Religion – Illusion? Or Something Else?

I’m reading an interesting book entitled, Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. It is a book about a preacher during the 1950’s who is in his 70’s and been diagnosed with a heart ailment and his time is short. He married late in life and had a son who is seven years old. He decides to write as many letters to his son as possible so that his son may know the man he was, even after he is gone. It is quite ingenious and enjoyable. The book is set in Iowa, a small town with a pastor of a small church writing the letters.

In the middle of the book, he brings up an interesting proposition: is religion an illusion? Is it an illusion as Freud may have described, or maybe is it real but our participation in is an illusion? Interesting take on the subject, our pastor seems to think the more insidious of the two is the latter. If one is not able to trust their senses, feelings, thoughts and observations then what can you trust. However, in our day and age, we have so many different types of “religion” and even in my own, Christianity, there is wide and divergent thought. So much so that one may have to ask, “What is real”?

And here is the crux of the matter; if we doubt what we know to be, real then we will look for those who seem to know what is real, a person or ideology. We look for that which can be easily explained, understood even if it is being changed and ameliorated so that it barely resembles that which God intended it to look like in the first place.

Religious self-righteousness is described as one of the things that destroys the church and soul of those who practice and are affected by it. How often has this been the case in our churches and homes? I myself have seen it and, I’m sad to say practiced it on occasion. To be so right as to become self-righteous all in the name of our Lord, which of course is the furthest thing from the truth. When we practice self-righteousness, we are not concerned with anyone but ourselves. We determine what is right based on a twisted view of Scripture and experience and thereby become destructive even though our original aim was to build up the body, we in fact tear it down.

And most egregious of all is the damage done to those who are the innocents, those seeking a foothold in the world, looking for truth in which to live their lives and base their decisions. Oh how we do a disservice to them when we become self-righteous.

I agree with our preacher in the book when he says the most damaging thought is not that of Freud or Feuerbach, but of those in our midst who would deny what we know to be real and meaningful. To say to those around them it is not the “right” way to think or feel or do based not on truth, but on a self-righteous overly pious attitude that indeed comes from their own self-doubt.

What do you say? I would love to hear.

About the Author