"What is religion?" Well, according to my free book on Anthropology, it's a system of ideas about spiritual beliefs and practices which (try to) guide folks who are hoping to make sense of a world out of control, where do they fit into this world, and how to influence or even manipulate the unknown.
The textbook messes around with the need to have certain rituals, songs, dances, offerings and sacrifices. It also questions whether religion does anything more than setting rules and keeping certain societies in line.
Just in case we feel too secure, there is clear evidence that 19th century Europeans speculated that modern science would eventually replace any and all such irrational beliefs and practices. In most cases, pure science has done a great job but is bright enough to leave considerably large gaps of unanswered questions.
I had a pot-full of unanswered questions in my growing up years. Actually, I have a lot of questions now. "Julie, my love, why must I change my underwear on a daily basis, walk Downgirlsit and root for the Denver Broncos?"
"Because I said so, Doofus."
On special occasions, Julie will turn on her heel, look at me with blazing eyes, lift the Wand of Wisdom and I quit asking questions. Come to think of it, this would be a pretty good definition of religion.
Putting a lot of speculation and anthropological study aside, most folks would agree that religion, no matter how defined or formal, has a purpose. Even those who call themselves non-believers often say it is important to have an orderly model of our universe, good human behavior, some explanation for the unknown and have some acceptable way of dealing with a situation that defies explanation.
I know this much. If I had to count on government, law enforcement, education or good intentions to give me a good life, I would be sorely disappointed. I personally don't have enough intelligence, courage, vision, security — and this list could go into a very long sentence — to comfort me through much of life and its complex unpredictable events.
I really have never thought much about religion in a terribly sophisticated way. I have studied a lot of books, been taught by some remarkably intelligent professors in seminary, questioned the wisdom of God on numerous occasions, and I mention this with a lot of discomfort, but I do not try to out-think God or reduce God to my brand of theology.
Where do I start? I open my worn, duct taped, dog-eared, underlined and highlighted Bible and read, "In the beginning God...." I do not read, "In the beginning nothing..." I cannot calculate infinity and my head begins to ache when I try to answer my puny question, "Why?" I can say this, "When I read this passage for the very first time, I was overwhelmingly comforted!"
I continued to read and have been reading this Bible all my life. I am amazed, but I learn something new every time I turn a page. I do not try to analyze. I really try to let go of whatever might restrict any doubt, control my emotions or limit my faith. I try to do what I was taught as a young man sitting in a little old Methodist country church in North Carolina, "Just let go and let God!"
My theology is very simple. In the beginning, there was God who took what I would have thought nothing more than chaos and created cosmos. That's my way of saying that God began the process to create a world where human beings could exist. We don't do very well when there is a lot of confusion and disorder.
I am comforted when I understand that God does punish but always forgives. When we try to disrupt His order, His cosmos, and live as though we are a law unto ourselves and disorderly chaos, God steps in mightily. When we pay attention, He opens a new door and invites us into a wonderful future.
Can I define, explain or intellectualize God? Yes, but only in His own words, "For God so loved the world..."
The rest is up to us. Thanks, God!