Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Definition of Religion

I am reading Daniel C. Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. This recent paper of his regarding clergy captured my interest.

I consider myself a religious person. I also think the creeds are fiction and that human beings have created the concept of "God."

Whatever "God" might have been in the past is really us in the present. As such the "holy" or the "sacred" is here and now and in between and betwixt us. The language and lavish praise we have foisted upon an imaginary deity is really best suited for Earth and all of its magnificence.

However, I like the institution of the church. I like "organized religion." I do well at it and I think it can be a positive force for good in the world. I like my job and plan to keep it. Thank you very much.

But I don't believe any of its founding myths are "real." Nevertheless I enjoy telling the stories, singing the tunes, potlucking, and doing justice in my community. I appreciate music, stories, myths, people, the heritage, and the spats.

Religion, especially in America, is influential, powerful, wealthy, and dangerous. I think we counter bad religion with good religion not with no religion.

For the record, I appreciate the four faces of the "new" atheism: Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett. I think it will be good for religion that they have written their books and I think every religious person should read them.

Part of the problem is that I don't know what religion means even though I think I am religious. I don't fit Dennett's definition:

Tentatively, I propose to define religions as social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought. p. 9.
Would this definition include the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations? Wouldn't they qualify as a religion? But most UUs would not "avow a belief in a supernatural agent" and so forth. Dennett goes on to say:
This is, of course, a circuitous way of articulating the idea that a religion without God or gods is like a vertebrate without a backbone. p. 9.
A commenter (Jodie) once chided me (in a good spirit, I add gladly) that Christianity without God is like coffee without caffeine. What's the point?

I think there is a point. I think there are a number of good reasons to have religion without supernatural theism. I get asked about once a week usually in an accusing tone why I should be involved in religion or be a minister when I don't believe that some fanciful tale is true. I offer a long explanation of why the social institution is valuable and can be even more valuable if it were to analyze itself critically and direct its energies toward the well being of Earth. That unfortunately, is usually met with silence followed by another question: "Why don't you quit the ministry if you don't believe in God?" Good grief.

It isn't about "God." It is about doing good. But if the concept of "God" is important for you in order to do good, then great. It is not that big of a deal. I will pony up and use it with you.

God bless.