Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Getting Real With Religion

Religion should not be a reward-system for those who can fit themselves into a narrow structure of beliefs. It should really be a support system for doing the hard work of doing good in the world, of contributing some deeds to the world, to one's family, to one's friends, to one's self. That's hard work. Anyone can participate in a ritual and go through the motions. A ritual is just there as a symbolic form to remind you what has real value in life. If it's not doing that, it's not serving its function.

We've all become accustomed to thinking of religion as a stubborn clinging to sectarian differences, instead of fellowship that encourages worth-ship through traditional, symbolic theatre. Now some may say that it is disrespectful to refer to religious ritual as symbolic theatre, but that is what liturgy is, and it is intolerant and rigid to attempt to enforce how people will experience symbols. That will always be variable. Some people will experience them in a nice, light, somewhat superficial way, while other people will have deep experiences. That's up to the beholder.

Referring to them as symbols makes no atheistic or theistic assertion about what the symbols refer to. It's a strictly agnostic statement that allows for a wide range of experiences and opinions along that atheistic-theistic spectrum, and therefore allows for the greatest range of community and gathering, as community will include people all along that spectrum. For some people, the symbols will refer to very real, very literal spiritual realities. For others, they will refer to inner psychological transformation, and for others, a kind of festive traditionality.

This variation along the spectrum, it is worth pointing out, not only happens within a community but within an individual. I myself fluctuate from moment to moment, mood to mood, as to where I am along that spectrum. What really matters is the back-to-basics approach of values: as to whether the symbols are helping us focus on values that are important in life, whether we are giving true worth to that which is worthy. That is true religion : to give worth to that which is truly worthy.

And that means getting concrete, not abstract. Do you treat your fellow human beings with regard, with respect, with the reverence of knowing that something divine lives within them? Do you treat your world with respect, knowing that something divine lives within it? Concrete : does it bother you that developers and contractors are constantly tearing up the land just to build new homes? Knowing humans need new homes, but are we the only beings that matter? Is there no value to having open space? Are you a heathen? Do you support the heath, the open spaces? These are real questions.

If the rituals are not heading you in this direction, they aren't fulfilling their function. It shouldn't be about hocus-pocus before some high-and-mighty shibboleth with a lot of superstitious awe and fear thrown in. That, frankly, is charlatanry, no matter what religion we're talking about. Let's get real.


Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Again, a post I just love!

"Referring to them as symbols makes no atheistic or theistic assertion about what the symbols refer to. "

This is something I've tried to express in describing religious systems as metaphors. I am not saying that they are not true at the same time, simply that metaphor (or symbol) is how we humans try to grasp things that are too large, too rich, too real to fall tidily into exact human thoughts.

And, of course, you are right on the mark with how to gauge the reality of a religious experience. It's not by how flowing are the cloaks of the officiants, or how exact their pronunciation of ritual formulas or ancient languages.

It's in what the religious experience does.

3:20 PM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

"How we humans try to grasp things that are too large, too rich, too real to fall tidily into exact human thoughts."

Well-said! And if we are not reaching through our symbols for that which is too large for our thoughts, are we not simply trying to domesticate more expansive realities and pretend that they exist solely within our known parameters? Then why spirituality at all?

Religion should be where culture tries to transcend culture, not where it domesticates the Beyond to culture. Granted, those shamanic spirits who come back with visions must find a way of speaking it in the language of the reigning motifs, or at least reforging those motifs into something that will speak the Beyond. That is what it means to work within a tradition. But the Beyond is there to CHALLENGE culture, to challenge our known ways of doing things. Those who are smart do not see this as threatening culture, but allowing it stability through renewal.

Transformation is the aim, taking us out of our narrowness, and allowing us then to live our little life, but with a greater sense of grandeur, accompanied by a sublime sense of humility.

Thank you for coming by. Do come again!

3:36 AM  

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