Why Be Religious?

It has become fashionable in the past two decades to be “spiritual but not religious.” There are many reasons for this, probably the biggest one being the clergy sex scandals, particularly in the Catholic church. Perhaps another big reason is that our society values busyness more and more, and Sunday is no longer a day off so people can now work 24/7.

By being religious, I don’t necessarily mean going to church, although that could be part of it. What I mean by “being religious” is “connecting with one of the great world religious traditions.

These traditions are like super-highways of spirituality. They all have people who are recognized as being super-spiritual. Normally they are called saints or mystics. These spiritual super-heroes have developed ways of drawing closer to God that are tried, true and shared down through the centuries with everyone within the tradition.

Also, the scriptures of all these traditions are super-countercultural. They tell you that you are loved not because of how rich or famous or beautiful you are, but just because you are a human being. You are loved without conditions, unlike in the “meritocracy” most of us live in where your worth is constantly being calculated by how much you produce and consume.

Numerous studies by contemporary psychologists have shown that religious people are healthier, live longer, have better relationships, more friends, better marriages, better sex and are more generous than non-religious folks.

Also, these traditions specialize in giving people the big picture when asked the fundamental questions: who are we, where did we come from, how are we to live, and where are we going?

On top of all this, these traditions have engaged in major charitable works throughout the world, founding schools and hospitals for the poor and advocating for their rights.

If you are spiritual but not religious by yourself, you would have to get other people to join you if you were going to get any significant charitable work done. And as soon as you get any group of people together, you run into the same problems religions have always faced regarding who gets to lead the group, how to keep your egos from clashing, etc, etc.

So why not just join one of the major world religions that have tons of lived experience down through the centuries to share with you?

3 Big Ideas for May 15, 2019

  1. Teilhard de Chardin was a Christian mystic who believed that love and energy are the foundation of the cosmos. This “love-energy” is the source of the universe’s intelligibility and therefore the basis of knowledge. This leads philosophy out of the impasse of making matter the basis of all empirical knowledge. Philosophers have traditionally made love secondary to knowledge – you have to first know something before you can love it. But for lovers of God like Teilhard, love is the source and goal of all knowledge.
  2. Christian martyrs were willing to die for their faith because they believed “all is one” – everything, including life and death, is under the care of God. Now we have arrived at a similar state by the reverse process: we no longer believe there is a God, all is passing away, and therefore all is meaningless. Without God, all is not one, it is zero. The martyr was willing to die for God, but would the secular non-believer be willing to die for zero? This is important when you are speaking truth to power and fighting injustice.
  3. Almost everything wrong with the world has to do with the way the “It” of institutions can be misaligned, out of control, and disconnect with the “I” and the “We.” The personal is destroyed by the impersonal when corporations, governments, and religious institutions become out of touch with the people they are meant to serve, and only serve themselves. The result is exploitation of others for money or sex, and rape of the planet’s resources on which we all depend. Unitive thinking, the idea that all is one, keeps the “It” of hierarchies connected to the common good, the “We.”