Faith: What deserves our worship?
I recently read, and you may have heard, that Harvard University has hired a self-avowed atheist to serve as University Chaplain. Before you join your voice with countless others who have pointed out the obvious absurdity of such a selection, it might be worthwhile to examine what this says about our culture – or more to the point, what it says about our nature as human persons.
It’s quite popular these days to hear people talk about being “spiritual,” but not “religious.” What is usually meant by this is that a person recognizes that there is something deep within them that is “spiritual,” something transcendent in which is found meaning and value, that gives their life some measure of purpose. To be “religious,” on the other hand, is to belong to a particular group or to adhere to a defined set of doctrines and beliefs. Religion is understood, usually negatively in this context, to be “institutionalized” spirituality. As for the new Harvard Chaplain who claims to be an atheist, he claims at the same time to be “spiritual.”
As a priest, as a “religious professional,” I’ve heard this distinction made by people for decades, and it’s only growing stronger among an increasingly non-religious population in our country. What’s interesting, however, is this does not indicate that people are no longer interested in the meaning of life or transcendence. Rather, increasing numbers of people are simply choosing something other than traditional religion in which to put their faith.
I would suggest that the need for purpose and meaning in life, the need for something bigger than ourselves to believe in, is an essential part of what it is to be human. It’s unavoidable. It’s not so much a question of whether or not a person is “religious;” rather, the question is what or whom do we worship? In totalitarian regimes, as it was in the former Soviet Union, worship of the State is the new religion. In our own culture, we might name any number of ideologies that are now new “religions.” Some may worship at the church of environmentalism, or identity politics, or materialistic capitalism.
The very word “worship,” is derived from the Old English pertaining to “what has worth.” Whether we identify ourselves as spiritual or religious, we each must ask, “What is worthy of our worship?”
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We are living in strange times. The very concept of truth itself is under suspicion. It seems that each person determines his or her own reality, independent of anyone else or anything objective. As a result, it seems as if we are angrier, more divided, less tolerant, and more entrenched in our own ideas and opinions than ever. Ironically, in an age that is often viewed as “post-religious” and increasingly secular, we appear to be dividing into fundamentalist groups who hold positions with nothing short of religious fervor.
The Christian Gospel proclaims that the Ultimate Reality, truly worthy of worship, has entered our existence. He is not an ideology, an opinion, or even a religious doctrine. He is a Person. God, in Jesus Christ, entered human existence and history in order to transform it – to restore our relationship with the Transcendent God who is the source of our very existence and identity as human persons. Christ is the fulfillment of every spiritual or religious quest and desire. He is the One for whom every human person longs from the depths of his or her being. Whether we realize it or not, every human being is created for God. We are, by nature, religious – that is, we have a longing deep within us for reconnection with our Source. As St. Augustine, a fifth-century bishop, wrote, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they find their rest in Thee.”
Fr. David Henderson is priest at St. John the Baptist Orthodox Christian Church in Craig. He can be reached at: email@example.com
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