Letters to Jesus (Church, Religion, and Sacraments)-2
What is religion? How do we use it? Do we need religion? And, what if there was no such thing as religion?
If we’re serious about our relationship with You I don’t think we begin to ask these questions until we’ve traveled a good distance on our spiritual journeys. That proposition in itself may be a partial answer to some of these questions, for without the teachings of some religion as a starting point we do not end up where we later may be.
In a sense religion is like a book. It gives us knowledge, instruction, and insight in order to grow and move on. It leads us to “next steps.” The next steps are usually reading more (with books), or more fervency (with religion). But it must be admitted that no matter how many books one reads, it always leads to another book because the ultimate insight is not there. Just so, no matter how much knowledge of religion we have; no matter how fervent, loyal, and devoted we are to it; the ultimate insight is not in the religion, but comes through the religion.
The monks and saints whom we might regard as most “religious” are those who are often least concerned with religion. If properly cultivated, religion can lead us to that point where we can say with the prophet Isaiah, “Morning after morning He opens my ear that I might hear,”(50:4) – and what I hear may transcend religion per se.
So, how do we answer these questions? What is religion? Religion is a man-managed organization of beliefs and teachings meant to be a vehicle by which we come to know and pursue our destiny. Because it falls to the maintenance of man it is complex, finite, and xenophobic.
How do we use it? Ideally it is a stepping-stone the utility of which must be transcended to actually accomplish its goals. In reality, the way it is often used is as an end (a god) in itself – a possession the ownership of which grants membership in an exclusive club with inclinations to denigrate the efficacy of other “clubs.”
Do we need religion? My answer would be “yes” because within the multifarious manifestations of mankind a common denominator from which to start our journey is needed. It would be invented if it did not otherwise exist since man instinctively grasps for the answer to his existence. There is an inevitable but unnecessary need to show outward membership in common belief. What filters down inwardly as a result of this, and the inner desire to go beyond it, reveals the underlying efficacy of religion in our lives.