Sometimes I feel like a moth drawn dumbly to a tungsten bulb. I hit myself against it, get burned, but unfailingly come back for more. Why do I do this?
The ever-alluring light source is religion. Why do I seek illumination there when it is possible to live a radiant life outside religion? You know, a life lived deeply, authentically, swimming through the currents of the universe with a thinking mind, an open heart, a joy that is kindled in the midst of pain, and a belly that laughs, rumbling full of contentedness? You can live like that without religion.
But for better and for worse, I always go back. After quitting a religion (Christianity) six years ago, finding a new one (the New Age) a year later, and then slowly slipping out of that one, I find myself unable to stop reading holy books, meditating, and even sneaking a listen to the podcast from Mars Hill church.
We already know that religion is a tool of violence, a way for those in power to further their domination over all others by mixing money, weapons, and theology. We know this from the crusades and we know this from the Middle-East today. This is why we leave.
But religions are more than that; to our amazement they are the carriers of centuries of wisdom, and experience of a great un-nameable love that grows within us. Have you ever met religious people who have been transformed by something undeniably good? People who draw you like a warm fire on a cold night. A fire that gives shelter, glow, not a light bulb that mockingly burns.
Religion, though not strictly necessary, many times is the carrier for this kind of transformation. And the transformation is not a given; it is a gift.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and executed during World War II for his involvement in the resistance to the Nazis. The letters and papers he wrote from prison sketch what he calls religionless Christianity. The church he envisioned:
…will once more be called so to utter the word of God that the world will be changed and renewed by it. It will be a new language, perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming—as was Jesus’ language; it will shock people…proclaiming God’s peace with men and the coming of his kingdom…Until then the Christian cause will be a silent and hidden affair…
I have been silent for a long time, but it is now time to start talking.