When it finally comes down to it, what exactly are religions?
It's a question many of us have asked. Eventually any answer I've come up with has been provisional and it's been marinated in the paradox of religion's affirming voice being spoken against the harsh realities of the world.
I've (slowly) been reading Marilynne Robinson's book, The Givenness of Things, and in it she gets at this definition problem in this way: "The world is cruel and God is merciful. The sword draws blood on every side and God is righteous altogether. The great religions are counterstatements made against a reality that does not affirm them with much consistency at all."
Put another way, religions are a pure, squealing shout at evil. They are arguments that what we see in the world often is not what the world was meant to be. While at once affirming the stunning beauty of the world and the examples of self-sacrificing love we sometimes find there, religions also speak out against all the examples of what is far from beauty, from love, from compassion.
In some ways, religious faith may be seen as naive. It recognizes the sickness all around but it nonetheless wants to say a word on behalf of health, of wellness, of creativity in the face of destruction.
This is true even when, as so often is the case, religion itself harbors sickness, destruction and evil within its own house. In fact, that is when the authentic voice of faith must be heard the most clearly.
"The temptation," writes Robinson, "has always been to hold (religious) affirmations of this kind up to given reality and then declare the two of them irreconcilable, the faith statements therefore unsustainable, weighed and wanting."
But faith refuses to give in to that temptation. It knows that even in the face of inexplicable evil and suffering in a world God called "good" at its creation, it must continue to hold to what is good even when all around there are people losing their faith, their vision, their heads.
May it always be so.
(The photo here today is one I took at a cemetery near which I live and through which I often walk.)
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WHAT JEWS AND CHRISTIANS NEED TO KNOW
I want to introduce you to a rabbi who thinks Jews need to know more about Christianity and that Christians need to know more about Judaism. He's Rabbi Evan Moffic, author of What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness of Jesus, and here's an RNS story about his thinking and his new book. And, by the way, he absolutely right about who needs to know more about what.