Soon after I left the Anglican Church to become a Catholic I remember an Australian poking fun at the stuffy Church of England with the quip, “Church of England mate? That’s not a religion. It’s a set of table manners.”
On reflection, after all these years I have come to see that the Australian wise guy was wiser than I could see at the time, and his comment does not only apply to the Church of England with their lovely traditions, but to the whole heretical gang of modernist Christians no matter what their denominational affiliation. It doesn’t matter if they are Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist or Roman Catholic.
He said “That’s not a religion. It’s a set of table manners.” I related to the table manners comment, but not as much to the “that’s not a religion”
However, by writing my latest book Immortal Combat – Confronting the Heart of Darkness I have come to a deeper appreciation of what a religion actually is. A religion is not a set of table manners, nor is it a set of rules and regulations for respectability, nor is it simply a set of doctrines to be believed or devotions to be practiced. It is not a political activist organization nor a socially aware instrument of improvement. It is not a food pantry, a homeless shelter or an environmental protection group. Religious people might do all those things, and I hope they do, but these things (all good and wonderful in themselves) are not the core of what a religion is.
A religion is (and always has been in all times and in all places throughout the history of humanity) an interaction of gods and men. It is an experience of the transcendent, a bridge to the other side, an encounter with Reality, an apprehension of the tremendum et fascinans, a baptism into the numinous, a burning bush, a cave with the still small voice, an Annunciation, a visitation, an encounter with God and a wrestling with an angel.
This is what religion is in all its multi form ways, and it doesn’t matter to me (for the sake of a basic definition) whether that religion is the primitive dance around the campfire hallucinating about the gods or spinning myths about the demons. It doesn’t matter to me (for the sake of a basic definition) whether it is the sincere prayer of a Baptist, the chants of a Muslim or the trumpets of the Jews. It doesn’t matter to me whether it is a Buddhist monk meditating in his saffron robes or a Christian ascetic in his desert cave. It doesn’t matter to me if it is a Voodoo priest sacrificing a chicken or a monsignor celebrating High Mass in a Gothic cathedral.
I am not for a moment suggesting that all religious expressions are equivalent in wisdom, equal in truth and comparable in beauty and attractiveness. Anyone who has learned about the human sacrifices of the Aztecs or the ritual cannibalism of the Iroquois will put aside any idea that all religions are equal.
I am not stating that all religions are equal, but I am saying that they are, at least, religions. They have to do with mankind’s meeting with the gods–his interaction with the supernatural and his experience of the spiritual dimension of reality.
Modernist Christianity has no time for any of that. As soon as the old modernists dispensed with miracles through their sophomoric theory of “de-mythologization” they put themselves outside the realm of religion and into the category of the Girl Scouts selling cookies. The removed the miracles and the supernatural not by outright denial, but by re-interpretation. The miracles became pretty fables to teach a spiritual lesson. When they removed the supernatural from Christianity they removed God.
What was left? The moral teachings of Jesus Christ and a few dogmas, but they soon got rid of the dogmas as well because they found them “divisive”.
Now what is left? Only a fond memory of Christianity, a husk of meaning without the kernel of truth.
This is why Christianity will die in the West. This religion will die because it is not actually a religion. Selling this goody two shoes milk and water version of Christianity is a bit scam. It’s like running a burger joint but serving up veggie burgers.
I hate this with a holy hatred because it pretend to be the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe while in fact it belongs to the Father of Lies.
What is needed today more than ever before is a new wave of mysticism, and by “mysticism” I do not mean sitting on a mountaintop in your underpants humming a mantra. I do not mean sitting on top of a pillar weaving baskets and waiting for the end of the world.
By “mysticism”I mean real men and women alive in the world who have rolled up their sleeves and got on with living the life of faith–a life in which their ordinary world is infused with the power and grace of the Holy Spirit–men and women who have eyes, ears, mind and heart that has been opened to the reality of God alive in the world always active, always creating, always living and always leading them forward in faith and joy.
This “mysticism” is no more and no less than a people who are living “in the Spirit” and not according to the flesh.
This renewal is possible, and it is only this renewal that will deliver us from the empty pews, empty head, empty hearts and empty lives of modernist Christianity.