It is good to listen to your critics, and if you work in a religious institution you have lots of opportunity. Criticism of religion is an almost universally enjoyed pastime.

Nuala McKeever is an Irish comic actress from Belfast. In the “Belfast Telegraph” she recently commented on the Church of England’s decision to continue restricting to men the role of bishop.

While her grasp of church history may be a tiny bit thin, Ms. McKeever certainly expresses a popular sentiment when she writes,

Lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth over the Church of England’s decision not to allow women bishops. They say it’ll set the Church back centuries …Eh, hello? Isn’t every church already back centuries by definition? The very fact they had to debate women’s rights to be treated as equals shows how outdated the whole set up is. At its head is a monarch whose great, great x 10 granddaddy invented the CoE in the first place to satisfy his lustful urges. Great foundation.

McKeever goes on to level a damning critique of “organised religion”.

Most organised religion is based on separateness, defining itself by what it isn’t, by how it differs from others. Where’s the love? Churches are, by definition, anti-love. They have to be. Any group that says you have to be like this or that in order to be with us, is based on separateness. That’s not love. Love is oneness, acceptance. Talk of acceptance while simultaneously saying women can’t be priests or bishops because that’s not how it was done 2,000 years ago! Oh dear, don’t get me started. That anyone finds this whole subject worth debate is beyond me. It’s not women bishops that shouldn’t exist, it’s bishops, full stop. And priests and nuns and rabbis and imams and all those other perpetrators of religion as opposed to spirituality.

Who needs religion? Isn’t God enough?

I know nothing about Ms. Mckeever except what little I am able to discern from the internet. She is described as a “comic actress” who has worked at BBC Northern Ireland for eight years, appearing in a number of TV series and on stage.

It is tempting to ask Ms. McKeever – Isn’t humour enough? Why bother with TV studios, theatres, playwrites, directors, other actors? Why not just hang around being funny?

The reality is that we grow by embodying the things we value, not simply by affirming abstract ideas. Humour grows by being shared. Sharing requires a structure, a network of people who come together to make a common vision happen.

We grow spiritually by entering into the messy business of finding communal expressions of our spiritual life. We deepen our awareness of God’s presence and action in our lives by joining with other people and intentionally turning together to acknowledge the hidden reality of the Divine.

The attempt to live an isolated spiritual life cut off from any human embodiment of the spiritual journey is a self-serving choice that condemns the practitioner to a superficial grasp of the true nature of the journey with God that is always lived out in relationship to other people.

Just as humour is enhanced by shared laughter, spirituality is deepened by the awkward business of dealing with flesh and blood people. We need to see faces, hear voices, and look in another person’s eyes. We grow by navigating the messy business of dealing with real people.

The love and acceptance Ms. McKeever extols have no reality in our lives if they remain just pretty ideas. In order to be real, love and acceptance must be practiced; they must be lived. And living love and acceptance means involving other people. Involving other people means having certain structures and agreements to govern how we are going to conduct our life together. Church is simply one institutional embodiment of the attempt to give form to love and acceptance.

We may decry the fact that the institution of the Church of England appears to be mired in the past unable to adapt to the realities of the real world. But, if we simply walk away from other people because they fail to measure up to our vision of how things ought to be, we will be diminished and the human community will be impoverished.