“Were one asked to characterize the life of religion in the broadest and most general terms possible, one might say that it consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto. This belief and this adjustment are the religious attitude in the soul.”
In his classic work Varieties of Religious Experience, physician, philosopher, and psychologist William James makes the case for a broader understanding of religion than is commonly held. Most of us are likely to think of religion as the 3 C’s – creed (beliefs), cult (worship), and code (morality), which are elements of every mainline religious tradition. Religion thus understood is something we do, or practice, it is a set of beliefs and requirements meant to keep us on the proverbial “straight and narrow” road that leads to heaven. When embraced with an open mind and heart, this brand of religion can be a powerful source and force for good, but when held to literally/fundamentally, it has often led to conflict and even to wars.
For a growing number of people, a religion of requirements has ceased to have meaningl. Though some are merely rebelling against the demands of their faith tradition, many others – young and old alike – are genuinely seeking a sense of connection with something Ultimate and Infinite that they have not found in institutional religion. The renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, counted himself among this population when he said “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.” And controversial comedian, Lenny Bruce, has spoken for this group when he stated that people are straying away from church and going back to God!
From the Latin re ligare (re bind), true religion is about relationship, connection, and harmony with an “unseen order.” There is, both within and beyond us, a spiritual Presence which, when we are attuned to it, results in our living virtuously, for “ordo est amor,” the order is Love. This understanding of religion is what James refers to as an “attitude in the soul;” it is one that may resonate with those who do not consider themselves religious in a conventional sense, for connection to the Ultimate and Infinite leads not to conflict and war, but to a sense of community based on the sacredness of every person.