Religion today

A recent survey in France has shown that most people now do not go to Church, or accept Church teaching.  They do not believe in Catholic dogma though there is belief and there is searching.  Unfortunately it tends to be a sort of religious consumerism, selecting a bit of this and a bit of that from among the varieties of religion on offer.  Eclecticism is anathema, of course, to the Church but we all practice it to some extent, within or without the Church.  I have been trying to think – how could one formulate a belief system, a religion, that would be inspiring and attractive and at the same time avoid the failures and mistakes of the established Churches.

The more I think about it the more it seems to me that what you are is more important than what you believe.  Buddhism is so right not to be dogmatic, not to define precisely or to construct an elaborate theology.  Its emphasis on practice is exactly right.  Do this; live in this manner and you will eventually arrive at enlightenment.  What is that psychological technique, Rogers I think, where the client is encouraged to act as if.. and behave in a particular way.  Behaviour eventually begins to affect thought and perceptions.  There is nothing new here.  Thomas Aquinas talked about the importance of good habits and I can see why the Church feels that actions and life-style flow from belief but it doesn’t work.  What we need is a religious Marx to stand the Holy Office and the New Catechism on its head.  No one respects dogmatism and fixed opinions but everyone respects and admires integrity and loving concern for all.  The Church’s love and concern is lost behind its narrow-minded dogmatism.

Our consciousness is shaped by our environment and any religion must take this into account.  It is no good spelling out what must be believed in great detail, especially if this is at variance with the prevailing weltenschaung.  Nor will the right idea, no matter how right or well expressed, prevail over social and cultural certainties except perhaps for a small number of exceptional people.  Religion must start in and with the social environment.  If it cannot change the environment, and it probably will not be able to, than it must reinterpret it.  It must expose the prevailing ideologies and be ready with alternatives.  The material structures uphold the ideologies.  It is no good exposing the ideologies and leaving the material structures in place.  It will not be long before everyone has reverted to the status prior.  The really hard part is how to build from the ground up alternative structures which will gradually take over.  We are so dependent on existing structures which affect every aspect of our lives that we cannot envisage any alternative which would not be more difficult and less comfortable.

It is interesting that I began talking about religion and ended up talking about politics, or sociology.  Religion and society are so intertwined that it is not possible to separate them.  One of the reasons why religion has declined is because it has, to a great extent, been privatised.  It is not for nothing that the cults find it necessary to create their own closed societies.  This is a vast subject.  

Buddhism begins with the question of suffering, how to overcome it.  Christianity begins with the good news that God is with us – opposite sides of the same coin.  Buddhism says, ‘Live the Eightfold Path and you will discover for yourself.’  Christianity says, ‘Put your trust (believe) in the Spirit within and you will discover him for yourself.’  This, at least, is the message of the Gospels.  It is not the message of the later Church.  Both Buddha and Jesus said, ‘Do what I say and you will discover for yourself.’  However while Buddhism has remained largely true to its original detached benevolence Christianity has been afflicted with the belief that it alone has the truth and that therefore it has the mission to convince everyone of this truth.  Not the simple original truth that God is with you but an elaborate and subtly articulated series of dogmas which say more about hierarchy than about love.  Christianity has shied away from and discouraged its followers from the inner search for the hidden God.  Where it could not do so it incarcerated its would be mystics in enclosed monasteries and convents and persecuted all those who would not conform.  Now, when as never before, there is a hunger for the Spirit within all the Church can offer are old rituals or happy-clappy froth.

Leave a Reply