Tuesday, 2 June 2009
When I was still studying for my degree a friend of mine asked me whether or not I could accept the view (courtesy of Freud) that religion is simply a crutch we create to lean on because we can't cope on our own. I hadn't considered this for a long time until somebody asked me exactly the same question the other day. I had a prepared response. Actually I had several and since I quite enjoyed answering it - I thought I would repeat the fun here.
1) Define RELIGION
My wonderful University chaplain once read out a quotation from a famous Lutheran who stated that we must be careful to ensure that we do not confuse religion and faith. Religion can be manipulated and misused - nobody is more aware of this than our beloved Church who has found herself rather battered by the will of man over the years. FAITH cannot be manipulated. Even when we screw up - it remains essentially pure.
Thus crutches are something we use when we need to be supported and YES religion has been abused in this way. People have taken it up for a while when they felt battered, bruised and even bored- then they have discarded it. However, Faith is something you work at all your life- it is a relationship and thus even if you tell yourself you have discarded it for moments, weeks or even years you always return to it. Why? because it is not a concept or an idea- it is a real entity. Therefore it is not for leaning on it is for interacting with - therein lies an essential difference.
2) The relationship
Faith is not a one way thing, you don't just lean on it in order to hop through life. It is a challenge to build a relationship with the invisible - to catch those moments that reveal something deeper than the superficial.
It is about maintaining that relationship when everything around you is telling you that it doesn't exist. It is about rising above your doubts and your darkness and far from being a crutch it is often painful, challenging and exhausting to keep that relationship alive. To live true Christian values is no easy thing; to stare yourself in the face and admit often you fail is far from a crutch- it is often enough to make you think you might just fall flat on your face. Yet in the end those struggles are rewarded with so much love.
3) Doing the easy thing
Is life easier when you have faith? I don't think so. Right from the beginning of the Church people have been faced with extremely difficult decisions - your life or your faith?
John Paul believed that the twentieth century had begun a new era of martyrdom because it had instigated a new era of persecution in the Church. Was Fr Kolbe leaning on a crutch when he gave his life for another man? Was John Paul II leaning on a crutch when he risked his life standing out against two great oppressive regimes - Nazism and communism? Are we leaning on a crutch when we confront the great tragedy of abortion and find ourselves going against public opinion and 'women's rights' (?). I don't think so.
It is easy to believe that having faith is easy, that we get to stick our heads in the sand and forget about the rest. Whoever judges that to be faith is sadly misguided.
Faith is many things - beautiful , enriching, extraordinary - it isn't easy it sometimes makes life harder if anything.
4)Religion itself and thus the faith rooted in that religion cannot be generalised or jumbled. Different religions all follow a particular ethical code and as we all know these can be diverse. We can't even begin to consider it as one giant concept. It quite simply makes no sense to do so.
5) If at the end of my life none of it proved to be true (which obviously I don't believe to be the case) than I wouldn't have changed it for anything anyway. Why? Because it has given me more that anything else in my life- but not in the way Mr Freud thinks.
I love my religion and having spent a few months on crutches myself a few years ago - I can tell you truly- there is certainly no allegory or metaphor that could be less fitting for something so expansive, breathtaking and beautiful than the faith that grows from, and has deep roots in, is kept alive and fed by TRUE religion.
Rather than limiting us and holding us back- preventing us from standing on our own two feet Jesus tells us to get up and walk beause if we believe we let go, relinquish control, and love - no support necessary.
We have the questions
God has the answers