Religion, rules and reality
Last week, a video called Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus was generating some buzz in the blogosphere. Fr Andrew Damick’s response, Why I Love (True) Religion Because I Love Jesus, got shared widely and started some additional conversations of its own.
With that for context, this week Fr Andrew has hit some very important notes in Religion, Rules and Reality. If the recent dialogue (or competing rants) about religion hasn’t held your interest, then skim the first few paragraphs. Here’s the part that caught my attention:
We are saved by grace through faith. There is no act, not even the act of faith, not even praying the “Sinner’s Prayer” with utmost sincerity, that can save us. Only God saves… We cannot obligate Him in any way nor do anything that will compel Him to grant salvation. Salvation is indeed a free gift. It cannot be earned or bought, not even by saying the right words in a formulaic prayer or having a conversion experience.
That said, why is it that we Orthodox seem to have so many “rules,” so much “religion”? Well, here’s the thing: For us, salvation is not merely about getting to go to the Good Place rather than the Bad Place when we die, preceded by trying to be moral and making sure to recruit more people for the Moral Recruiters Going to Heaven Club.
And let’s be honest here: That’s what pop-Evangelicalism boils down to—going to heaven and getting more people on board. You of course ought to be moral along the way, and if you are obviously and constantly immoral, perhaps you never really were on board, but since even morality is a “good work,” we know it doesn’t actually have anything to do with getting that free ticket to the Good Place.
So, why do the Orthodox have so much stuff to do? Why are we surrounded by structure, customs, complex worship, strange vestments, otherworldly music, and even crazy people who dress all in black and go off in the forests and deserts and seem to just pray and work all the time? What’s with all the stuff?