Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind'

Defining 'religion'

When members of the Nanty Glo list who receive these thrice-weekly ramblings, by their silence assent to my claims, I sometimes seek or stumble upon affirmation or arguments from other opinion writers in other media. Thus a challenge of my July 4 definition of "religion" was found in a Cleveland Plain-Dealer piece by Frank Bentayou on July 12. My sweet and short definition was, "Religion means 'the most important thing in life and the world; the reason we're here.'" Frank Bentayou came up with more elaborate meanings. Like these:

"The definition I use of religion starts with the idea that it confronts three unanswerable questions," according to J. Gordon Melton, a religions studies researcher at University of California at Santa Barbara:

Where did we come from?

Why are we here?

Where are we going?

Beyond that, Melton said, a religion must meet these two additional criteria: The institution has to create and sustain "a community of believers." It must include what Melton calls "a behavioral code"—a set of expectations of what a righteous life is.

Such definitions are necessary when considering who qualifies for tax exemption or chaplains in jails or the military, for "formal religion." But in our "have it your way" consumption-minded culture, form is regarded less important than passion or love. I think I came to my definition when studying Communism. Karl Marx, despite having famously said something like "religion is the opiate of the people," was the leader of the only world-changing religion to arise in the Twentieth Century. The devotion of his cult's followers is legendary and still smolders, not quite quenched, even in some of those parts of the world where it wreaked its worst toll, such as Russia where many old-timers and young turks long to turn back the clock to the time of Stalin and Khrushchev. Having read widely in their literature, I'm convinced that the Marxists believed Marx's formula for human salvation was the only antidote to Christianity. And some, both on the left and the right, believe that Gorbachev "gave up" the Communist dialectical quest to conquer the world because he was convinced that through secular humanism their goals had already won in Europe and America and as they went, so went the world. They may be right.

But I digress. I'm also convinced that the only logical working definition of religion is "that which matters most to you" because it puts its finger on the pulse of popular conceptions like "football is the new national religion," "golf is my religion," "rock and roll will never die" and myriad other confessions of faith more meaningful to their devotees than the Nicene or Apostles' Creed or the "doctrinal statement" glued inside the hymnal cover. It's what masses of people live for. This approach is insisting that if people are more loyal to their political party and its platform than their church and its symbol of faith, the religion that counts there is their politics, not their country-club "formal" religion. It's about forcing people to face up to "what do I really consider most important?"

Christianity is hobbled by being both a formal religion and a personal relationship with God through Christ, which well-meaning spokespersons (bonafide or self-appointed) insist incorrectly in pitting against each other. Both the formal—the body life—and the interal personal relationship are necessary for either of them to be legitimate and bear fruit.

Jesus expressed my definition of religion first in His sermon on the mount: "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:22).

Next: Life is religion.

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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Kids' prayers

Dear God, do you draw the lines around the countries? If you don't, who does? Nathan

—Sent by Trudy Myers

Thought for today

Our wickedness shall not overpower the unspeakable goodness and mercy of God; our dullness shall not overpower God's wisdom, nor our infirmity God's omnipotence.

—St. John of Kronstadt (1829-1906)

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