Do you know what makes me throw up a little in my mouth? Religious cliches.
Here’s one that gets my insides gurgling: “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.”
Now, I realize some people love religious cliches. They can be a good mnemonic device or a way to understand complex theological themes. But for me, most religious cliches overly simplify the Profound and the Divine Mystery. Similar to metaphors they can be helpful at first, but they always break down.
For a season, I attended a very contemporary seeker-sensitive evangelical megachurch that loved this cliche. One sermon series was on the negative aspects of religion in comparison with the positive aspects of Christianity as a relationship.
I remember that the preacher translated and defined “religion” as bondage. He surmised that all “religious” Christians and other religions brought spiritual bondage, but true Christianity because it was a relationship instead of a religion, brought spiritual freedom. Religion, then, was a bunch of rules one had to obey. Christianity, though, was a relationship developed by love.
Of course, I get the sentiment of the above cliche. Christianity does promote a personal and knowable God, union with the Divine, and personal spiritual transformation. So, yes there’s a relational element to the Christian religion. Moreover, God is also relationship, as the doctrine of the Trinity teaches.
Additionally, I see that throughout Scripture there were religious leaders who followed the rules and the law but missed the relational opportunity with the Divine. They lived a religious life for the wrong reasons, following rules but missing God’s Presence.
But, all cliches breaks down. Christianity is a religion. At its worst, Christianity as a religion has put a lot of people in bondage; spiritually and emotionally. At its best, Christianity as a religion has connected people to the Divine. It is also relational. As are other religions.
Such a cliche is one way to think of religion. Recently, I was reminded of another way to think about religion.
I have been slowing working my way through Fr. Richard Rohr’s new book, The Universal Christ (Seriously, go buy this book. It is utterly profound, powerful, and a game changer in the way we understand the Christ). He notes that religion comes from religio, which means to re-ligament or reconnect. Isn’t the image of religion as reconnecting ligaments bloody, bodily, and powerful?
In the book, he describes the essential function of religion is to radically connect us with every thing and every one. Religion then, specifically the Christian religion, is to re-ligament or reconnect us, to the Divine. Additionally, Christianity helps us to be radically connected to all of creation, to other people, and to ourselves.
I love this view of religion. And maybe this is why Christianity is even more important today.
I don’t know if people in our culture feel as if they are in some sort of spiritual bondage and need to find freedom. I assume most won’t respond positively to religious cliches, tracts, and answers to questions they aren’t actually asking.
However, I do think many people in our culture crave personal and spiritual connection, desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves, are dissatisfied with the false promises of individualistic pursuits, want to experience the beauty of a healthy creation, and hope to be deeply known and loved no matter the risk.
For instance, we live in an age where we have countless devices, technologies, and platforms whose goal it is to connect and reconnect us with others. Studies are now showing, though, that the more time we spend on social media platforms, designed to ‘connect’ us, the more lonely, anxious, depressed, and unhappy we become. The tools designed to connect us have actually become barriers to developing deep relationships and a fulfilling life.
This is why I think Christianity is exactly what we need.
We need a tradition that radically reconnects and re-ligaments us to every one and every thing, as Fr. Rohr says.
We need a faith that connects us with the Divine, with each other, with creation, and with our very souls.
I guess you could say we really need a religion void of cliches but one that radically and mysteriously reconnects ligaments.