a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
In How (Not) to Speak of God, Peter Rollins writes about the problems with religion as "resolute commitment to a system." (45) He relates this subject to a comparison of "law" and "justice." The purpose of a law is to define justice, if you will. The example he gives is that "those who destroy private property ought to be punished." (45) Most people will agree to this, but what about "people who have destroyed private property (such as military equipment about to be used to bomb cities) in the name of justice?" (45) We can add to our laws to make room for this kind of exception, but here's the problem:
In this way the law is never complete but is always open to change in light of new situations. This means that the law, as a system that attempts to embody justice, always falls short of justice. (45)
The law is helpful in defining some parameters for justice (in a particular society), but the law can never fully define what is just. Rollins says that "the law testifies to justice and is inspired by justice, yet justice is not found in the law." (46) That is to say that we must not equate the law with "justice." The same can be said of "religion" and "God":
Our religion is like the clearing in a forest after a great fire. It testifies to the happening of a great event and without the clearing we would not know of that event, but the clearing does not hold that event. (46)
Religion, then, does not "hold" God and nor do we. As I've said elsewhere, there is a sense in which we can know God and there is a sense in which we cannot. We cannot know God in an absolute or exhaustive way. If I interpret Rollins correctly, he is saying that our commitment should not be to a system pertaining to God, but to a search or desire for God Himself. Psalm 34:10 tells us that "those who seek the Lord lack no good thing." Notice that it is the seeking that is commended in this verse. Along the same lines, Rollins has an interesting take on Matthew 7:7-8. He says this passage "does not refer to two separate moments but rather to a type of present-continuous tense by which the seeking is the finding, the asking is the receiving and the knocking is the opening..." (50)
If we shift our focus from religion (relying on a system about God) to the journey of seeking God, we will be less close-minded about where we will "find" Him. Rollins suggests that we should be engaged in a "dialog in which we treat everyone we meet as individuals who we can learn from and perhaps teach, rather than reducing people to the same massive and clumsy categories such as 'Christian', 'Islamic' and so on." (53)
I think that what Rollins is getting at is that our categories can easily bias our thoughts before we even begin conversing with another person. We are too quick to want to slap labels on people. These categories may be helpful as a short hand way of explaining where someone is coming from, but they can often lead us to make incorrect assumptions about the individual we are labeling.
Rollins suggests that if we want to engage in genuine dialog we must be "prepared to rethink in relation to what the other says..." (53) The alternative is where we "listen" to another person for the sole reason of correcting the error in what they say. I see a lot of this in the blogosphere and am guilty of it as well. Too often, the only comments people make are for the purpose of arguing against a point (or worse, a sub-section of a point). If all we are doing is going around looking for "error" are we really seeking truth? This problem is only exacerbated by the categories we invent because we will automatically have a prejudice against people with certain labels. People who don't use the same "code words" (think Christianese) are treated with suspicion and so on.
Rather than being a sign of weakness, this powerless approach is a sign of strength, for one is committed to the idea that if we genuinely seek truth from above, we will not be given a lie, for God does not give scorpions to the one who seeks bread. (53)
What do you think? How important is it to differentiate between Christianity and knowing Christ? How "open-minded" should we be in our search for truth and/or God? How might "religion" hinder our search?
Links to the rest if this series: Heretical Orthodoxy, Conceptual Idolatry, Defining God, 21st Century Pharisees?, Powerless Discourse, Answers & Questions, The Search for God, Doxorthy