Religion is a very interesting concept. It is the thing that many people cling to for their lives, some try to ignore, and others feel is the source of all evil. So what is religion, really? And why is it such a big deal in our society?
Dictionary.reference.com defines it as “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” That seems like a pretty good and thorough definition to me. Let’s look at it a little bit closer.
Religion is a set of beliefs, first of all. More specifically, it is a set of beliefs about how and why the universe exists. Some might say that religion is a set of beliefs about the meaning of life. It tries to answer questions like, “why am I here?” and “what are humans meant to do on earth, if anything?” Since these are pretty important questions for us to answer, it makes sense that we’ve come up with “organized” ways of answering them, also known as religion.
Second of all, religion often takes into account some sort of “higher being.” Whether it’s God, Allah, the Universe, or some other spiritual entity, many people choose to believe in a higher power. Particularly, many people use their belief in this higher power to explain creation and give further definition to their beliefs about the meaning and purpose of life.
Thirdly, many religions rely heavily on “devotional and ritual observances,” or certain religious behaviors that are used to practice their beliefs. These can range from praying to chanting to meditating to complex ceremonies and many other behaviors. But they all serve the purpose of giving people something to do to express their religious feelings and beliefs.
Last, religions generally have something to say about morality. They give people rules and guidelines for living. For some religions, these moral guidelines are vague, such as “Seek to live with the truth.” For other religions, they are quite specific; for example, “Do not commit adultery.” Either way, religion serves the purpose of giving people a set of moral guidelines so that they don’t have to decide on each individual issue that they come across on their own. It also often gives people overall guidelines for how to live well.
When you look at religion using this definition, it starts to look like anything, really, can be a religion. There is no rulebook or official book of religions that one has to clear it with in order to believe in something. I could create my own religion called Heatherism in which there is a giant pink pony in charge of the universe, and nobody could stop me. Nobody can control what you believe (although unfortunately, in many countries the government can try to stop you from practicing those beliefs outwardly.) My point is, the word “religion” really doesn’t mean anything too specific by itself.
I say this because many people seem to hate the whole concept of “religion.” But when people say that they hate religion, what they really mean is that they hate the way that some people following some religions have behaved or are currently behaving. Because in reality, I’m pretty sure that no reasonable person would have a problem with me believing in God as long as I didn’t push it on others, especially if believing that made me a better person. Sure, some people might believe with all of their hearts minds and souls that I am crazy for believing in God, but I feel fairly confident that most would not hate my religion in that case.
On the other hand, I completely agree with the many, many people who feel angry about the way that many religious people have behaved. There have been a horrendously huge amount of terrible acts committed in the name of religion, and that is undeniable and just sad. But the truth is, people who do terrible things for religion almost always aren’t acting in the true spirit of their religion. And for many religious-terrorist and religious-hate-group types, I can’t help but wonder what other outlet they would have found for their violent and hateful tendencies if it hadn’t been a religion. Evil people are evil, and religion is just a tool that some of them use to hurt others. Religion by itself is not harmful, bad, or evil, and most religious people are no worse than their non-religious counterparts.
Which brings me to my next and final point, the reason that I am writing this blog at all; Religion and Jesus are not the same thing, but they’re also not as conflicted as some people try to claim.
I love Jesus. Because I love Him and I believe in Him, I choose to follow Him. Following Him means that I try to live in a way that pleases Him and that I participate in certain behaviors that allow me to have a relationship with Him. In other words, I have “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”
For all of the people out there who say that they love Jesus but hate religion, I just want to ask them how. How is it possible to believe in Jesus and choose to follow Him without having a religion? Because those two things automatically add up to R-E-L-I-G-I-O-N.
Honestly, though, I understand the motive here. People want to distance themselves from the ugly past of the Christian church and instead run towards a simple relationship with Jesus. None of the messiness and all of the benefits, right? Wrong. You see, there is no such thing as a simple relationship with Jesus, and there is no way for a Christian to grow to his/her fullest extent without a church family. Part of loving Jesus is being part of His family, and as soon as you join the club you get a lovely inheritance of all of the yucky things that Christians of the past (and present) have done. As easy as it would be to simply disown that part of it, things just don’t work that way. The best solution that I’ve found is to love the church for all of the wonderful things it has done, and feel properly angry about all of the terrible things it has done. It also means apologizing for the ways that other people, and I, have falsely portrayed my God in the past!
The other motive that I am aware of for Christians who claim to hate religion is the whole “no religion, just relationship” concept. I really do appreciate this concept for what it aims to do, which is emphasize that a relationship with Jesus, not a religious identity, is the answer to your problems. And it’s true! All the really matters is that you have a relationship with Jesus— that you admit that you need Him, invite Him to take charge of your life, and then live your life focusing on Him. But the thing is, as soon as you do that… you have a religion. It may not be what you thought a religion was, but it still is one. And there is nothing wrong with that!
For me, my religion is my relationship with God through Jesus. I am a religious person, but I don’t let weird religious issues get in the way of being the person that God wants me to be— after all, Jesus sure didn’t! I mean what I say when I claim that I am a follower of Jesus; that is why I aim to live my life every day as Jesus did. Of course, I am quite terrible at it, which is why I need Him so desperately in the first place. But the point is, I try my best to live like He did, and from my studying and time spent with Him, I’ve come to believe that that means loving other people as best as I can. That is the true meaning of Christianity, and the reason why I have no problem identifying myself as a religious, Bible-thumping Jesus freak. =P