A personal reflection: What is a religion? Part II

This is a continuation of last week’s message, which you can read here.

During my past 16 years of parish ministry, I have encountered many individuals who seem to sincerely pursue their spiritual cultivation, but seriously reject any idea of being involved in religion or religious practices. To them, anything that comes with the adjective “religious” is either poisonous or dangerous to their spiritual well being. After having a number of conversations with them, I realized that what they mean by religion is often the institutionalized set of dogmas and rituals that were imposed on them or their ancestors by others. In a way, what those people are rejecting, to my mind, is not so much the religious elements themselves, but the fact that a way of life was imposed upon them harshly and judgmentally without giving them a choice or asking their willing consent to participate. This learning led me to contemplate upon a fundamental characteristics of humanity: no one likes to be told what to do!

In my understanding, to be religious, to have a religion, or to be an active participant of a religious organization are all different matters. To be religious, one simply needs to have a certain awareness in Creator or Creating Force and/or to acknowledge a spiritual aspect to human existence. To have a religion, one actually has to accept a pre-set system of beliefs, a way of life, and a certain purpose of life as it is taught by that certain religion. To be an active participant of a religious organization, one not only has to accept what a certain religion teaches, but also has to join a community of people who share the same sets of beliefs. In other words, anyone can be religious as long as one has an understanding and conscious awareness of the inner depth within their apparent reality, while to have a religion or to be an active participant of a religion is often an active practice of choice in accepting an institutionalized system of beliefs and rituals, which are often invented by humans and are subject to human modification.

Regarding religion/being religious, perhaps the first question one has to ask is, “Is being religious a matter of choice?” (the question is concerned not about being part of a specific religion such as being a Christian or a Muslim or Hindu, but about being religious by itself.) This is the  most important question, at least to me, because the answer clearly demonstrates where one stands on the matter of religion. If one were to believe that being religious or not is a simple matter of human choice, then one is acknowledging that all religions are ultimately mere inventions of human minds to improve their way of life and to promote harmonious environments. However, if one were to believe that Creator or Supernatural Being is real, and all humans are spirits living temporarily on Earth, then being religious cannot be a matter of choice because seeking and acquiring truth and living in such a way as to promote our true being should be the highest purpose of our life on Earth. Clearly, I am standing on the side of the second option.

Next week, I will conclude these reflections by focusing on my own journey and philosophies and where I find both comfort and uncertainty in religion.

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee