What is the point of religion? Does it (still) have a role in a rational society? Is it something we should have grown out of by now? Or is their a place – a need, even – for it? And, if there is, what is that place, that point, that purpose?
The word ‘religion’ is undeniably a tainted word. And no two people are thinking of the same thing when it’s heard.
As someone who grew up in contemporary, evangelical, charismatic churches, ‘religion’ was, ironically, a dirty word. We spoke disparagingly of those ‘religious Christians’ who were legalistic and liturgical rather than being ‘led by the Spirit’.
Strangely, as my faith has veered away from what was imparted from childhood, I’ve found myself drawn to this word ‘religion’. In particular, I find Fr. Richard Rohr’s description of religion’s purpose enlightening:
The essential work of religion is to help us recognize and recover the divine image in ourselves and everything else too.
In other words, religion, at its best, helps us to see. It’s not about getting people to agree to certain doctrines; it’s not about converting or convincing people. Healthy religion helps open people’s eyes to the divine within and without.
That doesn’t make the word any better if you don’t believe in the divine. But despite the growth of atheism, most of us do still being in Something. Religion – and Christianity in particular – has too often focussed on the wrong things. Instead of helping people discover the divine, it’s tried to box and sell the divine on their terms. And so the church has lost its credibility. Rather than being considered a helper, it’s become a hindrance. People still, of course, find the divine – but it’s in spite of rather than because of the church.
Which is why the church, if it is to be relevant to the future has to get back to what is essential: helping people recognise and recover the divine image in ourselves and everything around us. Anything and everything else is secondary.
That kind of religion, that type of church, that’ll never die out.