“I’m not much on religion. The way I look at it, organized religion is really a bad thing. They’re all pretty much the same – home to a bunch of hypocrites telling you what to do but not doing it themselves. It works for people who can’t think for themselves. It’s not for me, that’s all I know.”
My colleague didn’t mean to offend. She was being candid about why she moved away from the Christian faith of her childhood. A lot of emotion and feeling were packed into that statement and changing her mind was neither likely at that moment, nor was it my goal. As a believer, I of course wanted to “make the case,” but I could tell from her manner that she was not open to hearing it. Her mind was made up. But perhaps I could give her something to think about.
“I know what you mean,” I replied. “And much of what you say is true. And, it sounds to me like what is true actually matters to you. You don’t want to follow rules for some deity in the sky that you don’t think is really there. You don’t want to be fooled, or mislead.”
“Well, I certainly hope so,” she said.
“That’s important,” I agreed. “That’s why I wanted to make sure we were on the same page on this. While I agree with you that some religions are false, and therefore bad, and that some followers of what I would call true religion are also bad, I can’t agree that there’s no place of religion, that religion generally is just a bad thing.”
Her expression suggested that she wasn’t interested in a discussion, a kind of “I’ve heard it all before” look.
I pressed on. “When you think about it, the same thing you just said could also be said about other things. Take food, for example. Some things we might think of as food are actually poisonous, like some types of mushrooms. Other things like, say, sushi, can be toxic if not prepared correctly. And some things, like most fast food, are just plain bad for us. Some people misuse food, either intentionally or not intentionally. Food’s track record, when viewed this way, is pretty dismal; more harm comes from misusing food or consuming the wrong things than we can even begin to imagine.”
I could see she was listening.
“But you wouldn’t take these observations and conclude from them that all food is bad, would you?”
She began to slowly shake her head.
“Of course not,” I went on. “What you would conclude is that you must be discerning. You need to stay away entirely from things that are either poisonous or otherwise harmful, and what you do eat you should eat in moderation and in a balanced way. Your goal in eating, after all, is not just enjoyment of the taste but also nutrition and good health, so that you can fuel your body in a way that is likely to produce in you the best physical health. Right?”
“Wow,” she said. “I’ve never thought about it that way. I’ll have to think about that for awhile.”
“Please do. I would love to talk to you more about this. I just want you to see that as food and drink are the fuel needed for the body, we are not just bodies. We have a spiritual side to us, one that I think all people realize, even those who have rejected formal religion. Even you, I suspect, recognize that you are not just flesh and blood, right? You have a body and a mind, both of which you are making use of. You are not just a body or a mind, right?”
She nodded, still processing what I was saying.
“Well, that part of you that ‘has’ a mind and a body – your spiritual side or soul – doesn’t it make sense that this needs nourishment as well? That there are things that help make it healthy and things that by contrast can make it sick? Ignoring food indefinitely will lead to illness and death. Why would ignoring food for the soul be any different?”
Her face became more animated. “Why should that be?” she countered. “I’m not sure I agree with you on that.”
“Because,” I began, “all living things are by definition growing and changing. When things no longer grow, they die. If your spirit stopped growing, it would not be alive within you. And all growing things need nourishment of some kind. So why would your soul be any different? It may not need material or natural things to keep in living, but if it is alive, and it is growing or changing, it needs something. Doesn’t it?”
I could see that she wanted to process what I had said so far, so I concluded.
“Pursuing truth actually matters in the world. That’s how we stay alive and healthy, by being able to distinguish good things from bad things. Finding ‘truth’ in religion is no different. Christianity is making certain truth claims both about things that occurred in history – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – as well as ultimate things – why man is here at all, what his purpose is, and what his ultimate destination is. These are, in fact, among the most interesting and fascinating things to think about. All I’m asking is to give it some thought. Don’t close your mind to these things and conclude that all religion is bad. At least do some investigation before you reach such a broad and final conclusion.”
She was about to respond, then stopped herself.
“Let’s talk later. I need to think about this,” she said. I hope she does.
Posted by Al Serrato