No. 5 Looking at Religion
However rudimentary it may have been, from prehistoric times human beings have had a sense of the supernatural. Religion began when men and women realised that there was something beyond their gaze and more powerful than they. They assumed this to be spirits or a deity or deities which could explain and could influence their world, their lives and their destinies for better or worse. Such invisible beings (or being), they concluded, whether benevolent, malevolent or capricious, had to be humoured, treated with respect, prayed to for favours, or placated. Shrines, offerings and rituals resulted. Where people felt their wishes and commands were ‘discerned’, these needed to be obeyed.
The more primitive religions were largely animistic and related to the spirit world: to spirits thought to be associated with or to inhabit earthly places and forms such as trees, rocks, and animals. Other influences were astronomical, those of the sun in particular, which governed the seasons and agrarian cycles. Representations of local deities were made: household gods, idols which were venerated and appealed to. When people travelled or migrated they carried these with them, and the myths around their gods.
Systems of belief, worship and codes of conduct took shape and religion of one kind or another became the light, the refuge and the consolation of human beings, giving them a sense of identity, and purporting to offer them means for transcending the purely mundane and entering into a relationship with the supernatural world, and duly with the Creator of all that exists.
Belief in one God arose in the Middle East and spread, particularly due to the influence of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). There also emerged philosophies, which, through popularisation, acquired the status of religion in the Indian subcontinent. These too (namely Hinduism and Buddhism) developed codes of conduct. Hinduism was theistic or pantheistic, absorbing much from the religions, cultures and teachings they encountered. Buddhism, which grew in response to the problem of suffering in the world was non-theistic, side-stepping the question of whether or not God existed or mattered.
Today we have to deal with the voices and echoes of all of these, and also with the clamour of those who decry religion of any sort, and opt instead for do-it-yourself systems or non-systems of ethics and private spiritualities. Many despair in the search for what matters, and seek satisfaction in absorbing pursuits, such as work, study and research, sport, and the good-life. (Name some yourself).
Where do we go from here?
How do we sift through all this, and separate the genuine from the spurious and the corrupting? How much thought and prayer do we give this essential search for authentic life? In all this, God only knows. Yes, only God knows. Our calling and challenge is to turn to Him. Humility helps.
As the computer buff might express it, ‘Beware of spam, of trojans and worms that may be insinuated into and infect your PC without your knowing it, and thus spread crippling viruses to others, and eventually wreck your hard drive. There are agents of mischief and spin all around you, as well as those vested interests who operate on the seductive ‘MeTube’, in order to sell their merchandise to you, regardless of its quality and the destructive consequences that may be in store for you.
So, go to the ‘Divine website’. Equip yourself with antivirus protection. The best available are the Sacraments and Sunday Mass. There’s no substitute for these. Living a clean and moral life, good reading, keeping good company and daily prayer will de-fragment your hard drive and make for an efficient and seamless and trouble free performance. If necessary reboot your computer. For this you will need a good spiritual director.
The Lord Speaks
Say to the House of Israel, “The Lord Yahweh says this: I am acting not for your sake, House of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone….. For I shall take you from among the nations and gather you back from all the countries, and bring you home to your own country. I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed…. of all your filth and of all your foul idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws, and respect and practise my judgments…..You will be my people and I shall be your God.” (Ezekiel 36:22,24-28)
For this, dear Lord, we sincerely and humbly pray.