March 21, 2013

Keep the Faith, Lose the Religion?

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Icon-religion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was talking to a religious friend recently who brought up a point I hadn't fully considered. She was explaining why she no longer attended church (the primary reason was the blatant hypocrisy so often on display from the clergy). I asked whether she still considered herself to be a member of the particular Christian denomination with which I know she used to identify. She replied that she did so but that she would be unlikely to attend church again. She went on to say something I found quite interesting.
I'd like to keep the religion but lose the church. I have faith, and I am still a Christian. I just think the church structure and clergy may need to be something I let go.
I wasn't initially sure what she meant, so I asked a few follow-up questions. She considers herself a Christian and a god-believer but sounded almost as turned off by church as I am. As I struggled to understand what she thought of the association between faith, religion, and church, I asked whether it might be more accurate to say that she wanted to keep her faith but lose most aspects of organized religion. "Yes," she replied, "that's it exactly. I think we'd be better off without the religion."

Each particular religion is about far more than church (or equivalent worship services). They come with traditions and customs about all manner of things. I'm not sure my friend was thinking broadly enough about this. Church is an important part of religion, but religion extends far beyond church as well. My friend is not yet ready to jettison her faith, and I can't help seeing these beliefs as part of religion as well.

I found the idea of faith without religion to be an interesting one even though I am not sure it is possible or what it would look like. I keep hearing that church attendance is declining in the U.S. and that members of some religious denominations are leaving them. I think it is far too early to assume that we are seeing the end of this aspect of religion. But I do wonder whether some of the other parts of religion may be linked to church so that they will decline if it declines.

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