Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Religion and Society

Britich writer Tom Shakespeare:
For all these reasons, I agree with the writer James Martin when he says that "spirituality without religion can become a self-centered complacency divorced from the wisdom of a community". But then Martin is a Jesuit, and so of course he wants those wishy-washy spiritual believers to sign up to his organised faith.

Whereas my biggest problem with SBNR is the opposite. It's that it often retains the mumbo-jumbo, aspects of religion. People have rejected the shelf with the ready-made religious beliefs, and gone straight around the corner to the pick'n'mix shop to buy a more or less random set of beliefs which are, if anything, even more incredible. Many people who are spiritual but not religious reject the organisation but hang on to the supernatural bit. But I don't want to be required to have faith in a supreme being or miracles or reincarnation, or any entity for which there is no scientific evidence.

So, that makes me a humanist then? Not at all. Because don't we have four options?
  • We can be religious and spiritual - which is the traditional faith approach
  • We can be spiritual but not religious - which is the new age pick and mix approach
  • We can be humanist - which is neither religious nor spiritual
  • Or, perhaps, we can be religious but not spiritual
This last choice works best for me.

The word "religion" is thought to derive from Latin "religare", to bind or connect. I think that sense of a connection is the key point. Religion offers a bond between individuals and it helps them form a connection to the wider universe. The great French sociologist Emile Durkheim differentiated between belief, which was private, and religion, which was social.
Interesting approach, is it not? Here's what I think - he has made the second best approach. The traditional approach is best, but if that is going to fail you, you ought still consider religion as a necessary social device.

Now here's what I really know - the church, deeply, deeply flawed though it is, is a place where God works. God works even if we are there for purely social reasons. (Provided, of course,the church has not gone so far off the rails that God has left the building.) Sometimes, perhaps even ofttimes, being religious leads to being spiritual.

This dear friends is why the social erosion of church matters so much. Yes, we can build a truly secular society if we desire, ugly though it may be. But we will have to work so much harder at building new Christians.

Some might remark hat they will be better Christians having had to pass through a refining fire of adversity. Hogwash. There is enough adversity in any situation to refine one's faith. No, all a secular society really means is that people will grab for different errant crap when they choose to do so.

It is silly as a Christian to welcome adversity. Even Christ in Gethsemane wished for it not to be so. If we can avoid, should we not?

Just something to think about as the nominally Christian society of America fades, but might still be resurrected.


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