Religion has a bad press these days. I want to talk about religion today; I could do that referencing either the Gospel reading or our reading from James. Let’s look at what James has to say about religion:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
A few years ago, I was in a bookshop and overheard a man ask for a particular book, a ‘self-help’ or ‘new age’ kind of title. He was told the book was in stock, and it was in the ‘Religion’ section of the shop. He looked somewhat ashamed to be seen looking for a book that would be kept in the Religion section.
‘Religion’ gets a bad press these days. Some people associate it with all sorts of negative things, and blame it for violence and war. For example, there’s a slogan that refers to the tragic events of 9/11:
Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.
And that is applied to mild-mannered Christian types like us just as much as it is to radical Islamists.
Short, snappy soundbites like this are a poor substitute for reasoned conversation, but they get inside people’s heads and they have their impact.
Religion has a bad press within the churches too. When I was young, in my Brethren church we were taught that we were not religious. Religion was the human attempt to reach up to God. We were taught not to trust robes, liturgy, candles, even crosses on the wall or on the Altar. All we needed was a relationship with Jesus though faith. Religion got in the way.
More recently, people have made a distinction between religion and ‘spirituality’. Here’s another slogan for you:
Religion is for those who are afraid of hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve been there.