Words of Hope: Religion

I loved my conversation with a devout atheist on a recent flight. I think he enjoyed the conversation as well. It was never truculent or contentious but full of curiosity as we both worked to understand the other person’s point of view. One aspect that stands out to me in retrospect is that he believes God is an invented reality. My question to him was, “What if there is a God who, as a free agent, is outside of our conception, an actively Divine Creator aspiring to interact in meaningful ways with creation?” 

This has always struck me as profoundly beautiful. Life as relationship with love at the center. How much fracture occurs out of sync with creation or one another. He kept referring to me as religious and I said, “I prefer you consider me as relational rather than religious.” I find the words religion and religious often describe a life I have no interest in following.  

Like many things in life, the word “religion” has a troubling context. The origin has many roots but one of my favorite meanings of religion is to “consider carefully.” Religion came to represent a moral obligation to the gods. It also came to mean feelings of being bound, restricted, or inhibited. No wonder there is a negative connotation to the word. 

I love how Dad handled faith and belief. He would not say that he was religious, but he would say he had a close and intimate friendship with God. It is sad to learn the word “religious” became more used in the 16th and 17th centuries to divide people into categories after the divisions in the church.  

I have found people can be “religious” yet relationally far from God. I can see this in myself when I make my practice of religion more important than my living relationships. I can piously memorize scripture and then have a snarky tone with my husband. I can attend church but think mean thoughts. I can be dedicated to prayer but only about what I need. I can be behaviorally perfect but inwardly far from the heart of God.  

I love that Dad taught and lived the tantamount importance of our relationships with God and people with love at the center. 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3