Sunday, September 24, 2006

Beyond Religion 3

Beyond Religion 3

Without a doubt there is much good in organised religion as I have outlined in these pages before.  Such positives as moral direction, upholding values, presenting humankind with a vision of justice for the future, being a moral voice to critique politics, defending the poor, providing some appreciation for the symbolic in life, bringing us back to an awareness of our finitude, reminding us of the reality of death, providing us with celebrations of those big transitions in life – birth, marriage and death (what the great Irish journalist John Waters, whom obviously I admire, calls the triple task of hatching, matching and dispatching, all of which the Church does so well! Thanks, John, for the rhyming mnemonic!

Having said all this, I have also outlined the negatives inherent in any Religion, namely, their proclamation that they possess the truth, and quite often the philosophically contradictory statement, or fallacy, that they possess the only truth or The Truth alone in capitals.. Needless to say, such an approach has led and does lead to wars, mayhem and murder.  See the three previous posts.

However, it definitely does seem that culturally here in the West organized religion is fast becoming a thing of the past, indeed an anachronism.  Organized religions are no longer speaking real truths that are relevant to modern life.

I come from the Roman Catholic tradition, have done 7 years of theological study among other academic pursuits.  I possess a first class honours master’s degree in theology, stamped by the Church proclaiming that I’m licensed to teach theology.  However, I’ve never used this degree as I’ve never lectured in theology.  Nor indeed would I be allowed to lecture in any Catholic seminary, as I’d be heretical to use that rather harsh historical and overloaded term.  I have read widely in theology obviously, but in the last ten years have read more philosophy than theology. I must point out that I studied philosophy as an un dergraduate for 4 years. Within the Catholic tradition one is not allowed to study theology without first having studied philosophy.     Well, I believe we are living in a post-Christian era, certainly in a post-religious era.  However, I hasten to add that I’m not dismissing Religion at all and still have the utmost respect for the religious quest per se. I have many friends who are priests and I respect their commitments and the sincerity of their beliefs, and most especially I admire their commitment to the care of other human beings.  Religion, I acknowledge, does serve an important social and moral function when exercised correctly – namely critiquing society. It also serves a psychological function by giving people some basis for meaning in their lives.  In other words many people have a psychological need for Religion and the meeting of psychological needs are very important in society. I think immediately here of the beautifully orchestrated funeral ceremonies which allow us to express our grief and grieving publicly.

In my own case I own that I had a need for Religion in my life up to my 40th year.  Then, suddenly I had a bad psychological breakdown which necessitated 7 weeks hospitalisation.  I descended into my own personal hell from which I then thought there was only one way out – suicide.  Thankfully, I never got that far.  One thing that did hit me was, given the mere animal creature that I felt I was then, that my personality was a mere chemical or psycho-pharmacological entity which could be altered at any time by chemical intervention.  I felt then thrown back on my very own resources and that of my psychiatrist.  There was no outside divine intervention possible.  My only resources were simply within whatever remained of my personality, the strengths thereof, the professional help of my doctors, meditation, relaxation exercises, a plethora of books on depression, the taking of my medication, the use of as many supplementary (not alternative) practices like yoga, reiki etc.   And so suddenly out of nowhere my need for organized religion died.

When this need died I felt bereft, stranded, alone, watching the tide of faith wash out beyond my horizons.  The “sea of faith” to use the famous quote from Matthew Arnold's equally famous poem Dover Beach was inevitably washing away, never to return.  I had come of age.  I had grown up.   I had outgrown my need for religion in its organized official incarnation. I turned to philosophy, literature and to spirituality big time.  Needless to say I use the term spirituality in its widest possible sense in line with Carl Gustave Jung, Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and all who follow in what may be called the “self-help” school of popular psychology.  Indeed, many organized religions provide some elements of this modern “self-help” movement at their own fringes.  Needless to say, they do so with the disapproval of their more conservative brothers, sisters and leaders.  Archconservatives like Benedict XVI can see the real threats that these “modern pretenders” offer because quite simply they are taking their “power” away on their very own doorstep!Hence, the reactionary backlash. It's all about the diminution of power. I'd like to discuss power and its abuse, and the disenfranchisement of women in Religion in a future post.
Consequently, it is in the tradition of Rudolf Otto (the experience of the “divine” or spiritual in our lives), John AT Robinson, Richard Niebuhr, our own great liberal Catholic theologian Hans Kung and all who belong to what may be called Liberal Postmodernism that I place myself theologically and spiritually.  This group of scholars includes theologians such as  Mark Taylor, Thomas Altizer, Robert Scharlemann, Charles Winquist, David Ray Griffen and Don Cupitt.  They are as diverse in their theological outlook as they are many.  They are primarily concerned with the developments of liberal theology, and how theology affects and interpolates with culture. They see the demise of organized religion in its traditional incarnation and argue for its replacement by something more modern and “spiritual.”  I may return to these theologians in a later post if I get the time to digest my thoughts on them and in so doing communicate what I believe them to be saying. The picture above this post is of the sun through the trees shining on a darkish pathway through the woods. For me it represents the perennial spiritual quest of humankind. I took this picture in the late evening early this summer in Newbridge House.

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