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Religion a Way of Seeing

In his book, “Who Needs God?” Rabbi Harold Kushner tells this story.

A man receives a message that a relative died and left him valuable property. He was to contact his rabbi for details. “Excited, he went to the rabbi, only to be told that the relative was Moses and the valuable property was the Jewish religious tradition.”

The man was disappointed that his legacy “was religious wisdom and not downtown real estate,” writes Kushner, who became famous for his book, “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.”

Many modern people, some who say they are “spiritual but not religious,” have various reasons for rejection of religion. Here are a few of the most common mentioned by Kushner, and my brief response to each.

·      Distrust, sometimes even contempt for, official representatives of religion. That may be warranted in a few cases, but it really doesn’t address one’s own spiritual and religious needs.

·      The boring nature of religious rituals; nobody understands or appreciates them. It’s true that if you don’t see with the eyes of faith, you can’t appreciate religious rituals.

·      People living in unenlightened times needed religion, but not people today. If you read the Psalms, you’ll see that people haven’t changed much in thousands of years. We have the same basic need and longing for God as people in the past.

·      Religion results in violence and harms more people than it helps. This isn’t supported by the facts. History shows that the amount and level of violence by atheistic groups and governments far outstrips violence done in the name of religion.

·      Churches and synagogues are breeding grounds for hypocrisy, self-righteousness and small-mindedness. Not in my experience. Those vices are present in some religious people, but the vast majority of religious people I know are honest, humble and open-minded.

·      There’s no time in my life for religion. This one’s hard to argue. We don’t make time for what isn’t important to us.

Kushner believes, however, that many people with these views of religion have vague feelings of unease about the lack of religion in their lives. They feel “there must be more to life than this.” There’s a lack of rootedness, a feeling that you have to figure things out for yourself because the past can’t be trusted as a guide.

But Kushner writes that many of us, religious and non-religious people, are confused about what constitutes religion. Religion, he writes, is not primarily a set of beliefs but a way of seeing.

“It can’t change the facts about the world we live in, but it can change the way we see those facts,” he writes.

He provides as an example a stroll down the halls of a hospital. “One person will see an endless chronicle of pain and suffering, and conclude that the world is a mess and life is Somebody’s idea of a nasty joke.

“Another person, seeing the same situation, will come away having learned something about human courage and resiliency. Her conclusion will be that incurable illnesses are a painful outrage precisely because life is good and holy.”

A week or so ago, I was standing in a classroom at Holy Family School in Des Moines facing the flag and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with the fourth graders I help with reading. It struck me that the flag is just a piece of cloth unless it has meaning for you, unless you see it through the eyes of patriotism.

Only Through the Eyes of Faith

Church and synagogue services are like that. They make sense only through the eyes of faith. In fact, you could say the same for life itself. You’re born, you live a life of bounty or misery or a mix of the two, and you die. Only through the eyes of faith does it make sense.

So how do people searching for God acquire eyes of faith? You start by being open to religion, the most obvious path to God. You pray. You read and view religious and spiritual material that can help. And by “doing” the faith, that is, being God-like to others.

It’s no accident that so many of Jesus’ miracles in the Christian Bible are about recovering sight, physical and spiritual. A blind man and beggar named Bartimaeus, for instance, was on the road from Jericho when he cried out to Jesus. When Jesus asked what he wanted, he replied, “Rabbi, I want to see.’

‘On your way,’ said Jesus, according to The Message translation, ‘Your faith has saved and healed you.’ In that very instant he recovered his sight and followed Jesus down the road.’”

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