Cromey Online

The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

EVERYONE IS RELIGIOUS


The word religious is derived from the Latin religare. Re means again, ligare means to connect. The word ligament is in there somewhere too. Ligaments connect bones and cartilage. Religion expresses the desire of all people to re-connect, to make connections again to someone or something.

Sex comes to mind immediately when we think of connecting. People have a strong physical and emotional need to connect sexually to other people, gay or straight. We yearn for the intimacy and pleasure. We have the urge to reproduce. Sex drives us to connect and reconnect our bodies and emotions to another person.

Money is next. We all want to connect ourselves to money and all the freedom and toys that money can bring to us. The most important value for many is money. People who work in finance, accounting, the stock market, taxation, business and even government spend most of their time dealing with money. Poor people spend more time worrying about money than most people do. The desire to reconnect to money is often far stronger than our desire to love our spouses, children and neighbors.

People worship money. It is what they give the greatest worth and value to. Connecting to and possessing money is a religion to many people. It is what they worship. It is the most important connection and values in their lives.

Science is a religion for many. Many people’s most important connection to reality is through science. There is a devotion to the idea that science must delve into every aspect of human life, the planet and the universe to attempt to explain and understand them. Some scientists are devoted to the idea that science will eventually solve every problem and so-called mystery with the austere discipline of reason. Science needs nothing except pure reason, patience and perseverance.

Science’s accomplishments in medicine, engineering, physics, chemistry and the rest are terribly important for human life. It has accomplished great things for humanity and some destructive ones as well like weaponry, nuclear accidents, poison gas and ecological disasters.

Religion’s move toward connections is also seen in the human beings desire to give thanks. Many people work hard, study long hours, earn diplomas, degrees, doctorates, prizes, awards and money. Many along the way realize they did not earn everything they have.

People do not earn their feet, hands, eyes, and brains ability to think and reason. They do not earn their parents, country or race. They see that all their accomplishments and earnings were not possible without all the things they did not earn. So people give thanks for these free gifts as well as for the earned ones. In theological terms this free gift is called grace. Gracias is thank you.

Thoughtful people thank their parents for many of these free gifts including life itself. Some thank the universe or nothing and just are thankful. Traditionally religious people thank God for the gifts they have been given. I will write about notions of God later in this paper.

First I want to present some other ideas about religion as I am using it. Most people report times of awe and wonder at things that happen in their lives.

Gazing at a newborn baby, a glowing sunset, a mountain range or fathomless canyon makes us tremble. The Tuba Mirum from the Berlioz Requiem when the horns suddenly blare from all corners of the concert hall shivered me the first time I heard it. We yearn for more of those precious times. We want to reconnect to them again..

Our values are precious to us. We are exhilarated when we read of people set free from bondage or slavery. Justice prevailing in a court of law is precious. Love conquering despair gives us a sense of life. Stories of lovers who persevere through tragedy and turmoil, the stuff of novels and plays, are deeply satisfying to all human beings. The reason we have so much fiction revolving around love winning out is because we humans know that is one of our deepest values.

The ambiguity of moral decisions brings a sense of peace when we notice that simple right wrong, black white, good and bad situations can be tempered with the willingness to live in compromise. Some people want free enterprise economies; some want rigidly controlled systems. In the United States we live in an ambiguous economy. There is a lot of freedom and there are government controls as well. No one is completely happy with that arrangement but also no one group can control everything. Mature human beings want to connect to a sensible balance of freedom and safeguards.

Many religious people are true believers. They say they know what it is that their God wants human beings to do and be in the world. Abortion, birth control, anti-homosexual are good examples. Never trust a true believer. They want to restrict our way of looking at God, religions and morality. They have no truck with ambiguity.

God is not a grandfather in the sky with a computer chronicling our peccadilloes. God does not dally in human affairs, defy gravity, heal the sick or make people die. God is not a supernatural being, an omniscient ruler, father, mother, creator, redeemer or holy spirit among us. God is not all good and all loving. God allows evil to exist.

Right there is enough heresy to send me to the stake. But let’s dig a bit. God is not a being, a human being, a cosmic being, a clock-maker, first cause or any THING.

God is being itself, the ground of all being. That’s a bit vague, isn’t it? Yes it is, it is meant to be. God did not give us life, did not create life, God is life, life itself. The word God is a bit of language. God is a word. ….”is language groping for something outside our experience.”

One can meditate on the notion that God is being itself or that God is the ground of all being. I can get a sense of life bubbling and streaming about me when I pay attention to it.

Traditional religion is the attempt to re-connect to that sense of being itself, life flowing around us, the ground of all being. I suggest that it is the search for “what is going on.” What is this experience of being and ground? It is what is going on in all the aspects and varieties of worship. It is the desire to connect again to the sources of our being. Liturgy, sacraments, meditation, prayer, music, beads, incense, stained glass, plain buildings, ornate architecture, davening, whirling dervishes, dancing and chanting are directed to connection again to the ground of all being, life itself.

I have no trouble with a good metaphor. I think of the ground of all being, being itself,\. I can see the words God, father, mother or creator, the traditional words meaning God. They are metaphors for what I mean. The words put a human face on a theological reality. I don’t confuse the metaphor for the reality. When I call my wife honey I use that sweet savor to represent some aspect of my wife. Honey is not my wife. Honey is a human tender expression of love for a real human being whom I love.

Well then, what does it all mean? Traditional religion and philosophy both grapple with the meaning of life, the meaning in our personal life and all of life. Philosophy discusses the issue rationally and dispassionately. Religion provides a way to live a life of meaning by working closely with birth, sickness, education, ethical and moral living and death. In that living there is plenty of room for discussion and debate about meaning and about how to live. Different religions have various ways of dealing with living. Some religions leave their sick, dying and aging elders out to die naturally. Others want all possible medical measures to be taken to keep the person alive.

Not all traditional religions allow for doubt and debate about the belief systems. Mormons, Roman Catholic, Orthodox Jews, Southern Baptists, some strict Lutherans and Muslims have pretty rigid theological and moral positions. Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, most Lutherans and Baptists, Jews and Muslims are more flexible.

All people are religious. There is a great need to be forgiven. Most human beings know that they have done things in their behavior that are illegal or wrong by their own standards. We all lie, cheat, steal, slander, gossip, eat and drink too much, use legal and illegal drugs to excess, are lazy, wasteful, abusive or arrogant from time to time or even a lot. We all violate our own standards of what we know is right and wrong. We have an urge to be forgiven for those activities which have hurt ourselves or other people. We want to reconnect to what we know is right and to those whom we have hurt. This desire is fulfilled in the secular field by therapy, Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and conversation with people. We tell the story of what we have done and what we have left undone. In that process we feel forgiven. If we tell the friend, relative or neighbor whom we have wronged and they forgive us, then we feel better and more whole.

In the world of traditional religion we are urged to and given the opportunity to make our confession and be forgiven by a priest or in the church service itself where there is a general confession.

Finally, most people have a strong sense of justice. We want a just and fair world. We want people to be treated well by the government, business, church and society. We have changed laws that discriminate against people because of their race, religion, or national origin, and are working toward justice for people in the area of sexuality. We want to reconnect to what is right and just for all. There are differences on how to achieve justice but the yeaning for justice is there. This is a secular as well as a religious quest.

So all of this is to make clear my contention that all people are religious, all people want to reconnect to the deep values and concerns in our hearts and minds. The atheist who holds a child in her arms might say, “Please don’t let her die.” To whom is she speaking? It does not matter. She wants her sick child to live to be reconnected to a healthy and whole life. She is a religious person.

RWC

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