Religion is personal
The other night while discussing Ann La Mott’s Traveling Mercies with one of my book clubs, the subject of religion emerged. We found ourselves breaking the great American social taboo; discussing religion at a social gathering.
We had a lively and thoughtful discussion, skirting obvious stumbling blocks like intelligent design as science, whether god is male, female or other and abortion. What emerged was a fairly clear division between faith and attitudes toward religion.
When speaking of faith, we were as alike as any group of strangers with diverse religious backgrounds could be. We all recognized clear states of grace embodied in Ann La Mott’s descriptions and agreed that faith can be found and practiced outside the confines of religious boundaries.
It was when we began speaking of religion that profound differences emerged. While we all conceded that it was possible that Christianity was embodied within the wide diversity of Christian denominations, we came to an abrupt stopping point on the matter of other religions.
It was agreed by most of the group that the clear difference between Christianity and other major religions is that Christians are the only religion with a personal relationship with a living god. Although I pointed out that people of other faiths would be offended by that statement, they begged to disagree.
I am still unclear whether the disagreement was over the fact of the statement, (Christianity being the only religion with Resurrection Theology as a central core belief…), or that people of other religious denominations wouldn’t be offended. The discussion moved on unclarified. Though it was easy to for all to concede that each Christian, regardless of their religious affiliation, had a unique personal relationship with god… to this group, that relationship didn’t exist outside of Christianity.
The contradictions revealed by that conversation have tumbled through my thoughts. By that definition, if a personal relationship with a living God is what creates grace, how can anyone experience grace and/or faith outside of Christianity? Why are Christians so unwilling to grant the sanctity of that relationship to others? If a personal relationship with a living God is a defining tenant of Christianity, why do so many Christians believe it is their duty to pass judgement on the quality of or truthfulness of other people’s personal religious faith, including other Christians? If a personal relationship with a living God is the defining element of a Christian, how can so many perpetrate so much hatred and violence in the name of God?
It’s obvious that I don’t have the answers, nor did the group of women in my living room. I am sure there are theologians of varying degrees of scholarship who would be glad to share their individual interpretations, but I think that the variety of those interpretations only proves what I believe to be the point. Religion is personal.
Our founding fathers believed that enough to protect the right to individual worship under the constitution. There is a clear division between church and state in our country because no man should have the right to mandate or judge the faith of any other; to violate the privacy of that relationship. That constitutional privilege, along with the one about free speech, is what allowed an evening of thought provoking exchange to happen here in a small living room in the heartland of America.
Today, as we each pursue our own personal paths towards grace, I think we should take time to remember how important this freedom is to each and every one of us and to judge not, lest we too be judged.