I went to church yesterday morning, a Catholic church as, though I'm not Catholic, the rest of my family is. It was a communion service and the church was overflowing with people of all ages. There were flowers and incense, and the church itself, while not old, was built in a traditional style with some fine stained glass windows above the altar. The choir sang well and the priest seemed kind and friendly.
But there was absolutely no feeling of holiness or even, if that's expecting too much, reverence. Now, you might say this was because it was Easter Sunday and the church was full of people who, like me, only go on special occasions. That was no doubt a factor but the problem goes much deeper. It is rooted in contemporary religion itself which is usually just an external thing. By that I don't mean believers don't believe but their belief does not affect them anywhere near deeply enough. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon but it does seem worse now. Religion, even where it exists, has just got shallower and more tailored to this world.
Too often the substance of it is just believe in God and be nice to everyone. Otherwise, live your life just like everyone else, enjoying and valuing what everyone else does. There is no call to deep repentance and reorientation towards the real spiritual. There is no real understanding that rebirth in Christ actually means becoming a totally new, completely different kind of person. So it seems there is basically no fundamental difference between a religious person and a secular one, if the latter is more or less a decent law-abiding type. They both identify themselves with their worldly egos and see themselves in a similar way. One believes in some kind of idea of God and an afterlife and the other doesn't, but they do not really see the world in a different light.
All of which leads me to ask, what does it mean to believe? What is belief? Is it just intellectual assent to a particular proposition or is it something that must turn our life round completely and transform what we are, what we think and how we act? Should it affect every single aspect of our life and how we see ourselves and our purpose or should it leave these largely untouched? Obviously, it's the former. It must not just be a mental thing. Belief in God must be all-consuming to the point that nothing else matters except how it appears in the light of that. I am going to say that even our relationships with those we love must be seen in the light of the reality of God. If that shocks you, well, Jesus said the same thing.
I'm sure these were all good people in the worldly sense, probably much friendlier and more charitable than me. And I know no man can judge the heart of another. I wasn't sitting there looking for things to feel superior about or criticise. I would rather not have thought what I did. But you cannot escape the fact that even of those people who think themselves religious or spiritual, many are only so superficially. Their focus is on this world and they see themselves as what they appear to be, physical beings, not spirits clothed in flesh come to this world for a brief duration to learn certain lessons before returning to their true home in heaven. This world is not our home and anyone who identifies with it and its goods is not truly a spiritual person, whatever their feelings. That seems a good Easter message to me. If it seems a little too close to Gnosticism for you then consider this. Do you see above in terms of below, spirit in terms of matter, or below in terms of above? If the former then, whatever your beliefs, however deep you might think your faith to be, you are a materialist. Just like many modern Christians.