether it’s really deserving of the rotten tomatoes it’s been pummeled with lately.

Recently, some wonderful speakers came to our school to talk about things like sexual integrity, interior strength, goal-setting and dreaming big. I found their overall message outstanding, but at one point they were explicit about the need to replace religion with relationship. It was as if they were saying that religion is a dirty word that should be banned.

For just a brief time during that session, little red flags started waving inside my head. It doesn’t seem right to me to separate the two, or pit one against the other. Why make relationship the shining jewel and religion the tarnished crown? To me, they’re inextricably linked. Separating them would be like removing the peanut butter from the jelly.

I remember coming upon this during my college years, when some of my Christian friends seemed repelled by the word religion. “I’m a believer. I’m not religious,” I’d hear. Even then I was left scratching my head. What’s with the animosity toward, or at least discounting of, religion?

I do understand that some people connect religion with unnecessary ritual, things that get in the way between us and God. They may have had a bad experience with their church growing up and now feel the need to dub religion as bad and order it to take a spot in the corner.

And I don’t disagree that when it comes to our belief in God, the relationship is the thing to strive toward and enter into. It is so much about that! But I’m concerned about losing the baby while dumping the bath water.

One thing I’ve learned in the last month of co-moderating An Atheist and a Catholic blog is that so often our divergences come down to definitions. Most of our discussions in the comments section over at A/C revolve around our distinctly different understandings of a certain concept or word. We might actually agree on something, but if we’re not framing it properly, everything goes haywire.

If we’re going to make such bold statements as “Death to religion,” then at least let’s get explicit about what we mean by religion.

Here’s my attempt. Religion isn’t the issue. Religion itself isn’t bad. Religion is, in large part, the means by which we express our faith. It is the toolbox that allows us to enter into a deeper level of faith. Religion can enhance the relationship between us and God. Without it, we can lose our way. It is the way in which we frame our faith, but in and of itself, it is not the culprit.

So what is the culprit? It seems to me it’s any number of things: a bad experience within a church, oftentimes at the hand of a particular person within that church, or a negative experience with its people as a whole. Perhaps a certain tenet has been misconstrued or misunderstood, leading to a devastating outcome. That might in turn lead the person who’s been hurt to misidentify the source of their pain, blaming religion in general and not the person or people whom messed up. Something personal, therefore, becomes very generalized. Little by little others join in and religion is the class clown needing to be stifled.

But religion…is not a person. It is not animate. It cannot be held accountable for all that has gone wrong within the world of the believer (and the non-believer). Religion is just the means through which we draw closer to God. It does not, on its own accord, create a block toward us and God. People do that.

I know that not everyone will agree with me, but if so, it’s likely because our definitions are not in sync. I do not and will not downplay anyone’s rightful hurt. I just want to make sure the blame goes where it ought; to the imperfect humans who messed up (and let’s face it, we all mess up at one time or another, some of us many more times than others and more deeply).

My religion has helped make my life exponentially more fulfilling than it would have been otherwise. So even if the rest of the world feels inclined to throw tomatoes at religion, I’m going to respectfully pass, and instead, keep trying to pin down the true source of unrest.

Q4U: So what do you think? Is the current trend to view religion as a dirty word justified?

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3 Comments

  1. Avatar of jimlindlauf jimlindlauf says:

    I’m sorry, but the word “religion” makes me cringe for so many reasons! I’m a member of a church, and I worship there on a regular basis, but “religion” brings so many negative experiences to mind that I would never use the word to describe my relationship with God or with others from my church! Yes, the negativity is from the people I’ve encountered, like you said, but they are the ones who are always using “religion” to build themselves up and cut others down, so I avoid the word altogether because I don’t want to be associated with them on any level.

  2. Jim, interesting, and thanks for your honesty. I had a Protestant reader comment on my Blogger blog and she really lent an interesting perspective to the discussion. From her view, it seems to be a Protestant thing, largely, to see this word as problematic. Here’s what she said:

    Very interesting thoughts, Roxane. I think there will be a difference here between how Catholics view this issue and how Protestants view it. And, having been both C and P, maybe I can explain it.

    I think this discussion about religion vs. relationship is primarily a Protestant discussion. If it’s appearing in Catholic communities, I think it’s bleed-through from evangelical culture. Catholics already accept a certain amount of ritual and formalization in their spiritual life, and that is to them, “religion” which furthers “relationship.” Yes?

    But in evangelical life, many people have bought into a discourse that now associates the word ‘religion’ with people who make an idol out of their own Christian identity, so it’s more important than God Himself. With this kind of ‘religious’ attitude, Christianity can become an exercise in pursuing social conformity and judgment of others.

    I believe that this kind of ‘religion’ in evangelicalism has been more culturally visible than its equivalent behavior in Catholicism, though every denomination certainly has its version of social ‘religion’. Does that make sense? So the way ‘religion’ is condemned by an evangelical is totally different from the way it’s condemned by an atheist, but the cumulative effect is that the more relaxed relationship between religion and relationship in Catholicism is very countercultural.

    Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to think! It’s one of my favorite forms of relaxation, and I really needed that right now. :-)

    May 20, 2011 12:20 AM

    • Avatar of jimlindlauf jimlindlauf says:

      I think her point makes a lot of sense, thanks for sharing! Religion is likely more of a negative term among protestant denominations, and altogether different from the way an atheist would view the word.

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