I found myself responding to someone’s post on a social media site… a friend of a friend was lamenting bitterly the gulf, as she saw it, between faith and religion…
“Jesus was against religion” she wrote, “faith and religion have nothing to do with each other “she insisted.
Well I responded. First of all, that Jesus was not against religion, he was an observant Jew, familiar with the Holy Scriptures of his day, and a frequenter of the synagogue and Jerusalem festivals… he was adamant that he did not come to abolish the law but complete it.
What he was against was religious hypocrisy… people preaching what they made no attempt to practice -people living meanly according to the letter of the law, but far from fulfilling the SPIRIT of the law.
Faith in Jesus Christ was founded upon the Jewish faith, their scripture, traditions, history and festivals. Jesus Christ fulfilled prophecies set out in the Hebrew Scriptures; he taught in the temple. And following Christ’s resurrection, his disciples taught in the synagogues, unfolding the scriptures, meeting with one another to pray, worship God and break bread together.
You see that IS religion -at least in part -it is faithful people, and people SEEKING faith… meeting together to pray, unfold the scriptures, worship God and break bread together.
But many modern people (or post-modern if you believe that’s the case) like people of other ages since the ‘Enlightenment’… have a tendency to be almost entirely self-referential… which means if they don’t know something already it’s unlikely you’ll be able to teach them… they will only pick-up, by osmosis, the vague and often ill-founded beliefs and prejudices of popular culture. One ill-founded belief which has a vice-like grip on the Western World is…
…’Life is all about me‘.
This misunderstanding remains popular not because of democracy (one person one vote – a privilege rarely used to the full) but because the markets would like people to continue exercising their ‘individuality’ in spending money and consuming products.
Encouraging unselfishness and sharing, is no way to make a quick buck. And whole swathes of human existence are now financed by keeping hot the desire to ‘express oneself as an individual’ no matter what the cost to others in humanity.
So to faith… What is ‘faith’ in the eyes of a girl like the one who wrote off religion as ‘a bad thing’ fullstop. Well it could only be, in that case, an individually held belief. It could not, in Christian terms, extend to ‘practice’… because the trouble is, if you start living our your faith -you find you are bound to involve other people… you will find yourself, in all likelihood, involved with quite a lot of other people, and ultimately, involved with, encouraged (and sometimes discouraged) by and sharing your time and worship of God with, many other people who are also living out their faith… other Christian believers…
… oh look -it’s religion.
‘Faith’ is more than an opinion. Faith without any kind of expression beyond opinion is just that -opinion. Heartfelt faith just does permeate your life… more and more if you will let it -affecting your behaviour – your lifestyle -your hopes and aims -your interactions with other people -regardless of their beliefs.
Sometimes what grows from faith can be mishandled, or can grow misshapen, or can remain stunted… and this can look like bad religion -but that’s humanity for you -we tend towards fear and selfishness in our hearts and it takes endless work to undo the effects of that. A good community of faith can help reveal the true basis of religion -the love of God, and can encourage human flourishing like nothing else.
Anyhoo, she was not convinced by my first response -and insisted that faith and religion had nothing to do with each other… and said she wasn’t thinking of real Christians, Christians she actually knew, friends and family and so forth but just those anonymous people in the Church, priests and so forth.
I told her I was one of those.
I’m not sure she believes in my existence any more.