Two of my sisters-in-law were having a discussion. One is a self identified Christian from a fairly conservative group while the other (I think) would categorize her beliefs as more “New Agey” and not Christian per se.
The question was posed: “How does it happen….our religion so different, and our beliefs so similar?”
And the reply was: “…I think our main obstacle is the religion part. For me, religion is an obstacle to spirituality. For you, it is the key”
That got me thinking: Why is it that we assume that religion is some kind of cranky set of stodgy rules and practices and that spirituality is the thing that frees us?? It’s not just Free Spirits versus Christians either, this perception of religion and spirituality as opposites that cannot possibly work together appears among Christians as well. I have seen many people claim that anything that turns their spirituality into a practice of religion deadens it.
How can this be? The Gospels and Epistles are clear that what we believe must inform our daily lives. In fact even if we don’t believe Scripture to be authoritative common sense should tell us that what we believe will effect our decision making as well as who we choose to befriend, how we raise our children and even what foods we eat and clothes we wear.
True, we can become dogmatic about those choices (and there is an importance in looking for inconsistencies and speaking out about them), and our practice of spirituality (religion) shouldn’t become an end in itself. It is only a tool to help us organize our spiritual life. Religion serves several important purposes.
- It enables us to have an organizational scheme that (hopefully) will minimize inconsistencies between what we say we believe and what we do.
- It protects us to some extent from excess, by giving a framework in which to operate
- Most importantly it enables us to join with others in order to practice and enhance our individual and collective spirituality
It is this community aspect that I think is the key to understanding the importance of religion.? Together we can come to a clearer understanding of who we are as humans and what we believe about the world and our place in it.? The goal is not a group of people with identical beliefs in all areas.? The goal is a group of people with enough beliefs in common that they can understand one another and serve as spiritual guides and comforters to one another. That is the point behind the admonishments in the Scriptures to love one another and to be one. Not the losing of the uniquely created self in the larger whole but the adding of the self to the whole so that whole may become more than any one could be.
Our religious practice and community must build up our spirituality until what we do is so natural a flow from what we believe that the two cannot be distinguished.