What is Religion?

He wants your soul.

As long as I’ve been around people have been arguing over the definition of religion. Some say it has to do with one’s relationship with God. Some say it has to do with one’s own relationship to one’s self. Some say it has to do with one’s relationship to the cosmos, which taken this way is not God but some thing that could spout forth both God and us, both God and the universe.

The fundamentalists tend to go for the first definition. They placate the second definition by doing this. They are afraid of anything greater than God, so they cannot admit the existence of the third definition, or they will have to become violent. How can they continue their role as God’s own appointed on earth if the God they see isn’t the God that is, if He is actually larger than they can perceive Him?

It’s this third one that most frustrates and derails fundamentalism. It is where science dwells, and the open sharing of the collective knowledge we have learned as men on earth. Whatever truth is there in the third definition is not, fundamentally, open to capture merely because of one’s own interpretation of it. Rewriting history won’t change truth, in other words. Science tries to get at it, but it is always going to be an imperfect tool in the quest. “There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors”, is its approach. Science never claims to be right. What it does do is use evidence to show that its way is increasingly less wrong. Ditto the semi-sciences, like economics, which because they deal more intimately (having to address desire as well as reason) with the actual events which drive their data necessarily are more some combination of both science and art than a pure science.

Right now the world is struggling with the third definition. Fundamentalism is increasingly pressed by it and seeking to find answers in the crush. Many have turned to violence in order to silence the approach of it in their lives. In the Third World they don’t want the West’s interpretation of how success and prosperity are arrived at. Even within the West there are Christian sects and groups which adhere more or less to a fundamentalist approach who also don’t want that interpretation of the society around them to define their world for them.

The Third World’s fundamentalists want the First World’s success without having to adhere to the First World’s principles. The First World’s fundamentalists want to pick and choose which so called tenants of scientific thought or reason they will adhere to. They like a smaller God, one who helps them, therefore, to always see themselves as they wish to see themselves when they look into their own second definition mirrors. Their God remains for them anthropomorphic rather than a God whose definition relies more upon very many clever machinations of thought and process. Their God cannot, therefore, help them change their basic natures. Even if He could they would not let him.

There is a big universal sticking point when it comes to religion. All three definitions have to receive our attention if we are to succeed at it. Fundamentalism, and the Bible, tell us that a kind of personal spiritual selfishness, something we’ve always called sin, can get in the way of our achieving what we want, finding our answers in terms of religion. If we aren’t willing to address our own judgmental natures, our own unwillingness to see ourselves in context or ourselves (and what we’ve always believed) subsumed in a wash of irrelevancy, then we can’t see God. We forget that God is bigger than the anthropomorphic figure we want to see. We forget that we must “worship in spirit and truth”. The beginning of success, therefore, lies in understanding something as simple as love, what it means about the perspective from which we can, under enlightenment, view ourselves. In this context to say, “greater love hath no man than that he would give his life for another”, takes on a new meaning. Love demands the death of the point of view that can only see religion in terms of the first two definitions. In this context we come to understand the cross, and why God would be willing put himself upon it in order to show us something.

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