Saturday, May 04, 2013

Real and Unreal Religion

During my reading this morning, I came upon a distinction between "real" and "unreal" religions made by the Scottish philosopher John Macmurry (1891-1976). The maxim of unreal religion, he writes, runs accordingly:
Fear not; trust in God and He will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you. 
The maxim of real religion, as you might expect, rejects this. Instead, real religion's maxim runs:
Fear not; the things that you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of. 
So expressed, it is hard to ignore that real religion has a bit of a bite to it, a certain degree of pessimism. If Christianity is a real religion, then its engagement with the world must be defined not by fear but with courage and love.

Real religion ought to make us uncomfortable. It should plague our hearts a bit, making us restless, nagging us with a sense that "there's still so much yet to be done." It should drive us out into the world to bring God's Good News to a world very much in need of it. What's this Good News, this Gospel? With Karl Rahner, might we not say that the Good News reminds us
Nothing else than that the one who is a Christian precisely does not have the ultimate say in one's own existence, but rather that all solutions, all advances in knowledge and free action, are all along already transcended by the Absolute Mystery, that this Mystery itself wills to concern itself in some way with us, that it has addressed itself to us as the ultimate definitive word of our existence in Jesus on the Cross, the crucified and risen Lord. 
When it functions as a real religion, Christianity does not pacify us anesthetize us to the pain of the world. The central image of the Christian religion - the Crucified yet Risen Lord - confronts us with the reality of suffering in the world. Yet Christian faith assures us that we are not defined by the power of death but of life, not by evil but by good. One doesn't stand as a Christian because it is easy, or because it makes one's life simple, but because in the Gospel one hears the truth of what it means to be a human being and finds the courage therein to stand within a community of believers.

Compare this to the unreal religion offered by society - a religion based on superficial beauty, wealth, or power - lives always in fear of growing old and ugly, becoming poor, becoming powerless. How easy it is to succumb to this egocentric religion, one focused wholly on oneself and one's own well-being. The "Cult of Me" erects a temple in which there is one seat, reserved for me alone. How lonely, how desolate, to make oneself into a beautiful building that has no doors to the outside world!

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