Monday, June 8, 2009

That’s not my “religion”

From Merriam-Webster, here's the primary definition of "straw man." 1 : a weak or imaginary opposition (as an argument or adversary) set up only to be easily confuted.

Here are M-W's definitions of "religion":

1 a: the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion> b (1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance 2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices 3 archaic
: scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness 4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.

That's not my "religion"!

I wonder if it's sacrilegious to disagree with the dictionary's definition of religion? Is it indicative of my ignorance and gullibility that I disagree with Bill Maher's take on religion in his movie, Religulous, and find his questions rooted in a modernistic understanding of religion, related to the dictionary's definition? If his assumption is that religion consists of perceiving the supernatural and its intersection with the natural, in addition to "worship" as seen only in the singing, talking or following a particular set of rites, then his foundation for his documentary is understandable. However, he never offered viewers the definition of "religion" on which his questions were based. Thus, the questions he asked of religious adherents seem unanswerable in anything other than a way that elicits superiority and mockery of the respondent.

The arguments over the airwaves, internet and between people, today, seem to be efforts to control what other people think, as distinct from celebrating or decrying how people treat one another, their families, their communities, strangers, and themselves. It seems as if the predominant modus operandi for both religious and irreligious is to mock the other side, to demean the persons whose thoughts are different than their thoughts, to denigrate the literature which supports that system (whether ancient literature or modern scientific material), and to distance themselves from those whose belief systems don't make sense in their own subjective understanding.

That's not my "religion"!

My conviction is that humans reveal their true "religion" in the content of our own and one another's lives, long before we hear it out of mouths or read it in words. (For those who don't know me, our natural and self-protective tendencies to judge before knowing and loving one another, patiently, kindly, with encouragement and grace, may actually obstruct your view of my "religion.") If we won't listen to one another as living documents of our "religion", then the underlying justification and rationale of that religion may sound patently ridiculous. When we tell one another, "I don't want to hear it", are we really saying, "knowing you, why you do what you do, or make the choices you make is irrelevant to my life"? If loving one another is irrelevant, have we devalued the other person's worth in our world? Beyond that unwillingness to know the other, are we questioning whether the others' lives may challenge our own actions, words and choices? How will we respond to those challenges others' lives pose? Will we continue to seek truth, or will we fight against them with weapons of opposition, such as distance, alienation, gossip, slander, or self-justification?

Our culture speaks of human rights rather than human worth. The former language seems more oriented toward the individual ego, and the latter toward the gift of humanity. Most of us simply do not see the people we encounter in our families and our communities, much less outsiders, as gifts. We treat them as obstacles in our own paths, battles to be fought, and challenges to our own self-images.

So, I try to live out this (biblical) definition of religion: The religion of living in a way that sees the others around me, seeks their good, listens to their stories, believes in their intrinsic human worth (God-created in God's image), encourages them through my gifts of valuing them and hearing them, embraces their God-given uniqueness, experiences and gifts, chooses to "die" to my own interests rather than ride rough-shod over their understanding, defines life through being with others rather than in opposition or separation from others, refuses to condemn, demean or mock them even when they've "crucified" me in words, lies, ostracism, or declarations of ignorance, discerns and interprets without judgment (see my blog on judgment v. discernment for the difference) the ramifications of their lived religion, pays attention to the challenge others pose to my lived "religion," remains alongside those who differ from me as long as my presence is not interpreted as condoning harmful behavior to self or community, and ultimately believes in God's power to resurrect me from the grave of silence and denial of worth in which many would place strangers to their personal systems.

Thus, this re-definition of "religion" is not verbal but actual. What do we do? How do we treat the stranger, the brother or sister, the mother or father, the child, the neighbor, the other gender, the other race, another ethnicity or family? Do we divorce those we disagree with or continue to include them in our fellowship? Each of us has a single body, and that single body is a "book of law" which is governed by the unique combination of gender, experiences, love/unlove, culture, education, status and places that body has been.

Some questions to ask ourselves about our "religion": Do we "crucify" others according to our law (verbally, emotionally, physically)? Do we love and remain with others? Does our love nurture, teach and maintain healthy boundaries for self and those who've been entrusted to us? Do we invade another's personhood with verbal, emotional, spiritual or physical violence? Do we seek to dominate or manipulate others through intellect, "religion", words, the oppressive power of a group of people, fear, threats, or force? Do we defend another's personhood against such violence? Do we discriminate and treat with partiality one person/family/tribe over another, educated over uneducated, like-minded over diverse peoples, rich over poor, our race or ethnicity over others?

Mikhail Bahktin wrote: The very being of man … is deepest communion. To be means to communicate. Absolute death (non-being) is that state of being unheard, unrecognized, unremembered. To be means to be for another, and through the other, for oneself. A person has no internal sovereignty, he is wholly and always on the boundary; looking inside of himself, he looks into the eyes of another or with the eyes of another.

I trust God to bring people into my life who will help me grow in love, grace, and wisdom – even those who seek to harm. This radical religion acts with love and in communion with humanity.

1 comment:

  1. Yep - "Love one another". I think He meant that...and if everything we did was based on that simple mandate, if our words and actions were based on having that phrase in mind first, what a different world it would be.