What's Good About Religion?

FOR A WHILE THE dean's office made an exception to the rule about required church. The edict was handed down that a student might attend a religious discussion group instead, and those groups were scheduled to take place before church in order to prevent boys from attending only so they could get a little more sleep on Sunday mornings. For that reason only the most radical dissenters attended, and it was one of thosea lean, freckle-faced seniorwho turned to me once, thin-lipped with anger, and said, "So what's so good about religion anyway?" and I found myself speechless. I felt surely there must be something good about it. Why else was I there?

But for the moment I couldn't for the life of me think what it was. Maybe the truth of it is that religion the way he meant ita system of belief, a technique of worship, an institutiondoesn't really have all that much about it that is good when you come right down to it, and perhaps my speechlessness in a way acknowledged as much.

Unless you become like a child, Jesus said, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and maybe part of what that means is that in the long run what is good about religion is playing the way a child plays at being grown up until he finds that being grown up is just another way of playing and thereby starts to grow up himself. Maybe what is good about religion is playing that the Kingdom will come, untilin the joy of your playing, the hope and rhythm and comradeship and poignance and mystery of ityou start to see that the playing is itself the first-fruits of the Kingdom's coming and of God's presence within us and among us.

-Originally published in Now and Then