I recently came across an article based on a talk given by a Jesuit priest at the World Youth Day event in Portugal this past August1. The article summarised young people’s most frequently asked questions about faith. One question that stood out for me was “Why do I need religion?”, because I believe it’s a question asked by people of all ages.
It’s also a reasonable question. However, more often than not, I feel a bit stumped to give a satisfactory response. What does religion offer to people who live in comfortable homes, have plenty to eat, are happily entertained by their pay TV subscription and who have a high degree of autonomy and agency? What does religion offer to a society where preserving individuality is highly honoured?
The article’s author suggests it is helpful to distinguish between faith and religion. He writes: “Faith is belief in God. Religion is believing in God as part of a community, with other people – believing together, worshipping together and journeying together.” So, when I hear the mantra “It’s God and me and I don’t need to belong to a religion to be a good person”, I get the sense the person has chosen to keep their faith in God so personal that it is devoid of community and relationships.
I have no doubt that people who think like this are loved by God and are also probably very good people. And their lives could be very “full”. But how does a person know they are good?
In the absence of a community – which is what religion offers – does a person alone get to judge who or what is good or bad? How does one know their life is “full” if their life revolves around themselves and they don’t get to experience what a faith community can offer? How can someone experience the richness of faith if their “worship” is done in the privacy of their own small world? How can they express what faith calls them to do – love God and love neighbour – if they are focused only on their individual needs?
I know that’s a lot of questions, but it seems to me that religion, and in the context in which I write, the Catholic religion, has much to offer us if we want to experience the fullness of our faith journey. If you have been trying to live your faith life alone, I encourage you, even challenge you, to compare the solitary experience of faith in God to the community experience of faith in God.
By connecting and committing to a faith community, there will be challenges that might take you out of your comfort zone. For example, a community might hold you accountable for the way you live your life. But there will also be joys, for example, participation in the communal worship of God – through prayer, singing, hearing the Word of God and being nourished by Holy Communion and friendships. In a community you can also work together to make the lives of others better.
Why do I need religion? Because living a life of faith is better when we do it together, rather than alone.
References and further reading:
 Fr James Martin SJ: Does God exist?’ and other FAQs about faith and religion.
“Why belong to a faith community?”, Becoming Catholic website.
Challenges of being community, Faith Journey, May 2021.
Image: ACBC - Australian Catholic Youth Ministry Convention
Words: Sharon Brewer