I’ve battled a lot lately (the past year) with myself and others over the concept of religion. I had a bit of a revelation about it not too long ago in a book I was reading. Over the past few years, many of you might have noticed a rebirth in my life and a new dedication to be a better seeker and follower of God. Through this process, I’ve tried to make it clear to anyone who referred to me as being “religious” that I was not religious and that I too am not “for religion”. I even touted and shared the video entitled, “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus.” Regardless of how I tried to explain it, however, I was still considered “religious” by those who are not followers of Christ and those who are, understood what I was saying. So where is the disconnect?
Any student of the bible will easily reference some stories of Jesus’ ministry on earth against the Pharisees and Sadducees of the time: fancy words for “religious zealots” (ie. they were pious and followed all the rules prescribed by their religion. They also scoffed at or rebuked those who did not.) In attempting to be a follower of Christ, we do not want to be that way, since He tried to expose the heart behind that type of behavior, which is self serving, not God serving. As we translate this into today’s atmosphere (I’ll stick with the non-denominational Christian views to make my point clear) we look at more rigid and ritualistic forms of Christianity and try to act as Jesus did, saying that they perform rituals out of habit, not because they love God, but to build their own self righteousness. Then, we shake our heads at them and scoff at their piety, their symbols, their saints, their holy days and festivities, and say “I’m not like that. I’m not ‘religious’.” We quote a scripture from the Apostle Paul, put on our cross necklace, and tell one of our friends about it at church during our Wednesday bible study.
Enter the perspective of the “rest of the world.” In the very act of saying and displaying that we are “not like them,” we in fact prove that we very much are. I’m very guilty of this. It’s hard to swallow, given the pride I have built up around it over the past couple years. I think that this is a huge contribution to the view of Christians as hypocrites. I’m actually kinda sick to my stomach as I type this, realizing that I contributed to it. We (Christians) are seen as religious. This is why there is a difference in how others see us and how we see ourselves, much like the Pharisees and Sadducees of the time period of Jesus’ ministry. Unfortunately, we do not want to be told we are wrong, so we ignore it and keep doing what we are doing. After all, if we admit we are wrong, then what would happen to our beliefs? Where would our structure and rules be? How could we prove to the world that we are right and they should follow our ways?
Isn’t it ironic that the people that we Christians claim to be trying to reach are telling us what needs to be changed in order to reach them, yet we ignore it? It’s almost like a customer telling a company what is wrong with their product but the company ignores them. I don’t mean to water down Christian beliefs or practices here; my point is that we need to listen to what people are telling us instead of ignoring them because we think they don’t know any better.
Let’s use an alternative viewpoint to analyze our thoughts on religion. I think back to a concept I learned in high school involving existentialism. I think it was existentialism, anyway; it was at least in the teaching of it. We talked a lot about conformity and nonconformity. The question was posed that in the act of nonconformity, are we not simply conforming to something else, the opposite of the concept of conformity? In declaring a “nondenominational” following of Christ, are we not forming our own denomination in itself? I’m not saying this is good or bad, rather I am pointing out that from an “insider’s” point of view we feel we are right, more perfect, non-worldly (to use a Christian term), yet we are only forming another slice in the pie (picturing a pie chart breakdown of religious sects in the world).
I’d like to expand this one step further into the concept of Atheism, not to pick on anyone specifically, but rather to offer a fresh perspective, with this new understanding, from the inside looking out. We as a people view belief in something as a type of religion. However, how do we classify belief in nothing? The question just popped into my head, “what exactly is Atheism?” Thank you dictionary.com:
Furthermore, I’ve always been intrigued by the word “Agnostic”:
Admittedly, I used the second definition provided for agnostic because the first was a bit wordy and the second was seemingly a simplified version of the first. You can click on the definitions I provided for more complete information.
If someone believes that there is no God, does that not then make a religion of its own? Generally we consider religion as a system of how to believe in God or maybe a definition of what we believe in. So then, is not Atheism just the opposite or antithesis of belief in a God? Similarly Agnosticism seems to be the rejection of any manmade thought process that dictates or defines belief. Is this not a belief in itself?
The book I referenced earlier enlightened me on the word religio, which the author claims is the origin for the word “religion,” which implies a rebinding. The book suggested that religion, then, refers to the rebinding of mankind to a higher power or “the cosmos” as he put it. Is not Atheism then the belief that no such higher power exists? Is that not a belief system or methodology of believing in the lack of a God, therefore making ourselves or some other force in nature (mother earth, evolution, self awareness, etc) a god in itself? The Native Americans believed there was a force in every object of nature (or almost every object, I think). Is this not similar? I’m not trying to downplay any belief system, but rather point out that we ALL believe in SOMETHING, even if that something is itself, nothing at all.
I’d like to introduce my former definition of religion. I’ve realized over this recent self transformation, that while this definition might benefit me, it really doesn’t do anybody else much good unless they define it the same way and we then find common ground. How ironic and applicable. My personal definition of religion has been, “Man’s way of defining a belief system for God.” I suppose it would be prudent to now add, “or lack thereof.” I always have viewed the term religion as a way that men try to define God. I’ve used this definition to further defend my stance of not being religious, but realizing that my viewpoint that “God cannot be defined or quantified” has in fact created a definition of God (that He is indefinable). Again, I am shocked at my own ignorance, yet grateful I have made this realization.
The gap, as I see it is created not necessarily by the difference in beliefs, but rather how we treat each other as a result of the difference. Sadly, I must say, it seems to be those of us who believe in a God that contribute more to the divide than those who do not. Certainly, as a people, we tend to judge others based on their actions. The viewpoint of most non-Christians I have spoken to, it seems, is that if those of us who claim to be God serving treat the “outsiders” like garbage, why would they want to be a part of that group in the first place? I discussed two days ago how Jesus exemplified the exact opposite of this. I had someone mention to me not too long ago that “people think Atheists have no morals.” I don’t feel that way, as I’ve witnessed Atheists who have a huge compassion for life in general while I’ve seen proclaimed Christians who are conceited and selfish in every sense of the words. Immoral people have no morals, regardless of their beliefs. So what do we do about it?
I don’t try to portray that I have all the answers, I certainly don’t and as evidence of this writing, I recognize first and foremost that I will continually be evolving in my thought processes (gasp! I used a reference to evolution! More on this in my future writing about science.) I’d like to offer something I try to encourage everyone that I talk to about beliefs, faith, and God to do: seek it out for yourself! We all know the phrase, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Similarly we shouldn’t judge any system by one of its products.
I have never seen anything have a 100% success rate: manufacturing plants, school systems, countries, governmental ideologies, families, etc. We let the perceived “failures” of religion dictate our own progress in what to believe about God. We don’t do that with other things, do we? If we see a product come off a production line that does not meet the actual requirements, do we say the whole plant is bad, tear down the building, and start over? If we see a kid who seems to have taken the “bad” choices in life, do we then say the parents are horrible? (maybe that was a bad example, lol). If we see a kid perform poorly in school, do we negate the other 98% who move on to be productive citizens that contribute to the growth of the country? Similarly, we can’t just look at one or more examples of something and negate it. We won’t truly know until we check it out for ourselves. We let the products of a belief system dictate if we will even check it out.
We see someone come out of a church and cuss at their kids and say, “I don’t want to serve that God.” Who says they are serving the God of that church in the first place? We see a newsflash of someone who blew themselves up in a market in the name of their God, “I don’t want to serve their God!” Who says they are serving the same God as others who attend the same services? Maybe they are just poor followers of that religion, maybe they were a first time visitor, maybe they are a “newbie”, maybe they are trying to change the ideologies within that organization or religion. Certainly as the perceived failure rate increases, one is less and less inclined to try it. This applies to a concept I will delve into later: do we portray what we believe?
There will always be those who agree and disagree on belief systems. Nobody will be able to convince another because belief is something that is part of our core principles. Arguing religion, for the sake of who is right and who is wrong, is futile. This, I propose, is different than sharing viewpoints. If we share what we believe, not with the motivation of conversion but rather with the intent of just sharing, then we instead facilitate an environment of openness and teamwork. Certainly, we could enlighten someone to look into it more, to question their own beliefs, or we could just give them more knowledge and in return gain the same. I always enjoy conversations with people who don’t believe the same things I do because it causes me to question my own beliefs. “Do I truly believe this?”
The word “religion” is simply a way to define beliefs and the practices based on those beliefs. Whether it is lighting incense, sending a check, blowing yourself up, or even not believing in anything, religion is a reality in everyone’s life, whether you like it or not. I’d like to suggest, given this very exercise in humility for myself today, that before you judge someone else’s religion, first judge and test your own (this implies a constant testing, meaning you will never give yourself the opportunity to judge another). You might find that what you truly believe in comparison with what you do might be contradictory, creating an unreliable foundation for your own life. On a related note, if we intend to send a specific message about our belief system, wouldn’t we want to make sure that our intention is being met? I always thought that by claiming my stance against “religion” I was exemplifying my beliefs, when in actuality I was doing nothing but boldly acting religious (ie contrary to my intent)!
I respect anyone who knows why they believe what they do and strive to stay true to it. By staying true I don’t mean being perfect to the letter of the laws or doctrines of that belief, but rather that they continually work towards the goal of bettering themselves as well as those around them through that filter. People tend to scoff at “Radical Islamic Extremists” who blow themselves up for their cause. Personally, I don’t think this does much good nor is it something I believe in, but who stops to think, “at least they are willing to die for their cause.” Have you tested your beliefs to the point that you know without a doubt you would die for it without regret or hesitation?
I don’t want people to believe what I believe so I can claim stake in their lives, rather I yearn for people to feel the same freedom and peace that I do. At the same time, I must recognize that I cannot simply convince someone nor is it my duty to argue someone into believing what I do. That would be synonymous with tricking someone into a new way of thinking even though they don’t completely understand it. It isn’t a belief if you don’t know what it is. What does that benefit anyone?
Belief is not completely a conscious action, but rather a complete embodiment of the attitude of one’s soul. We can all agree that we are uniquely made, regardless of how we think we are made. Likewise, there is a belief that will harmonize with us individually at our innermost being. Whether we call it seeking out God, finding purpose, the “God shaped hole” in our heart, understanding life, or finding happiness, we must continually seek and test that which we were designed to believe.
I hope you haven’t given up looking for it and if you think you have found it, I hope you will continue to test it.