Tuesday, 24 March 2009

on the Institution of Religion

Have we forgotten that all early religions did not have access to a complete Bible, Torah, Koran, etc., or a hierarchical religious institution, as we know it today, to provide them with ready answers? Religion of the word somehow bypasses that ancient engagement with mystery. Religion seeks to undermine this tradition labeling it ‘animism’, ‘paganism’ or ‘spiritual darkness’. Have we forgotten that God has been wonderfully at work, long before formal religion ever began to evolve?

Yet, somehow today, we have dismissed our internal God mystery in favour of strict rules and regulations to be observed & interpreted only by those in power. Hardly a day goes by when we are not engaged in heated discussions about who is right and who is wrong. Who is in and who is out! Is this destructive form of institutionalized religion, in large measure, not the result of an obsessive concern for order and predictability? Why do we so easily submit to the authority of the institution, by quoting this and that, he or she, instead of listening to the mystery of God in our heart.

Religious dogma and doctrine have in large part become a substitute for what was once considered a mystery beyond the written word. What was once held by the heart has become sugar for the ego. Words to be dissected and analyzed to the degree where it can only be understood and interpreted by the most ‘holy’ and ‘worthy’. Those responsible for interpreting mystery were now called ‘clergy’ and all others were to be called to ‘laity’. Does this also not mean that laity has ritually abrogated their responsibility for their own faith development? For Christians, did Jesus not ask us to engage in the mystery of a personal and direct relationship with God and neighbour? When Jesus spoke to Peter “upon this rock I build my church” he did not mean that we should surrender our personal responsibility to love, God, our neighbour as our self. Nor did Jesus mean that he would leave us orphans to find our salvation through any human institution.

Again and again, we read in the media about someone invoking others, in the name of God, to do this and that which in the end often results in more suffering, more misery and death. We can only love God and others when we have first learned to love our self! The proper and only role of any religious institution therefore is to teach us to find that love within – the mystery that is God.

The Golden Eagle

A man found an eagle's egg and put it in the nest of a backyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them.

All his life the eagle did what the backyard chickens did, thinking he was a backyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air.

Years passed on the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird far above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a a beat of its strong golden wings.

The old eagle looked up in awe, "Who's that?" he asked.

That's the eagle, the king of the sky. We belong to the earth - we're chickens."

So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that's what he thought he was. - Anthony de Mello

Regardless, of our religion, race or culture we are all God's creatures designed to soar!

Diarmuid O’Murchu, Religion in Exile, Crossroad Publishing, New York, 2000

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