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Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Religion and the World Today! An Essay.

Religion and the World Today!

"What is Religion?" is a question that is not easy to answer. For I believe that every theologian, every religious thinker, and I would go so far as to say every member of a faith community, would have their own definition of 'Religion'. Then to combine a debate on religion's importance in the today's world, and attitudes towards the usage of the Old Testament to the question would be an exercise that could easily span many volumes of books, let alone a short essay. Yet with that limitation in mind, I will attempt to do some small justice to each.

First of all, I must state that all that I see and do is done through the filter of my mind and my experiences, my temperament and sometimes with 'blinders' on. I see this world and all things in it, from a white, Celtic, male perspective; one who is a believer and a member of a faith community. I also freely admit that there are strengths and weaknesses in my heritage and worldview. With this in mind, I will begin.

To use the term 'religion' is limiting in both good and bad ways. It is bad in view of the fact that it is often perceived as being traditionalistic, conservative and oppressive. It is good when you view the fact that it gives guidelines, form and structure to both an individual's and a community's spiritual life. However I will be using a much broader approach to the concept of 'Religion'.

First of all, I would say that religion is an exercise(s) or practice(s) of a spiritual nature. Religion is also an institution of governance of the relationship(s) between a body of believers and their God(s) or gods, based around a common set of beliefs. This governance usually has overlapping spheres of influence into interpersonal relationships of the religious community and its members with the surrounding greater community, family, and business relationships. Thus religion is the infrastructure or guide for the life of a believing community. We can almost go so far as to state that Religion is the framework for the interactions at all levels of both the corporate and personal lives of a believer. The only consistent exception I can think of to this definition of religion is the practice of Atheism. Atheists do have a consistent belief system, but its beliefs about God have nothing to do with their morality or ethics.

Therefore religion in essence, is a belief system of some structure and form relating what that group worships, serves, or is enslaved to; whether that religion is Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Consumerism, Atheism or Deism or anything else.

My second question is, 'Is religion of significance to the world today?' The answer would have to be a strong affirmative, but qualified by my definition in the preceding paragraphs. Based upon that, all forms of worship or idolatry fall into the category of religion. Therefore all or almost all people in the world today practice some form of religion. Be it of the group of more traditional religions of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam or the modern counterparts of humanism, Atheism, deism and more prevalent Consumerism. The forms that these religions take are as diverse as you can imagine, and many who practice these 'religions' would not consider themselves a part of a one, or a religious community but this does not change the fact that they are. Three groups whom I believe would have the biggest problem with this title are atheists and those who practice consumerism and Marxism with overlap into the other traditional religions. A Christian can worship at the altar of consumerism, and through lack of knowledge or choice, also worship at the throne of deism. Thus a person can practice more than one religion at the same time. This said, it would be very easy to lapse into the study of all the "ism's" in the modern world that are forms of religion and especially the "ism" of denominationalism within the Christian church. However, I must return to the original focus of this paper.

Turning our attention to the Old Testament or Hebrew scriptures, I must first state that I have a great appreciation and a very deep respect for the Hebrew scriptures and all that they encompass. Unlike most holy books, or scriptures and even a lot of non-biblical historical texts, the Old Testament presents a very balanced view of everything that is Jewish. The Old Testament tells of both the bad and the good, and it is full of the mistakes, errors and out right rebellion of the Jewish people. A very good example of this is King David. For he has been called "a man after God's own heart"(1 Samuel 13:14) David wrote more psalms than anyone else, and loved God so much that on more than one occasion he spared Saul's life, even though Saul was trying to kill him. David also made very bad decisions; one being having an affair with a woman named Bathsheba, after which having her husband killed. Another great error was the calling of a census on the people, thus breaking one of God's commands and placing a curse over the nation of Israel.

From this example we see that the Hebrew scriptures do present both the good and the bad; the victories and the defeats, the periods of obedience and more frequently and/or in greater duration, the periods of wandering and disobedience. Some of those documents are more biased than another (for example again with David); the author of Chronicles states "the devil" made David sin with Bathsheba, where the author of Samuel clearly lays the blame on David. As the author of Ecclesiasties states, "There is nothing new under the sun" (Ecc. 1:14 paraphrased). Many of the problems in the Hebrew Scriptures, things that always have negative consequences, are still causing problems in the world today. Problems such as adultery, premarital sex, abuse of alcohol, double mindedness, pride, greed, lust and idle worship, are all ones that we have stories about in the Old testament. Each one of these is currently reeking havoc in our lives, our communities and even our nations, to the extent of being global problems, whether we acknowledge them or not. There is a distinction here between accepting the Hebrew Scriptures authority and relevance. They can be relevant without accepting their authority.

The collection of books that make up the Old Testament are real, vital and very raw in parts and are what makes them so applicable to today's world. This is also why I keep finding myself drawn back to them again and again. Therefore I would restate that the Hebrew Scriptures do have a lot of relevance to our world today whether they are accepted or applied to people's lives, or not. I would go so far as to say that if the whole world were to read these scriptures, they would recognize the consequences of the sins in their lives and the lives of those around them. It would lead to changed lives. People would take more seriously their actions and the effects that they create; like ripples from a pebble thrown into a quiet pond.

Therefore the Hebrew scriptures can show us where we as individuals, as communities, as well as a society as a whole, have gone astray. Will provide solutions to these problems if we give up the false religions and return to true worship as outlined in the Old and New Testament. If like Jeremiah prophecies "the law will be written on their hearts" (Jer. 31:33) not a law written on stone, then the world will be transformed.

From these stories we can see where our actions are leading us, like the Nations of Israel and Judah into the wilderness, into the exile and destruction. But like them, we have the promise of restitution and the return from exile, if we are willing to yield our wills and ourselves to God and to His guidance from the Old Testament.

(First Written for RS100E Old Testament Summer 2000.)

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