How did our religion come to be? How pure is it? What do we mean by pure?
Our religion did not emerge as a pure unsullied stream separate from the religions of our neighbors. Rather it is more like stone soup, with many added ingredients. It has never been pure. It has always been a work in progress.
Animal sacrifice was an improvement over human sacrifice. But where did this custom of sacrifice come from? It certainly was not unique to Judaism. The Canaanite priests and prophets sacrificed too.
Where did angels and demons come from? During the early years of the development of Judaism the struggle was between monotheism and polytheism. There was not much talk about angels. But after monotheism’s victory during Israel’s defeat to Babylon, Zoroastrian angels and demons entered Jewish beliefs.
And what is the relationship between Christianity and Judaism? Is Christianity a kind of Judaism with the Old Testament belonging to us as much as it belongs to Jews. Or is Christianity a Roman Mystery religion, that picked up Jewish scriptures by its accidental connection with the historical Jesus?
The point of asking all this is that the purity of our religion does not come from a clear and separate past. So the world religion question is not new, but is as old as we are.
Our religion can be compared to the old wedding custom,
and a sixpence in her shoe
Like a bride entering into a covenant with her partner, we are in a relationship with God. And just as a person brings her history into the relationship, we bring our history into our relationship with God. Some of those things from our past continue to prove themselves valuable and useful. Other things we learn to cast aside in the light of our new covenant.
There is nothing wrong with our religion that it emerged this way. It is just how it is. What is always happening with God is that we shape ourselves to maintain a wholesome connection with God and each other.
James wrote it like this. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep unstained by the world.”
In the sermon on the mount Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
So it would seem that it is a distraction to attempt to extricate our religion from the complexities of history. And it is a distraction to attempt to hold to some sort of pure catechism devised from theologians of the 16th century.
Rather purity is about how we care for those who are most vulnerable in society. Purity is about not being caught up in the pomp and circumstance of secular status competitions.
And this is how we can come to see God at last.
If you wish, try this prayer,
Eternal Heart of the Universe, I offer my self to the most vulnerable persons on earth. I will do something good for them today. Forgive my many missteps and shortcomings. I am not done yet. Spirit of the Living Christ help me. Amen.