April 20th, 2018

By the Way: Best work of religion uses story-telling and rituals to help build relationships

By Medicine Hat News on January 13, 2018.

Organized religion has been part of the story of human societies from our earliest beginnings. Organized religion undergirded laws and moral codes and social well-being. Then came the rise of secularism.

The turn toward secular society has had a big impact on both private and public life. Less and less do we rely on religion to dictate social norms and personal behaviour. And we observe that there are increasing numbers of people who describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.”

The question is, Does it matter? Does religion matter? Can communities and nations and societies thrive without religion? Is having a private sense of personal spirituality all that any of us really need?

It is, I suggest, a very bold experiment to think that we might now have healthy communities and a moral society without reference to religion.

It is also true that organized religion has a lot of black marks against its record. The list of the sins of religion is long and deeply troubling. Even admitting the sins of religion, most of us ponder life’s deeper issues from the perspective of believing that “this can’t be all there is!”

Few of us will choose either the path of militant atheism or the path of religious fanaticism. Neither has much appeal. At the same time we almost certainly realize that church doctrines do not represent the best work of religion.

The best work of religion uses story-telling and rituals to help us build relationships. When we are hurting or afraid; when we are lonely or ashamed; and also when we feel loved, appreciated and glad to be alive, then is when we seek a spiritual bond which connects us with the wisdom of the ages.

Those are the days when it means a lot to be reminded that we are not alone! Bonds that come from shared joy or shared sorrow connect us to each other and to God.

Reverend Jim Hillson is minister emeritus at Fifth Avenue Memorial United Church.

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