It is become more and more difficult to talk about religion at present. The context of terrorism and various fanaticisms “ridicules” any possible discourse about religion. Also some religious institutions do not have a good press: some are entangled in politics or compromised by various moral or financial scandals. Free thought, supported by technical progress, so boldly proposes a free, independent, and lay life.
Does it mean that religion becomes a kind of historical relic, a part of our tradition or folklore then? People go to church, but understand always less. The number of Catholic marriages is dropping. The holidays are mostly a good excuse for huge expenses. Who is religious yet? Our grandmothers and aunts, but we feel like they belong to a world that belongs to the past.
Can we live this way? Some people would say yes and even provide some testimony. On the other hand, it is in our human nature to abhor the void. Given all the difficulties of life in the world today, we cannot but search for something to help us withstand the vicissitudes we face.
Given the state of religion described above, people are looking for different solutions Strangely enough, there are plenty of proposals passed off as “spirituality” on the market. We are talking about intangible things, but not necessarily religious: it is rather a personal dimension of freedom. To be “spiritual”, it is enough to refer to a dimension that is beyond the purely material things. Each person handles the types and modes of operation of this reality in their own way. It is “patch-work” spirituality, made up of elements from various traditions or religions. And when spirituality only serves the person him/herself, it obviously contains only positive elements, ensuring wellbeing, prosperity, and happiness. We are all different, which means that there are many spiritualities.
Is the role of religion over? Does the good of the individuals wins over the good of the community? It might look like this. So, what good is religion today? Is spirituality not enough to replace it?
At this point, we touch the core of the question. Etymologically, religion means creating links, binding things. Religion implies an institutional and common dimension. It does not only bring wellbeing and safety, but involves its members. And we do not really like it these days. Other people become a problem. Staying together might seem to be safer, but being on one’s own is not troublesome either. Religion still offers a very strong, important, but also challenging bond: the one with history and tradition. It can enrich us, but it is certainly limits our freedom of choice.
What can we do then? Study our religious tradition more thoroughly, but also a prudent and sober reception in spiritual environments, to find allies for our commitment to improve the world. Moreover, we could and should try to develop the spiritual dimension of our own religion. So that many people will be able to shorten their search path, reaching their goal of the corroborated harbor of religion earlier.
Bernard Sawicki OSB