Monday, 21 March 2011

Am I religious?

Some interesting reactions to a survey conducted recently by the British Humanist Association. The BHA are in a bit of a strop about the religious question in the National Census being conducted on 27th March and so have decided to ask their own questions connected with religious affiliation. Two good critiques of the BHA survey are offered by Doug Chaplin and Church Mouse.

The BHA asked the census question ‘What religion are you?’ and 61% ticked a religious box, 39% ticked to indicate no religion. The next question, not in the census, asked ‘Are you religious?’ and only 29% of those completing the survey responded ‘yes’. This got me wondering how I would have responded to these two questions and the answer is I am not sure.

Yesterday, in church we prayed the Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent:
Almighty God,
you show to those who are in error the light of your truth,
that they may return to the way of righteousness:
grant to all those who are admitted
      into the fellowship of Christ's religion,
that they may reject those things
      that are contrary to their profession,
and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
I have to confess I really don’t like this prayer for, as my wife commented on the way home from church, it reads like a badly drafted legal contract. I also baulk at the phrase ‘the fellowship of Christ’s religion’. What does that actually mean? It can’t mean the religion of Jesus which was Judaism. I presume the phrase means the religion founded on belief in Jesus as the Christ which is Christianity, but that’s not what it says. I would prefer to speak about my faith rather than my religion.

If I’m honest my problem with the word ‘religious’ is that it speaks to me of a disposition and in that sense I am not very religious. Let me give an example, I am not one for dressing in religious clothes; the first time I put a clerical collar on I felt physically sick and I wear robes because I’m supposed to when leading public acts of worship, not because I like to wear robes or vestments. Some of my colleagues love all the dressing up, movement and gesture in worship, while I could happily do without all the flummery. I am not saying my colleagues, many of whom I greatly respect, are any more or less faithful than me, just pointing out that this is an aspect of being religious that I don’t easily relate to. I am not religious in the sense that I don’t like dressing in ‘religious’ clothes. This might seem a silly example but what it shows is that I am not predisposed to something that might be expected of a religious person.

One of the things I find appealing about the Jesus I encounter in the Gospels is that he was continually being criticised for sitting light to the religious paraphernalia of his faith, in short he didn’t appear to be very religious. The followers of Jesus were also criticised for failing to conduct themselves in a manner associated with prescribed religious behaviour. Jesus went further and criticised those who did a good job of appearing to be religious, yet, in their hearts did not seem to have a very Godly attitude towards others. So was Jesus religious?


Revsimmy said...

Do I think regular prayer is important? Yes. Do I think it is important to meet with others to worship regularly? Yes. Do I think God particularly cares whether I get everything "right" when I conduct worship? Is he bothered what I wear when I do this? Not really. Does this make me religious?

One good reason for wearing robes/vestments to conduct worship is that it relieves me of the worry of what to wear other wise. All dress sends social signals - do I wear a business suit, making some think Christ is not for the likes of them? Or do I wear jeans and a casual jacket and be accused by others of being sloppy and irreverent? Do I wear a leather jacket and upset vegetarians and animal rights people? Do I dress expensive or cheap? (And is my clothing properly "adjusted"?) Robes relieve of the need to worry about these things.

Philip Ritchie said...

Hi Simon, I agree with you about robes/vestments. My problem is that they have become for many about their personality and taste (or lack of it) as a quick visit to the bad vestments website or CRE exhibition will confirm, rather than functionality.

I would share with you the importance of the things you list, they are vital in sustaining our relationship with God and one another in Christ. Do they make us religious? I think that depends on how we want to define religious. I like Maggi's observation about the distinction between being religious and spiritual in her blog on the subject.

Jane Willis said...

I cannot tell you how concerned I am by your comment that wearing a dog collar for the first time made you feel sick. A clerical collar is not a sign of religiosity, it is proclamation evangelism:

'I am not only a Christian, I am an ordained priest and changed my entire life for my faith and want everyone to know that.'

Philip Ritchie said...

Well Jane you have told me how concerned you are by my comment. My point was that I am not someone who particularly enjoys or wants to wear 'religious clothes'. I do because it is part of my vocation not because I like doing it. I do have friends and colleagues who really enjoy it and that's fine.

My reason for feeling physically sick when I first put on a clerical collar was in part because my dad was a vicar and putting that collar on after years of being asked if I would be following in his footsteps was a very unsettling experience.

I am surprised by your comment: 'I am not only a Christian, I am an ordained priest and changed my entire life for my faith and want everyone to know that.' What does that statement say to to all those faithful Christians who are not ordained but who have just as strong a sense of vocation and have committed their lives to God's service in their context? After 24 years of ordained ministry I wish I could say I'd 'changed my entire life for my faith' but I am all too aware of the many areas of my life that are desperately in need of God's grace.

'Not only a Christian...' I have spent my ministry (including the last ten as a lay training officer) trying to battle against that language and the sense of hierarchy it perpetuates.

As a priest I don't believe I am any more special than any other Christian and I don't need a particular set of clothes to define my vocation. I don't want people to know what I've done, I want them to know what God has done. If wearing a dog collar helps with your outreach, that's great, I personally find it most useful in pastoral situations but I don't wear it to let people know how dedicated a Christian I am.