Monday 16 November 2020

The Meaning of Religion

I'm probably being very foolish in trying to define something as deep and wide as religion but the question arose when I asked myself what we most lack today. We don't lack morality of a sort, meaning a morality based on totally materialistic considerations, but morality does not lie at the heart of what religion is. In fact, I would say that a highly moral atheist is a worse person, worse in the sense of further away from truth and real goodness, than a sincere believer who, despite his belief, sins and who might even be a bad person in the eyes of the world.

This is because the believer has something the atheist lacks which is not belief as such but openness to transcendence. It is this that lies at the heart of any proper religion or religious attitude. I say it is not belief as such because you can believe anything. In a way what you believe is of secondary importance. What truly matters and what defines real religion is this inner openness, this sensitivity to a higher reality. Of course, this by itself is nowhere near enough and it can be deformed by the way we react to it, by the mental interpretation (belief) we put on it. But without a sense of transcendent reality (an open spirit is more important than an open mind), no man or woman can be called religious.

So, the essence of religion is not morality and it is not belief. These are important and necessary adjuncts but without spiritual sensitivity they are nothing. Spiritual sensitivity needs to be worked on and developed but it is the foundation of religion, and if it is missing the individual in whom it is missing, be he ever so good as the world defines good, clean-living, moral, a giver of charity and all the rest of it, lives in spiritual darkness and will not be saved which means released into heaven after death. If you do not in a certain sense live in heaven now, if your mind does not already tend towards it and if you are not inwardly yearning for it, you will not find it later. If your heart reaches up to heaven, notwithstanding that your behaviour might fall well short of what is required, then you are saved. You will have work to do but you are facing towards the light. It is this idea that lies behind the doctrine that mere belief in Jesus saves. It is not the intellectual belief that saves for it surely does not. It is spiritual receptivity, openness to the divine. That is the only true belief, and this is what lies at the root of all true religion.


MagnusStout said...

This seems to build on Dr. Carlton's most recent posts (ex: good-nasty, etc.), and I find the way in which you explain these things to "click" in my mind and spirit better. Using words to explain spiritual reality is two-edged sword, with both benefits (the "a-ha" illumination) and costs (creating "heretics"). Perhaps that is why Jesus spoke in carefully-crafted parables, which satisfy the twin goals of 1) maximum understanding combined with 2) spiritual precision.

Contemporary support of this idea can be found in unexpected places: "The people who challenged my atheism most were drug addicts and prostitutes - Chris Arnade" at

The other supporting idea I have is that the more "holier" the person, the more they seem to understand their own sinfulness. Or, put differently, the more they seem humble and less proud of any outward religiosity (ex: compare to the Pharisees in Jesus' time). So, we are "less" than the junkie (who clings to his Faith and is acutely aware of his failings), if we are a materialist who sees little need of the spiritual.

William Wildblood said...

Yes, it does seem that saints always think of themselves as sinners. This must be because the more you are aware of God the more you realise how far short of what you should be you actually are.

Kirstie said...

Agreed. And that's why I often give you a hard time, William. I find you weak and contradictory most times now. I take ownership of that. It's not that I don't believe in God, I don't believe in you - and I understand why you have to delete my comments. But what I would like you to remember is that you are here to help people who are trying to remember the creator. You were placed here to do just that. Not start speaking politics and letting ego get in the way. And judge people. If you want to put yourself out here, you must be humble enough to take criticism, not blank it. If you remember, surely you were placed here to help ease the transition.

William Wildblood said...

Well, I'll leave this comment Kirstie. I only delete ones that make no sense or are just rude. But I'm glad you still read the blog despite your low opinion of me!