The Trouble with Religion


Religion, as it is ordinarily practiced, reconciles us-not to one another, in any interesting or profound way, but rather to the world as we would like to encounter it. If we are more or less liberal, it takes us easily into the world of liberal thought and its satisfactions, and if we are conservative, ditto. As someone once said of country music, when you’re drunk in a bar and hear it on the jukebox, it makes you think you’re right.

And this is precisely what is wrong about much, if not most, religion. Some of its atheist critics have a fair point: To the extent that it shores up a sense of certainty and reinforces the ego, religion is a damaging influence.

If the danger of conservative or reactionary religion is unquestioning certainty and dogmatic literalism, the danger of liberalism is its willingness to equate religion with personal taste and a tolerant worldview. What is lost in both views is the understanding that we must be transformed if we are to be what we are meant to be, that, as we are, we have been deformed, that our ordinary waking consciousness is at best a form of sleepwalking. It takes an effort, an ascetic struggle, to begin to be clear about anything. We must struggle for the beginning of clarity, and if we get to that beginning, we will not be satisfied with ourselves.

We will know that in every way we must be remade because of what we have been called to be, which has...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.