Religion is a word that often gets a “bad rap.” Perhaps it is because it is seen as something formal or dead. Karl Marx famously said, “Religion is the opium of the people.” He saw it as a coping mechanism for the weak to get through life.
Some people say they are spiritual but not religious. They may be interested in Christianity but they reject the externals of the faith. Others, like Richard Dawkins, see religion as superstition, even fanaticism. Michael Ward says, “There can be bad religion and good religion; bad religion done well; good religion done badly; mediocre religion done well or badly–just as in the case with science.”
But what is religion; and what is true religion? The etymology of the word shows us it means something like “tying back together,” re-ligamenting; seeking oneness, integration, or wholeness. In a sense, it is the opposite of analysis, which means loosening up. Analysis is important, it helps us understand how things work; but things only work if we put them back together, when we reconnect them. Neither analysis, nor religion is an end in itself.
True religion should always be capable of reform. It must be open to self-criticism and criticism from the outside. It must be open to revision in light of new knowledge and understanding (provided, the knowledge and understanding is Biblical). The Luddite impulse must be resisted, i.e. “We have always done things this way and we must always do things this way.”
True religion needs to be understood in two senses: it both does and is. There is the religious impulse of tying things back together; we might call it the outworking of religion. Then, there’s religion itself; the recurring pattern of analysis and reintegration working together to keep religion from becoming a mummified corpse.
True religion calls us to analyze our relationship to God and His Word; it challenges us to a better integration of life and faith. It will also show us how to serve the world around us with a spirit of humility and love.
In the HOPE of the Gospel,
-J. Mark Horst, President
Heralds of Hope, Inc.