PARABLE: Religion, Shakespeare, Beer, Jung, and Faith

rose imageOur dear friend, Christine Havens, reflects on her experience of Parable, the Front Porch’s pub church on November 23, 2014:

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet,” Shakespeare’s Juliet says in her monologue, as Romeo listens, hidden. Juliet’s lament over Romeo’s name, denoting, or perhaps connoting, his membership in a family with whom Juliet’s family is in blood feud resonates still within twenty-first-century Western culture and narrative. Does she feel shame and guilt at being a Capulet who loves an enemy, who loves a Montague? If nothing else, Juliet feels conflicted.

Speak the name “religion” and many postmodern Christians (or are we post-Christendom Christians? secular twenty-first century Christians? emergent Christians?) stand on a similar balcony, unsure or maybe defiant, conflicted about that name and its connotations and reverberations throughout our history—

During the conversation with noted author, Jungian psychoanalyst, and former dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, J. Pittman McGehee, when he joined Parable on November 23 for a discussion of spirituality and religion, I felt myself on a balcony. The buzz of conversation gradually muted as I moved into my own thoughts and experiences, trying to name my agitation as others around me nodded and murmured approval as he named issues associated with that—well—name, “religion.”

(John Burnett, our chorus, our narrator, along with Fr. Steve Kinney, was spot on as he introduced our guest, saying in a giddy manner that a conversation with this man was “like sipping from a fire hydrant.”)

McGehee spoke to us of how he draws on Jung’s “psycho-spiritual worldview” and his attempts to remarry (interesting word here) psychiatry and religion, wanting to ensure that religion brought “health and wholeness” rather than serving as an “instrument of shame and guilt.” And at one point he named one etymology of the word: “making things whole; putting back together.”

And this is where I went out on the balcony because I had just begun reading Terry Eagleton’s book, Culture and the Death of God, within which he brings forth Peter Harrison’s “claim that the concept of religion as a system of social practices is itself a product of the Enlightenment.” Eagleton says that “traditionally, and certainly in medieval times, the relevant term was not ‘religion’ but ‘faith’.” Accordingly, the Enlightenment name of “religion” meant a system that begged for study, something to be held, observed, and taken apart, compared to other systems for its usefulness, or lack thereof. Maybe remolded, reformed. Not to say that the word, the name, did not exist prior to the Enlightenment, but we all walk that balcony in conflict, our relationship to “religion” perhaps tinged with shame and guilt, or discomfort. Do we feel more comfortable with the name, “faith?” Can we or should we abjure the name of religion, especially as an increasing secular society keeps turning the screws, disapproving of displays of love and affection toward religion.

As I walk my balcony in consideration of these questions, all I hear is Romeo’s response as he listens, as yet unseen, to Juliet: “Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptiz’d”

Religious observance is not, if I understand the Gospel, about appeasing a potentate God on some celestial throne. If I understand the Gospel, God is most pleased by the health and well being of people.


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