No matter what you or I believe about religion, it has been part of the human story for thousands of years (in good and bad ways).
So, it’s important to ask: What is religion really about? What is it for? At its core, at its best, what is it designed to do for human beings?
I like the way theologian Reinhold Niebuhr responds to this:
“Man comes to terms with his universe only by heroic and poetic insights. Religion, the whole of man adjusting himself to the whole of life, involves precisely these two elements—poetic insight and moral vigor.”
There are a few things to reflect on here.
“The whole of man adjusting himself to the whole of life.”
Sometimes life feels like Macbeth’s famous line: “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day…”
But I think we yearn for more than that. We want a way to embrace the WHOLE of life—birth and death, successes and failures, work and relationships, tears and laughter, dreams and disappointments—with our WHOLE heart, mind and soul.
Religion should help us grow toward wholeness. How? Niebuhr suggests two gateways.
Max Ehrman provides an example of poetic thinking about life and faith in his famed essay, Desiderata:
“Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here…Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
And then…“Moral vigor.”
Here’s a simple example of this from advice columnist Ann Landers:
“Keep in mind that the true measure of an individual is how he treats a person who can do him absolutely no good.”