Given the global scale of world religions and religious practice, it amazes me just how many people actually suck at their religion. Within every community of faith, the vast majority don’t appreciate nor adopt the core tenants of their belief system. Most fall under the umbrella of their religion only nominally.
Pastors, Priests, Imam’s and Yogi’s are constantly teaching their followers to go deeper into their respective practices. Despite their effort to help people get beyond the container, a recent Barna study revealed that two-thirds in the Christian faith are only “casual” believers. In Islam we find that droves of Muslim’s are fleeing fundamental environments in favor of those that will allow the freedom of self-critical thought. In Judaism, up to forty percent are defined as non-religious and only practice through the lens of tradition. Hindu’s and Buddhist’s spiritual practices of yoga and meditation are not even practiced by the vast majority who subscribe to those religions.
For too long people have adopted the label of their religion, but now people are honestly admitting they are not “in.” As a result, there is great decline in mainline religion.
For the zealous who excel within their religion, there often exists a palpable distinction (if not separation) between the holy and the common. Once a person reaches the higher ranks in religion, even though they are venerated by the masses, they end up truly being “Holier than thou” and cut off access to outsiders. This begs the question as to whether their focus is the contents or the container. The Gandhi’s, and the Mother Theresa’s are the rare exceptions. The true masters care very little for their power or notoriety.
With so many modern people opting out of religious frameworks, they are seeking a spirituality that is free floating or unaffiliated. I welcome this trend. The world has grown tired of competitive religions. If we have to prove our religion is better than another, then we have already traded the contents for the container. Low level religion always believes “My God can beat up your god.” Modern people are beyond this.
Jesus put it this way when he quotes the Jewish Shama. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40, Deuteronomy 6:4)
This verse is transformational if taken deep within the soul. If the truth of it sinks in, then it’s purpose is to deconstruct any notion that our particular religious system or practice has any value to God if in the end our devotion to God is not reflected in how we love other people. The litmus test is not how high up the ranks of religion we are able to climb, but whether the love of God shows up in how we treat others.
Our love of God is tested by our behavior in traffic. It’s tested by our generosity toward the endless needs around us. It’s tested by how much it costs us to love. It’s never tested by how much theology we posses, or how many hours we’ve spent performing a perfunctory ritual.
- If you have to be right instead of loving, you’ve already lost.
- If your tradition means more than mercy, it’s game over.
- If your theology is bigger than your compassion, its an empty shell.
- If your identity hinges on your distinctions, its a false self wrapped in the lie of individualism.
Do the five pillars of Islam eliminate large scale poverty? Does yoga or meditating produce clean drinking water? Does inviting Jesus into an imaginary door in one’s heart bring equality into our world? Does solidarity with a religious tribe end war or produce it? Can religious frameworks help solve the world problems? Yes, but only if they are a means to love, and not a means to themselves.
Inner transformation cares nothing for labels. Divine union sees no division, nor distinctions that override our need to love. Love celebrates both diversity and unity at the same time- it’s not binary. Religions are like schools from which we are all supposed to graduate into an authentic and integrated faith.
This is good news because we suck at religion anyway.
It’s no longer necessary to climb, appease, crawl or try to be something we aren’t. No more posturing, proving, labeling, or scoring. The Apostle Paul says none of it matters (1 Corinthians 13). While religion isn’t bad, it’s just not ultimately helpful unless it exposes our pride and independence. It’s supposed to incubate love, justice and mercy with in us.
If religion so happens to do this, then know that it wasn’t the religious container, but God alone working through ones practice. It’s the work God does through every single atom in the universe. Once we see it everywhere, then all the frameworks resolve themselves into a single location: that of love.
I’m now going to offer a sentence, upon which no single religion could ever improve. If it is said with sincerity of heart, and authenticity of intention, it would comprise every faith in the world. It can be said in any environment and directed toward any being with the result of inner transformation.
Ready for it? Here it is: “I don’t have to serve you, I get to serve you.”
If we get this right we get everything right, if we get this wrong, we get everything wrong. It’s ok that we suck at religion, perhaps our poor performance has allowed us to break free of its institutional grasp and finally be open to love.