A while back (actually it was very recent when I wrote this post, I just never posted it) I noticed that there was a link to an T&S post about John Dehlin and the action to review his standing in the Church.
But on the thread John made a statement that has been seriously challenged by others. It is:
For the record, I have no terms. I have neither criticisms nor suggestions for the church or its leadership.
If John here means this in context of “when in meetings with the Stake President” then I’m certain this is a true statement. But I personally have seen John write and speak numerous criticism of the Church and make numerous suggestions. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve read or heard anything by John at all that didn’t include either criticisms or suggestions. So I gulped when I saw John write this, knowing how people would likely react to it.
But one thing that I need to stop and ask here now is “so what?”
I mean really, isn’t there a sense in which ‘criticisms’ and ‘suggestions’ of the ‘church’ is exactly what we want? Challenging the Church (and by that I mean “the members”) to throw off unrighteousness and come closer to God through more charity, etc? If that is what we mean by “criticism” or “suggestions” then what could possibly be wrong with it.
Which brings me to the point I really wanted to talk about, which actually has nothing to do with John Dehlin other than using him as a springboard. What exactly is a religion? What makes on criticism of a Church or Religion ‘okay’ and another ‘unacceptable’ or even ‘heresy?’
Part of what frustrates me about a lot of the debates over issues like this is that we tend to close our eyes to the fact that Church’s and religions are sociological in nature. For believers we don’t want to see it that way because it’s “God in charge” and so we want to minimize just how humanly sociological our Churches and religions are. So from within this point of view, it’s uncomfortable to admit that a religion is something human that can be (at least in theory) described scientifically.
For non-believers or even those that practice-but-do-not-believe, they want to see religion as a cultural heritage. From within this point of view, it really is easy to see why people that feel this way would be offended that they are being in any way excluded just because they don’t hold some (or sometimes any) of the beliefs of their religion. Religions clearly are far more than just a set of beliefs and many religions (here I think of the Jewish religion in particular) are far more about ethnicity or practices than beliefs.
So can we really say a religion “is something”? Or would it be more accurate to say that religions are many things to many people?
And here I am wandering around in the typical abstract sort of statement people make – and let’s face it, it sounds really good but doesn’t mean much.
So I am going to propose as a hypothesis (and right now, only a hypothesis) what a religion really is.
Here is the scary part: if I am right about this hypothesis, then the fact is that most of our debates can be easily resolved, because it means we already know the answers to most of the questions — we’re just afraid to admit it.
Since this view is going to be a bit long, I’m going to split it into a full future series. For now, I’m curious what other people’s hypothesis as to what ‘religion’ is. Bear in mind — and I think this is important — that the word ‘religion’ has mulitiple meanings. But despite this, when we think of ‘religion’ there is enough coherency of our use of that word to, in general, actually mean something.