Yesterday, I went off on several issues that arose from my reading and reflecting on this article by Frank Raj: Giving Up Religion for Individual Faith. Is There a Difference? In my own way, I’m taking a stand against his condemnation of religion and this pervasive sense of a superior “spirituality” making its way around. Like many who give me the “I’m spiritual” line, Mr. Raj claims that he is a Christian, but he wants nothing to do with Christianity. A Christian is someone who believes in Jesus Christ, follows his teachings, and, in my own insistence, is a practitioner of Christianity. I have this whole thing about people claiming to be of a religious persuasion, but not actually having anything to do with said affiliation. Like some who claim to be Catholic but don’t “practice.” You can’t be a chef if you don’t cook, an author if you don’t write, a dancer if you don’t dance. Therefore, you’re not a Christian if you don’t practice Christianity which includes going to church, receiving Holy Communion as Jesus Christ told us to do (Matthew 26:26-28, Luke 22:19-20), being part of the Body of Christ which is a community of faith with our presence, our gifts, our graces, and our time and talents.
While I have studied the major world religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Judaism, Islam, Jainism, among others – I am a Christian alone. So I will speak from the Christian perspective, as Mr. Raj claims an “authentic faith in Christ.” By rejecting Christianity, he rejects the tradition and authority of the Church. He also rejects the knowledge and grace we receive from all of Christianity, not just our own denomination. Ironic that Mr. Raj only knows about Jesus Christ because someone taught him, most likely using the same knowledge that has been passed down for generations from the original Apostles. One of the greatest gifts of any religious institution is its ability to retain and pass on knowledge to future generations. Society acknowledges that people cannot learn on their own. This is why we mandate that children attend school, whether public, private or a certified home schooling program, until they reach a specific age, because we know that no one will be capable of or self motivated enough to educate themselves. If we didn’t have the Church to educate us, then we would never grow in our faith, mature in our spirituality, and impact the Church in a positive way. Christianity teaches Christians how to pray, how to read and interpret scripture, the history of the Church, and the form and function of worship. It teaches us how to live in community, as part of the Body of Christ. Unfortunately, we do not always do all of that well, or effectively.
(Image courtesy of alleducationisreligious.blogspot.com)
Organized religion is about receiving and participating in the good, and working to change the bad and practicing giving the same grace to others, even the institution itself, that we receive from God. I liken the Church to my grandfather. I loved him with all my heart, but he was an atrocious racist and I hated that about him. I could love him for who we was to me, and not approve of the behavior and mindset that stood in contradiction with my faith. I was always fully aware that my grandfather was not perfect, just as there are flaws in the Church, in Christianity, in all religion. But I didn’t abandon him. I don’t abandon my religion. I stayed in dialogue, in relationship so that he might one day see another way. Even if he never did change, I did my part. I believe God will see what I was trying to do and the spirit in which I did it, and be pleased with that. We Christians do what we can do and lift the rest up to God.
So I do not buy this “spiritual versus religious” argument. I am spiritual and can continue to be because I am religious. My religion nurtures and grows my spirituality and challenges me where I never would challenge myself. I mourn the presence of a mindset that sees no redeeming qualities in community, in the Church, in the tradition to which I can personally attest has taught me, grown me, and strengthened me. I pray for those who have lost, and maybe never have known, the gift that is the Church. I also pray for Christianity, and the other world religions, to move to a place where ideal and real are more synchronized, but that will only happen if we participate rather than abandon. We must manifest, rather than detest what it means to be Christians. Well, Mr. Raj, that’s all I have to say about that.