A concept that is built into our psyche is the notion that we are autonomous. We stand on our own two feet. We can be anything we want to be. We owe no one anything. We can eat the forbidden fruit in our Garden of Eden without suffering consequences. Our personalities are egocentric; everything revolves around the “I/Me.”
As we grow older we learn, sadly perhaps, that autonomy has its limits. We encounter things that are unconditioned, things and people that do not allow us to set the conditions for our relationship to them. Parental rules are perhaps the earliest experience of the unconditioned. Then, we have teachers and homework, other authority figures, traffic rules, a boss and workplace rules. At some point along the road we marry and learn that family life has unconditioned elements for us. Surprise, surprise, we demand certain conditions be met if we are to have a relation with this or that person or if we are going to participate in this or that activity.
Let’s put this in concrete terms. Imagine a man 40-45 years old who is climbing the corporate ladder. He wants to have a successful career, make enough salary to enjoy life and put something away for retirement. However, the job has unconditioned elements that can determine his destiny. He must follow certain procedures. There are corporate documents he must know and abide by. He must give all of himself to the task at hand. He gives obedience to the people who are mediators of the unconditioned. If he is to succeed, he must submit to the unconditioned of the corporate world.
For this man, and millions of others, the unconditioned requires a religious commitment. Now, religion does not require a God or gods or the supernatural or a certain organization or specific devotional exercises. According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, a religion can be “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” A religion can be “an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.”
A religion does not require the supernatural or the observance of devotional activities related to a god or gods. Every person experiences the unconditioned elements of human existence. Accordingly, all people are religious because the unconditioned elements in life require a religious response. The unconditioned demands our obedience. It has it attendant “sacred” documents and prescribed rituals. Much to our dismay, the unconditioned also extracts punishment for our disobedience.
The greatest unconditioned element in life is the reality of death. We may choose how and when we die, but we have no choice about dying. Others may die sooner or later than we. Others may die a more prestigious death, but we all die.
We will always have some kind of religion. We can’t do without it. Whatever has ultimate control over our existence is the unconditioned. We determine the content of our unconditioned. So this becomes the question we all ask: what form of religion most adequately addresses my ultimate concerns and helps me to relate to the unconditioned elements in life? I don’t have all the answers yet, but he content of the unconditioned for me is God as revealed in Jesus the Christ. My devotional and relational response to the Unconditioned, God, defines who I am and who I strive to become.