For many, something other than religion meets the definition of religion
It’s true. Fewer and fewer people in North America are heading to church on Sunday morning. Religion, well, its Christian iteration, is on the wane. But for hundreds of thousands of those who avoid church, alternate sources of inspiration, engagement, community, and well-being exist. We just don’t normally think of them as religion.
Take Crossfit, explored in the New York Times last week in the article, “When Some Turn to Church, Others Go to CrossFit“, by Mark Oppenheimer. He notes that the benefits people experience when they are deeply engaged in the lifestyle that CrossFit engenders are similar to those we like to think are the exclusive purview of religion.
The same is true of some 12-step program members, and devoted college-football fans. In an increasingly secular America, all sorts of activities and subcultures provide the meaning that in the past, at least as we imagine it, religious communities did.
So what are the characteristics of a religion? According to Joseph Price of Whittier University in California, something constitutes a religion if it establishes a worldview. It isn’t just how regularly someone engages, it’s what is taken away by that person and whether the activity really leads to the reconfiguration or cementing of a way of life.
Using this logic, one can see how “Star Trek” fans, with their deep interest in science and cosmology, might qualify as religious. But members of a men’s breakfast club who meet weekly at a diner, by contrast, while they might derive great joy and comfort from their ritual, would not, by virtue of it, be religious.
As the review of my effectiveness for ministry in the United Church of Canada has been unfolding, many people query whether it is appropriate for an atheist to be a minister in a UCC congregation. I’ve given my reasons for why I believe my leadership at West Hill United is totally consistent with the United Church’s perspective. These may seem contradictory to the remarks I made in conversation with Mary Hines of CBC’s Tapestry when I mused about the eradication of religion. But beyond that striking comment lies the reality that organizations like CrossFit are claiming. All the previously divisive elements of belief within religions have created barriers we can no longer withstand as a species. Doctrinal worldviews collide. So let’s follow CrossFit’s lead and build worldviews that inspire, engage, uplift, and turn people toward one another instead of away from one another. Hey! We can even do this in church!