In Defense of Organized Religion

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I guess I consider myself a fan of the rock band, U2.  They’ve made some great songs over their career, and I like their sound.  The band, and particularly their lead singer, Bono, is well known for human rights efforts, and their lyrics often reflect aspirations for social justice, equality, love, peace, etc.  And even a casual fan is aware of a regular reference to spiritual themes throughout their body of work.  They(Photo Credit: Robb D. Cohen/ www.robbsphotos.com) played in Atlanta last night, which I didn't attend due to ticket prices and likely poor sound quality.  The day prior, the local newspaper published an article which caught my attention, “U2: Faith in the ear of the hearer.” 

The title of the article stands on its own with one exception.  Faith comes from somewhere, and is “heard,” whether aurally or in writing.  The problem, for me, is when faith is purportedly related to the message that U2 is providing.  Bono is prodigious at “preaching” ethics both on and off stage, but when it comes to spirituality, his message has consistently been what might be summed up in the title of a great song from the band’s best album, Joshua Tree, titled “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”  The point is that a more befitting title to the article would be “U2: Lack of faith in the voice of the singer.”

This isn’t to say Bono is not a spiritual person.  He alludes frequently in his songs to biblical references and has an obvious disdain for "the church."  But even as he rejects the power structures of religion and yearns for a power that would make things right, he has also never revealed an abiding faith.  He’s not alone in the plethora of musical artists who capture such thoughts in songs.  Debating the origins of life, its meaning, and our eventual destiny is ultimately a question that every person faces, and it’s not surprising that it is reflected in the arts in its many varied forms. 

Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, etc… the practicing faithful of the religions are "spiritual" people.  But in current parlance, a spiritual person is not defined by organized religions, but, in fact, more regularly excludes them.  The author of the article puts this as follows:

“The rejection of organized religion is reflected in many young Americans, which in polling have described themselves as not religious, but definitely spiritual.”

Well, what the heck does that actually mean?  By rejecting the Gods of existing religions, one's hopes for a meaningful spirituality is certainly challenged.  And it's not like people buy into "new and improved" spiritual ideas (sorry, L. Ron Hubbard).  This leaves, I would think, only a metaphysical “hoped for,” something to soothe the physical hurts of living without the offending cost of obligations in return.  In short, the revered Obi-Wan Kenobi put it rightly in the original Star Wars when he said:

“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power.  It’s an energy field created by all living things.  It surrounds us and penetrates us.  It binds the galaxy together.” 

If the idea makes you feel better, use it, I guess.

I could venture different directions from here, but, in a rather judgmental way, I would accuse those who find satisfaction in being “a spiritual person” as lazy thinkers.  At least those who accept or reject established religions recognize that if there is an ultimate truth about God then it must be revealed to us.  With suspicions abounding regarding the human role in relating these revelations, it is the trustworthiness of their origins and the coherence of their theologies that must be tested. 

Absent of divine revelation, seekers of spirituality suffer from a never ending possibility of beliefs (well, this suited me well, but that suits me even better) and a lack of trust that comes from practices or guides that have no authority.  More plainly, it’s hard to say what you believe when you fervently practice believing in "something" that has nothing attached to it.  But at least you're sincere about the effort.  Welcome to today’s “spirituality.”  

So I find it interesting on an intellectual level and shaming on a theistic level, that churches would hold U2charists, or that a pastor would state that “I think U2’s music, particularly Bono’s lyrics, are perfect for the context of church and worship.” 

Really? 

I understand that churches would (and should) engage in the socially relevant as a means to attract the curious to their doors, as some who seek may find answers there. But to mix U2’s nebulous “spirituality” with church sacraments can only reinforce an observed trend that denominational churches are content to dilute their beliefs for social acceptance.  In some regards, Bono is right to reject "the church," or at least its modern tendencies. An institution that bases its existence on firm revelation but changes its answers is hardly a worthy place to ask life’s most meaningful questions. 

2 comments :

  1. I can understand solitary worship...but why would you want to preach an organizations beliefs outside of the organization?

    -Son :)

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  2. Hi anonymous son, and thanks for posting. I'm not exactly sure if your question relates to my post, but I'll answer it as it is.

    I would reduce the question to the essence of communication, imparting meaning from one person to another. If you love another person, and don't tell them, would they know? If you have engineered the cure to kudzu (the subject of a forthcoming post, I'm certain) and are poised to make a gazillion bucks, would you make a dime if you don't let the world know?

    If God revealed himself through inspired writings, like, oh, say, The Bible, people would find meaning in it. But, if they never knew of it, or the benefits of reading it, would they ever attempt it? No. So, "the church," exists to assist individuals in understanding, accepting, and practicing their faith. They can't force anyone to believe anything; it's left to the individual to make a choice. But before a choice can be made, there has to be an understanding of what is being chosen.

    You're right in that faith remains an individual belief. Most religions call for corporate (group) worship, not to raise money for their structures (hopefully), but rather because our faith is even better understood when shared with others who have learned more and are willing to share. And even then, each individual must test what is being taught to make sure that it makes sense and is consistent with the teachings of their religion.

    As for preaching outside of a church, if you believe in something strongly enough, you want to communicate it to others. When anyone believes strongly about something, they're very likely to share it. There seems to be something in most people that calls them towards the spiritual, and churches find ways to invite people who are "searching" in ways that are comfortable to them, such as by using U2's music. It's non-threatening, but it still requires an active step for individuals to make who have the curiosity - the seeking. Faith is a lifelong journey that is constantly challenged, renewed, and, hopefully strengthened.

    If you were to take the position of a fair amount of our society that points to the excesses of the church's mistakes (an easy target would be televangelists) as reasons for not even considering that religion, that would be unfortunate, but it happens. Essentially, it's the same as judging a book by its cover. And for Christians, at least, the overriding message of God's grace can only be understood with our own acceptance that we are messed up people in need.

    If you prefer that churches keep their message within their walls, consider then that every philosophy, including atheism, should also be kept private and out of public discourse. That isn't going to happen, nor should it. We all adopt some philosophy about the core questions of life (origins, meaning, destiny), even if our philosophy is to reject having a philosophy.

    If that doesn't answer your question, or if it prompts another, just post again. Or ask.

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