Pure and Undefiled Religion by Doug Tozier
There is one passage in the Christian Bible that ought to stand out above all others. It is not "The Golden Rule" or any verses from the Sermon On The Mount. It has nothing to do with sin, salvation, or redemption. It isn't even preceded by "Thus saith the Lord".
I'm not talking about some great declaration of the glory of God, but rather something as down-to-earth as a glass of water or as intimate as a hug. I'm thinking of the verse in scripture that paints the most beautiful and yet simplistic picture of love and compassion, and what I believe is the heart and soul of all religious expression and spirituality.
It comes from the pen (allegedly) of James, the brother of Jesus. As the author closest to Jesus, it is fitting that he emphasized a spiritual lifestyle that epitomizes the bulk of the teaching attributed to his brother, the Teacher. In his letter, James talks about action as the evidence of true faith- a rather fitting emphasis that fits more with philosophies outside of revealed religion.
Most Bible authors favor a "blind obedience" type of faith that says, "believe whether you see it or not." But James breaks that mold and substitutes a more practical, or as he puts it: "Pure and undefiled" religion, which is evidenced as "...to visit the fatherless and widows in their distress..."
What could be more practical? James follows this with the advice not to merely speak kind words to the needy, but truly meet their needs, thereby demonstrating true faith by showing compassion... or what I call- "shoe-leather faith".
Now, lest you think that I have relapsed into some Bible-study mode, I must stress that I am not advocating religion or teaching that we might as well join a church just so we can do good deeds in the world. In fact, just the opposite is the case. While much of western religion IS devolving into organizations for social action, I think that the lesson here is that the church is becoming LESS necessary to do "God's work".
We should wholeheartedly support religious organizations that strive to meet the human needs of their communities. I remember a time in the life of my own family when the generosity and compassion of a friend led to a near-miraculous meeting of our needs through a local food bank that just so happened to be run by a church. And I and my family have been blessed countless times by friends and family simply taking care of our need in a given moment.
A more modern rendition of this theme is often referred to as "paying it forward", which encapsulates the thoughts of the Apostle James in his advice to reach out and touch someone. Compassion is as universal a language as love, and ought to flow from the fingertips of every human being on the planet. It is the most basic human emotion.
How can we not see a person who is destitute, or at least nearing the end of their proverbial rope, and withhold the thing that would most easily alleviate their pain? Perhaps those who have never known such need cannot feel the need to lend a hand in response. But more importantly, why must we be reminded to do so? Can people become so calloused to the plight of the truly needy?
The Bible often depicts Jesus going about, healing and feeding the people, showing his compassion for them in the most real ways possible. I think this is where James' teaching originates. It is the teaching of the greatest spiritual men who ever walked the earth. It is hand-in-glove with true spirituality.
If we take a step back and look at the teaching of other greats like Confucius, Buddha, Lao Tsu, and Ghandi, the same emphasis on practical unselfishness stands out in apposition to rigid obedience to ritual and a vindictive God. Nowhere to be seen is the lawgiver, glowering over the slave. Nature and her laws are preeminent in life.
This philosophy permeates every inch of God's creation and regulates our everyday existence. Life is "need-driven". We cannot survive, as a species or as individuals, without mutual concern, benefit, and action.
I can't emphasize enough that there is no dogma or superstition attached to this teaching. I don't even think of it as a teaching, so much as a natural way of life. If there is anything for which we are judged in this life, it may as well be for how we responded to the needs we have seen on every street corner we have passed... every inch of every road we have traveled.
This is the ruse, I believe, in religion; there is a body of work that cannot be divorced from the simple teaching to love and care for those around us. It is assumed that to accept love, we must also accept the God of judgment and the condemnation of the "disobedient" as a consequence of being human and, presumably, depraved. Is this not the modus operandi common to the revealed religions of the world?
What would be the point of feeding the hungry of the world if the purpose is to "save their souls" or condemn them to a fiery hell? It makes no sense, just like there seems to be no reason to impose Moses' or Mohamed's Law when the hearts of the masses will never willingly conform. Is it true obedience (love and reverence) if it is at the point of a sword?
But true love needs no command to preform the most sacrificial acts as a form of religious observance. It is the most pure ritual to get down with the destitute of the world and wash their dirt away. They do not need a sermon save that which abates their hunger and pain. It is redemption in purest form that touches both soul and body in an act of welfare, one that comes from one individual soul and pierces the distance to another soul.
There is no group to join; there is the universal group we call humanity. This is our reason to be. We were created to be WITH one another, not under law, but under grace. It is in the simple moments that touch another soul that we see God, not a ruler, but a true father who cares for his children.
Volumes such as the Bible, that were created by organizations to control populations, can not reflect the simple truth of a passage such as James 1:27 and 2:16-17. Only the unadulterated belief in the God of Nature can allow the human spirit to express such love so freely. Here, there is no constraint, no ulterior motive. One need not believe in mysterious events to understand such love and compassion and care. This is the true message of God. Love must be unconditional to be called love at all. Free of expectations, we love because we want to love.
It is this freedom that defines Deism, the simple, unadulterated belief that God is, and that we have been endowed with the capacity to rule our own lives and live to the greatest benefit of all mankind. Each of us will find ways to express the love that naturally flows from a life unconstrained by divine law. In this love there is no fear... no guilt. It is pure love. It is pure and undefiled religion.