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Religion without religion

I thought this was interesting:

That triumphal barnburner of an Easter hymn, Jesus Christ Has Risen Today – Hallelujah, this morning will rock the walls of Toronto’s West Hill United Church as it will in most Christian churches across the country.

But at West Hill on the faith’s holiest day, it will be done with a huge difference. The words “Jesus Christ” will be excised from what the congregation sings and replaced with “Glorious hope.”

There is no authoritative Big-Godism, as Rev. Gretta Vosper, West Hill’s minister for the past 10 years, puts it. No petitionary prayers (“Dear God, step into the world and do good things about global warming and the poor”). No miracles-performing magic Jesus given birth by a virgin and coming back to life. No references to salvation, Christianity’s teaching of the final victory over death through belief in Jesus’s death as an atonement for sin and the omnipotent love of God. For that matter, no omnipotent God, or god.

Sheesh, even the Christians are waging war on Christianity. Can they catch a break?

Ms. Vosper has written a book, published this week – With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important than What We Believe – in which she argues that the Christian church, in the form in which it exists today, has outlived its viability and either it sheds its no-longer credible myths, doctrines and dogmas, or it’s toast.

Unsurprisingly, I’m all for religion shedding outdated dogma, but this is all kind of curious. Essentially, she believes religion is outdated and must be modified in order to survive:

She wants salvation redefined to mean new life through removing the causes of suffering in the world. She wants the church to define resurrection as “starting over,” “new chances.” She wants an end to the image of God as an intervening all-powerful authority who must be appeased to avoid divine wrath; rather she would have congregations work together as communities to define God – or god – according to their own worked-out definitions of what is holy and sacred. She wants the eucharist – the symbolic eating and drinking of Jesus’s body and blood to make the congregation part of Jesus’s body – to be instead a symbolic experience of community love.

Is this really religion? It sounds like a massive project in twisting the language we use to describe religion beyond recognition. It does seem increasingly popular to be dissatisfied with traditional religion and attempt to redefine it so that you can still call yourself religious and be part of a community. However, this isn’t keeping some of the ceremony and listening to some parables about morality – this is a wholesale redefinition of the key concepts of the issue. Granted, these concepts haven’t been well-defined in the past and their definition causes plenty of debate (just think of my recent post about atheists and agnostics), but isn’t that a cause for concern? Religion’s pretty malleable for how authoritative it wants to be, but this is more than just malleability.

So, is this the shape of things to come? Religion seems to play two roles – enforcer of moral norms and provider of community. We also appear to be primed for religious belief in some form. Divine sanction of morality would be removed, but I’m not sure that’s a big issue. It’s definitely an issue in that religious leaders will denounce any change that removes such beliefs. It keeps the community part, so that’s a point in its favor. Will it satisfy the religious yearnings of most people? I couldn’t really say, but it really does look like a bait and switch. Look, we have God! Oops, it’s defined as everything we value, not the omnipotent being you had in mind. I think there’s a reason pantheism is pretty unpopular. If God is what you call everything around us, who cares? It brings nothing to the table.

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Categories: Religion
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  1. March 28, 2008 at 6:17 am

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