Religion has earned a bad name. There was a time when the word simply referred to all things pertaining to a faith. Now it seems to refer exclusively to all the bad things pertaining to a faith. The ever popular “I’m spiritual, not religious” thinking cannot conceive of religion as anything but toxic, dangerous, or, at best, benign and superficial traditions of man.
This is bad, real bad. The separation of the outward life of faith – the physical trappings, the ritual – from the internal activity of the mind and spirit is something akin to the ancient heresy of Docetism: the idea that Christ did not have a real body of flesh but rather some sort of phantasmal spirit that was free from suffering. The cutting off of one’s physical involvement or religious attunement to the spirit is tantamount to Docetism applied to human believers.
That word “human” seems kind of important when talking about believers in Christianity because we are… human. Our humanity requires certain things, certain conditions, to make anything we do authentic. If people were all-angel then being all-cerebral would be fine. If people were all-beast then being all-physical would be fine. But humans have a special quality of being mediators of heaven and earth, spirit and flesh, abstract thought and sweat and blood. People often live in one or the other but rarely inhabit both. The psyche will only tolerate this imbalance for a short period of time before some neurotic compensation kicks in.
What is so fearful about being incarnate in one’s own flesh? Answer that and you’ve solved the riddle most psychiatrists are after.
I just finished reading Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins. I found this line particularly fantastic:
“It took religion to save me from the spirit world, from orbiting the earth like Lucifer and the angels, it took nothing less than touching the thread of the misty interstates and eating Christ himself to make me mortal man again and let me inhabit my own flesh…”
How often have I been so engrossed in study or in thinking about spiritual things that I completely lost my existence as a human being! Sometimes, as a retreat from life when things got too difficult, too mundane, too… blah, I would intentionally use my ability to separate mind from body and float off in thought, treat myself, as Kierkegaard called it, a phantom of pure reason. But often the movement was not intentional at all but wholly reflexive, flying off as a matter of course through bad habit. Bad faith?
Classic, historic Christianity denies a believer the opportunity to deceive himself in such a manner. It beckons him to bow, to cross himself, to be baptized in real water, chrismated with real oil, confess to a live human being, eat the body and blood of Christ, kiss the holy icons, the cross, the right hand, to see, taste, smell, handle the faith – not just think about it.
If the only faith one experiences is the one held in imagination, is faith then anything more than imaginary?
I second Walker Percy. In my experience, Christianity – Orthodox Christianity – saved me from the “spirit world,” from orbiting my existence as some sort of disembodied mind. It ordered me to become a bride and be wedded to Christ. Not to merely read bridal magazines (religious texts) and imagine I’m married, but to actually become wedded to Christ.
There would be few things more comical for a married person than to meet people who thought they knew everything about marriage because they read books about it, or because they thought about it all the time. Is this why the world finds many Christians comical?