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“Religion . . . is in essence the response of created personalities to the Creating Personality, God” (A. W. Tozer).
SOME DEFINITIONS OF RELIGION ARE SO ALL-ENCOMPASSING THAT THEY’RE USELESS. A definition that includes everything actually includes nothing, so for today’s reading let’s work with something like the traditional definition of religion, summarized well enough by the American Heritage Dictionary: “belief in and reverence for a supernatural power recognized as the creator and governor of the universe.” Religion, in other words, consists of the thoughts, words, and deeds that are involved in a person’s relationship with God.
This definition leaves room for the possibility of false religion. If God does not exist, for example, then a person’s “relationship” to that non-existent God would have little point. But even if God does exist, a person might misapprehend the nature of that God or otherwise fail to properly relate to God’s being, in which case that person’s religion would be based on unreality. So it doesn’t always happen, but ideally, religion is what we do when we’re rightly relating ourselves to God.
There couldn’t be a weightier issue than the question of God. Considering the consequences of being mistaken, “religion” deserves our best thinking, certainly no less than the concept of “spirituality.” When we’re faced with the need to do some hard thinking, however, it’s tempting to dodge the issue and wave religion aside as a matter of mere tradition, as if one tradition were as useful as another. But traditions are not simply interchangeable. Many of us, for example, hold the tradition that all human beings are equal. Is that tradition no more accurate or useful than its rival tradition, that some races are superior to others? By the same token, after we’ve described a certain religion as a tradition, we’ve still got work to do to determine if that tradition is based on fact or fiction, realism or delusion, honor or error.
Alexander Chase said it well: “More and more people care about religious tolerance as fewer and fewer care about religion.” Isn’t it time to start caring about this thing that we seem to need so desperately?
“Religion that is merely ritual and ceremony can never satisfy. Neither can we be satisfied by a religion that is merely humanitarian and serviceable to mankind. Man’s craving is for the spiritual” (Samuel M. Shoemaker).