Learning about “the religions”, and ‘crafting our own religion’ . . .

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    Learning about “the religions”, and ‘crafting our own religion’ . . .

    “We have learned more about ‘the religions,’ but this has made us perhaps less. . . . aware of what it is that we. . . . mean by ‘religion.’ ” —Wilfred Cantwell Smith, 1962

    Our experiences of religion has too often been what is observable, or experienced, which includes historical knowledge of the rituals, mythologies, religious communities, ideas, teachings, institutions, arts, architecture we have experienced (both the positive and the negative). But religion is not exhausted by the observable. There is another dimension called the non-observable, which is the source of religion’s purpose and meaning. It is the failure to recognize the difference between the observable and the non-observable, confusing one with the other or by denying one in behalf of the other, that confounds our understanding of religion. And, most importantly, has led, for many of us, to the controlling and hurting aspects of ‘religion’, and more specifically, the WAY religion was presented to us.

    A further difficulty in understanding religion arises over the issue of values — ETHICS. We all like to believe that there is a specific beneficial religious value, not in conflict with other values. That has too often been in conflict with our experiences.
    The constant reliance on terms like “sacred”, “spiritual”, suggests that, try as we might, our teaching of religion is not value-free. Each of us has some working notion of what constitutes good religion and what is bad religion — and that notion figures in our understanding of how religion works.

    When religion and life blend, religion becomes distinctive, objective, something internal. It is not mere practice. For many, religion is not something “practiced,” something that could be listed on a list of personality traits and career achievements. When one is religious, the word “religion” loses its meaning or becomes irrelevant. No scholar has made us more aware of the inadequacies of the word than Wilfred Cantwell Smith. He urges us to abandon the word ‘religion’ altogether in favor of another word, ‘faith’, which he contends more accurately expresses the meaning of religion. Smith defines faith as “. . . . a inner religious experience or involvement of a particular person; the impingement on him of the transcendent, putative or real.”

    This, therefore, is what is meant by “crafting our own religion”. It is not “starting from scratch” but more like a re-alignment of our spiritual identity. This is where ETHICS, and morality, comes to play. We must not be limited to the observable, to the “cumulative tradition,” and be able to acknowledge the structure of experience (some of which has been very negative) and make it possible to avoid perpetuating in our present lives the historicism and social reductionism we have always been tempted to do. Acknowledging that structure restores to the crafting of our own religion a sense that this study is about something more than mere data, just as religion is about something more than itself.

    Go with God, Blessed be He . . .

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