Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Faith versus Religion

Josephus sent me a link to a interesting article in The Spectator. It is an interview with the now retired Bishop of Edinburgh, an interesting man in many ways, with an unusual (for a bishop) faith. As the bihop puts it, God hates religion ... If I'm honest, I think that I share that view to a very large extent, though I would not go as far as he does in some other aspects of his statement. I do believe in the empty tomb of Jesus, though I may have a different interpretation from the mainstream of what exactly happened there. I do believe that the essential teachings of the Christian Gospel are sound, that they have made a huge and positive impact on humanity - despite the many instances when "religion" or "religious politics" have given rise to some serious abuses.

I agree entirely with the bishop's view that attempts to reduce everything to certainties - something religious people are often accused of, frequently with justification - is a major failing, but not just within religious circles. The same failing can be seen in science, when one encounters declarations of certainty couched in religious style 'certainties.' As most scientists are quick to point out, todays certainties are often tomorrow's embarrassing failures. As Josephus and I have frequently chuckled over, 'scientists' just over 200 years ago were convinced that something called "Phlogiston" was the active ingredient in combustion. We know now that this is not correct, but it took a lot of argument to lay this one to rest. Likewise 19th Century ideas on the shape, size and appearance of dinosaurs has been completely revised in recent years and so has the evolution of humanity - with big chunks of that still the subject of furious debate.

Faith and "religion" are often confused, one can have "faith" without "religion" though it has been observed that someone with a high degree of conviction on some matter, can then cling to it with a religious fervour. To challenge their conviction in, say, Anthropomorphic Global Warming, is to challenge the very articles of their faith and meets with the same sort of impassioned response one gets challenging the beliefs of a fundamentalist member of any "religion."

I do agree with the bishop's view that religion is bad for faith. One of the things one often encounters in a church is a set of legalistic "laws" (referred to as Canon Law) which regulate virtually everything about membership, activities and even charitable activity. Often these are used to stop someone exercising their faith in some form of ministry, or to prevent any exploration of something society has long adopted. In my time as a Church Warden and as a Reader in the Anglican Church, I had, on a number of occasions, to deal with that sort of activity.

Churches can be frustrating places. What most people forget is that the "church" is a vehicle, a means of transport, not a destination. It provides a place and a means in which "faith" can be explored, developed and grown through. There will be frustrations, there will be conflicts, there are very few certainties. What it must not be is a strait jacket. That is the "religion" God hates.

1 comment:

  1. Religion exists to control faith, faith exists to keep religion in check. Religion is a man made institution that may or may not have any faith associated with it. Faith is belief. It is personal and it is truly the strength of the person coming out to pay homage to whatever it is that they believe in. Thanks a lot.