There are I think many kinds of religion. I’m talking here about quality more so than type, type as in denomination, creed, tradition and culture. Let me be straight: the quality of religion in our world today ranges from authentic and mature to false and downright dangerous.
Dangerous, you say? Yes, dangerous. And false. Any divine creed that espouses killing and vilifying others is quite simply wrong and… dangerous. And let’s be honest, religion has many times been pro-active in sponsoring wars and bloodshed across the centuries. Supposedly honouring its founder’s teachings but in practice doing the opposite. Operating from a base of hate rather than love, of an exclusive tribe rather than an inclusive and outreaching community.
And the quality of religion is both on the collective level and the individual level. Even within my own Catholic Church there are those who long for a return to the old sin-centric, negative and fear based teachings, those who support dangerous and divisive political leaders and ideologies, and who would gladly see the undoing of all the spiritual renewals arising from the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. There are even some extreme Catholic groups who regard the present pope, dear good Pope Francis, as heretical and a ‘false pope’ – mainly because of his teachings on compassion and outreach to the poor and the marginalised! And let’s not forget those individuals who can seemingly combine a faith in God and a spiritual ministry with child abuse…
What then do we mean by ‘mature religion’? I can do no better than to quote from Richard Rohr OFM, whom I regard as a modern day prophet and a voice of rare sanity and sanctity in today’s world, and who by the way is often vilified by the reactionary and traditionalist elements within the Catholic Church. Richard writes:
“The true purpose of mature religion is to lead you to ever new experiences of your True Self. If religion does not do this, it is junk religion. Every sacrament, every Bible story, every church service, every sermon, every hymn, every bit of priesthood, ministry, or liturgy is for one purpose: to allow you to experience your True Self—who you are in God and who God is in you—and to live a generous life from that Infinite Source.“
For Rohr, the True Self is that inner core of our being where God resides, where God is both delighted to be and also by being there gives life to our being. The True Self is of course usually hidden and distorted by the events of our upbringing: the wounds, the prejudices, the fears, the lack of understandings, the lack of love and affection, even the cruelty that many of us suffer. For Rohr, the key job of religion, perhaps the only really vital job of religion, is to enable us to discover our True Self, and by doing so, liberate our innate ability to love and be loved. For Rohr, God resides in every single human person – period. If that were not so, then we would not be.
The acid test of all religious practice is then quite simply, does it foster the authentic and true Self? Does it promote our ability to love and be loved? All the bells and smells, the worthy sermons and prayers, the diverse and long standing rituals and doctrines, all of these are pointless if they do not encourage us as individuals and communities to be more loving, more open, more joyful and fear-free.
If any one of us honestly feels that their ‘church’ is failing in this, perhaps failing quite badly, then I think there is a blunt choice: either to abandon that brand of religion or to work harder to renew it into the image of a mature church. Being lukewarm is to collude in mediocrity, or worse.
As Richard Rohr says: “As disappointed as I get with religion, I can’t give up on it.”
God is with us and in us!