Religion and Relationship

I believe that religion and relationship go hand in hand. Religion becomes detestable in the eyes of the people when it loses the aspect of relationship. The two should not be separated. Now, there are two types of relationship that should exist within religion: vertical and horizontal. The vertical aspect is that between the divine or the spiritual and humanity. The horizontal aspect is that among humans and also that between humans and nature.

The vertical and horizontal relationships can take different forms depending on the religion, although generally it is between a divine being or beings and humanity. For example, prayer is probably the most common religious practice. Also, most religions contain rituals, which double as strengthening both the vertical and the horizontal relationships. Many religions in addition observe certain holy days, which again work to strengthen both an individual’s relationship with the divine or spiritual and with his human peers. Various priestly persons are seen as leaders in religious communities. A priest may be thought of as a mediator or bridge between the spiritual and material realms, although it is rare that the priest is the only person in a religious system that can interact with the spiritual or the divine.

It might be helpful to use a triangle to imagine relationships in a religion. There is the base of a triangle, which connects the two bottom points, and these two bottom points also connect with a top point. The base is the horizontal line. The lines connecting to the top point (called legs) represent the vertical relationship.

PRAYER

The practice of prayer is one of the simplest ways for followers of a religion to connect with the divine. It can be done privately and publicly. Prayer, of course, is a way to strengthen the vertical relationship between humankind and the divine. Furthermore, those who practice prayer may experience a sense of satisfaction or peace afterward. I do not mean to say that prayer is purely therapeutic or that those who do pray simply do so because they would no be able to cope with their situation otherwise. After all, I myself pray.

Some religions also teach that it is possible to pray to other humans who have passed before them. Today, such a practice can be seen in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, which both teach that Christians can pray to saints. Now, it should be noted that prayer, in this sense, is not viewed as an act of worship by Catholics and Orthodox. Rather, it is a way to venerate the saints and to ask them to pray to God on their behalf. When prayer is addressed to a saint, it is both horizontal and vertical. It is horizontal insofar that it is between two humans, and it is vertical insofar that it is between the material and the spiritual.

THE ALTAR

In many religions, there is some concept of an altar or the practice of utilizing altars. An altar represents the coming together of the spiritual realm and the material realm. In the Bible, the practice of building and sacrificing on altars is quite common, even before the law was given to Moses. For example, after the Flood waters subsided, Noah builds an altar to God and sacrifices on it (see Genesis 8:20). The use of an altar is still seen today in Christianity. For instance, the Roman Catholic Church uses an altar as a place on which to perform the sacrament of the Eucharist, which is viewed as a sacrifice. There is also the practice of building private altars in one’s home, an altar which becomes a space set apart for prayer and worship. In Eastern Orthodoxy (a branch of Christianity) this is a common practice. Building private altars is also common in modern pagan and polytheistic religions.

The point of all this is to say that the concept of heaven and earth interacting is an important one in religion. Going back to the bond between religion and relationship, this is because one of the primary goals of many religions is to have a relationship with the divine or the spiritual. This union is either represented or realized with an altar. As humans, we naturally desire the ability to experience things with our senses, and relationship is no exception; thus, an altar can be seen as a very important part of an individual’s devotional life.

PLACES OF WORSHIP

Many religions, if not all, also have some sense of community and of fellowship, which occurs in a place of worship. For example, Christianity has churches; Judaism has synagogues; and Islam has mosques. Of course, these are not necessarily the only places of fellowship for followers of religion. As with altars, places of worship and fellowship tend to be attractive to those who are devout to their religion because they offer a tangible sense of community. Since humans are social creatures, this attraction to physical places where they can meet is very understandable and also very beneficial.

The desire for complete independence in modern American culture seems very odd in this light. Independence is so often raised to the level of virtue in the culture of the United States. However, I disagree with this sort of thinking. I believe that it is not independence which should be seen as virtuous and not excessive dependence either, but rather interdependence; that is, people should be able to rely on each other and be willing to help one another.

This community aspect of places of worship and religious gatherings is not the only aspect of relationship that they offer. They also offer the vertical aspect of relationship. However, instead of this vertical relationship being only between an individual and the divine, it is between the community and the divine. This makes places of worship and religious gatherings in general a very significant part of religious life, for these events allow individuals to come together and become one with each other and one with the divine.

TRADITION

Defining tradition broadly as something passed down to be kept by generations, tradition is also one of the most prominent features of religion. In Christianity, traditions include baptism and the Eucharist. Islamic tradition includes making a pilgrimage to Mecca. Tradition plays an important part in religious life and helps to unite people around common beliefs and practices. Furthermore, traditions can help to remind those following a religion of past events that were significant in that religion’s history. For example, Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter. Muslims observe the month of Ramadan. Jews celebrate the Passover. These holy periods of time reminds them of things that their God has done for them. This not only brings communities together: it also encourages them to worship God.

BELIEFS

Now, we come to another core part of religionbeliefs. Just like religious rituals and traditions, beliefs are central to religious communities. In fact, beliefs are often the driving force and the basis for many rituals and traditions. In Christianity, there is much division in practice and belief. However, there are certain core beliefs which hold them together in one large religion, although there has arisen quite a bit of antagonism between the branches, especially between mainstream Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Nevertheless, both groups hold the central beliefs that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, that he resurrected, and that he was born of a virgin, among other beliefs.

With all of that said, attempting to place every religious practice and belief into either the vertical or horizontal category may not always succeed. Some religions are very different than the major ones, and some may place significantly more focus on horizontal relationships within human society.

I hope that I have presented a view of religion that you will consider. I believe that religion in its purest form is actually a very good thing. It is corrupted religion that is bad, but that corruption is not a part of what religion truly should be. Religion has brought people together in communities throughout human history, and it can do the same today.

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