Fragile Religion?

I’ve been thinking about religion, faith and faiths of late and thought I’d share my thoughts. A developing stream of ideas…

Religion seems to me to be a fragile thing and yet it lasts. Shot through with inconsistencies and contradictions interlaced with deep insights and wisdom it is maybe a mirror image of humankind. Religions give a society, a community, a guide to living, something to aspire to but also, by their hierarchical nature, concentrate power in a few hands and are open to abuse. They take the human desire for a connection to something greater, the divine, God, and surround it with rules and required beliefs. They become clubs with rules. And yet, the core of faith, of seeking, of thirst is still there. The result is a strange mixture of compassion, love, caring for others and integrity with repression, suspicion of others and hypocrisy.

For me, brought up in a chapel background which sought to be non-hierarchical but nonetheless carried its own set of rules and expectations and having spent much of my adult life in a much more structured and top-down church both models share this flaw. They tell you want to think, what to believe, how to behave. Subtly sometimes, but the expectations are there, and my own belief is that our responsibility is to fulfil our potential, to be the person that God, if there is a God, meant us to be. If that potential doesn’t fit within the rules and expectations then the fault does not lie with the nature of the potential.

But is there a God? Increasingly I struggle with the term. I feel that there is something else, which I think of as the divine, but the concept of God which I grew up with and which is familiar to anyone from the Jewish, Christian or Islamic traditions feels too constrained, too humanised. If there is a divine being then, by definition, that being is beyond our human understanding and we diminish them as soon as we attribute human characteristics to them – including gender, ‘God’ being non-binary! But we attribute those characteristics anyway, not having the language for anything else, so we create both God and religion in our own image. I’m not sure what the right approach is but I have come to the conclusion that, for me, there are some helpful guidelines

First is openness to the ideas and beliefs of others, recognising that they could be right after all. Second to follow your own way, but thoughtfully, prayerfully, with consideration and compassion. Third, to take time to listen to whatever passes for the divine in my life, whether that is God, nature, human creativity, love or some combination. And finally, to act on it. This acting includes creativity – in my case poems, plays, books, music. And it involves caring for others and the world – those close to me and others, giving time and money for the dispossessed, for the relief of illness and deprivation, using my gifts to share concern for these things and for the environment. If I can do this, then maybe I am connected to the divine in some small way.

Tony Earnshaw

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