Religion has gotten a justifiable critique in our current time and place. Celebrated writer and atheist Christopher Hitchen takes organized religion to task for creating climates of intolerance, wars, poverty, and fostering ignorance. Such a critique is healthy and necessary as religious institutions are human-made structures and full of the same inequities and issues that we see in any such structures (governments, companies and class systems come to mind). As progressive Christians and/or seekers we should welcome this critique because it allows us to talk about what religion can actually be about: transformation, awe, social justice, transcendence, love and peace.
This discussion of “why religion matters” is currently being stripped out of the debate. Some of the many reasons this is taking place is that writers like Hitchens and Dawkins only present one view of religion: a viewpoint that tends to have a literal interpretation of religious texts and consequently a rather narrow field of acceptable behavior and expression. In addition, people who fall on the progressive spectrum of religious belief tend to not “evangelize” and like most left-leaning statements, they don’t exactly make for good sound bites! There is also a fair amount of shame attached to being religious now, as if the term has become synonymous with ignorant, intolerant or “prone to magical thinking”. Again, it is important to take the long view here: up until now it has been taken for granted that religion has been “right” and “significant”. With the huge expansion of knowledge in science and technology there are answers to questions that religion used to
“solve” and so religion is being revised in our worldview.
But why does the discussion about religion need to be defined this way? Those of us who see
ourselves as spiritual and/or religious and who see the richness in a faith tradition are now being called to be a strong voice for a way of being in the world. Christianity is at a point where the “empire” or connection to imperialism is loosening and its message about love, equality and a kingdom of
Heaven here on earth is a powerful antidote to a profit-driven, selfish and often lacking in awe kind of culture we seem to be sliding into. Now is also the time to voice the felt sense of the spiritual, of the Holy Spirit, and of the sense of being connected to a larger Story if we want to create a world that does in fact value our planet and all Creation.
Being this version of religious in a secular age is uncomfortable. You won’t fit neatly into a category. But it may well be the most spiritually important thing you can do with your faith.