Carl Jung reported on many dreams told to him by his patients. In one of them the dreamer is told that, “religion is no substitute; it is to be added to the other activities of the soul as the ultimate completion.” Leaving Jung’s own analysis aside, it seems to me to be an important point. Religion, in this case, is not limited to the creed, rituals and polity of one’s tradition, but extends to the broader matter of the faith that is represented by them.
There are some professed Christians for whom religion is not only a substitute, but an essential replacement for all other activities of the soul, however the soul is understood. There is an old joke in which a Sunday school teacher asks a complicated question. A child raises her hand and says she does’t understand the question but the answer must be Jesus. For many, Jesus, and, more particularly, the correct formula for Jesus, is the answer to every question. The world itself, in their understanding of it, is ruled by a God who is in control of every event. Almost any reasonably good idea is justified with words such as, “The Lord has laid it on me to…,” or “It has been given to me to…” I recall counseling years ago with an extreme case in which I finally demanded of the person, “Don’t you ever have any ideas of your own? Is there nothing for which you are personally responsible?” Maybe I was a tad more diplomatic at the time.
Although that is often presented as a sign of a deep and trusting faith in God, I’m more inclined to think it is a sign of a insecurity about, and lack of trust in, one’s own God given abilities to have thoughts and make decisions. It can be a refusal to take ownership of, and responsibility for, one’s own self. If we are to take Jesus seriously, then we must take seriously his earthly ministry of healing that restored people to wholeness of body, mind, spirit and place. That wholeness included faith in God through Jesus as essential to the completion of the self. He did not always say that faith is what made one well, but it was always implied that faith was an essential component of wellness. Spiritual wellness is one modern way to put it, and that can sound like a tepid faith so watered down that it has no meaning. But Jesus never demanded a formulaic affirmation faith, and he was known to heal persons who had not asked for it, persons of no known religion, and persons who had been rejected by the religions of their community. However faith was understood, it was not a substitute for everything else that contributes to a healthy self. It was added to the other activities of the soul as the ultimate completion. Persons healed by Jesus were sent on their way as responsible adults.
The opposite side of the issue illuminates a similar problem among self proclaimed atheists. They also see religion as a substitute for every other activity of the soul and, therefore, reject it. For whatever reason, they apparently cannot envision religion, as faith in God, as an essential component of human wholeness. If some professed Christians are afraid to put any distance between themselves and God, these religious skeptics are afraid to enter into any intimacy with God. One is afraid of their own God given independent agency. The other is afraid that God might control everything they want to claim as their own. They are both suffering under illusions that feed each others’ fears.