To my Christian readers: this post is meant to be an introduction to a topic, not a perfect explanation of the theology involved in the many concepts presented here. A theological debate may be appropriate for later posts, but it is not for this one. Thank you for your understanding.
To my other readers: if anything at all in here confuses you, please ask me for clarification. I want to be able to talk about these kinds of things in such a way that they can be understood no matter the background of the person reading it.
If you read those two notes, or my post from two weeks ago, you’re probably scratching your head right now at the title of this one.
Yes, I am a Christian.
No, I am not religious.
(And, yes, I really love messing with people’s minds.)
I am remarkably idiosyncratic, especially when it comes to words, and the word ‘religion’ is one of them.
Here’s the Google definition of the word:
- The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods.
- Details of belief as taught or discussed.
According to this definition, Christianity is definitely a religion.
Here’s how I use the word:
Noun: A system of rules and rituals whereby people gain spiritual reward(s) by how well they abide by said system.
In Buddhism, the big spiritual reward is escaping the cycle of reincarnation, of achieving Enlightenment.
In Islam, the reward is going to heaven.
Christianity, as it is preached by many, also promises heaven if you follow the rules and rituals taught in church.
That’s a problem. If anyone teaching such things (I’m looking at YOU, Westboro Baptist Church) had ever read their Bible, they would realize that it completely contradicts them:
“Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.” Romans 3:19, 20 (NLT) (emphasis added)
“But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.” Romans 3:21, 22 (NLT) (emphasis added)
“Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law.” Romans 3:27 (NLT) (emphasis added)
The law that’s being referred to is the system of rules and rituals followed in Judaism (Jesus was Jewish). If someone were to follow this law perfectly, then they would be perfect human beings, completely innocent of wrongdoing in the eyes of God. The only problem is that no-one can follow the law perfectly. According to the Bible, the only person who ever did was Jesus.
This isn’t to say that people should throw out the law entirely. It’s just that it is powerless to do anything beyond reveal to us exactly how far we fall short of its demands.
In other words, according to the Bible, Christianity is not, and never has been, about following the rules in order to get to heaven. Or in order to get anything.
Christianity is not a religion.
But no good (amateur) linguist would leave it at that. The meanings of words don’t just involve definition, they also involve connotation. Connotation is cultural as well as personal. It’s rather nebulous, and has to do with the ideas, images, feelings, etc associated with the concept a word conveys, which is why you’ll never find connotations in a dictionary.
Here are the connotations I think of surrounding the word ‘religion’, as I use it:
- angry or displeased god(s)
- striving to gain peace, freedom, purity, acceptance, love
- empty ritual
- spiritual become chains
- being afraid of god(s)
- hatred towards self, especially when failing to meet expectations
- never good enough
- not sure if ever good enough
I have felt and thought all those things I thought when I thought that Christianity was about following the rules to make God happy with me. It is utter misery to live this way, analyzing every action for flaws, both real and imagined, and despairing at the amount you find.
And then I had an experience that hit home to me just how wrong I was about God, and the truth of what these (and many other) Bible verses said:
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NLT) (emphasis added)
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” Romans 8:38 (NLT) (emphasis added)
“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.” 1 John 4:18,19 (NLT) (emphasis added)
If God loved (and loves) everyone so much that he would rather die than live without us, then it is impossible for him to be angry or displeased with us.
I do not deny that he hates sin, but he does not ever hate people. Ever.
If nothing can ever separate us from his love, then that means we have constant access to that which expels loneliness, emptiness, and hopelessness.
I do not deny that the Bible says hell exists, but it does not say anywhere that hell exists because God wants to punish us.
If God is perfect, then he loves perfectly, which means that being close to God and being afraid of him are mutually exclusive. Love means opening ourselves fully to another, whereas fear means guarding ourselves off from another. You cannot both love and fear someone at the same time, because the two are opposites.
Some church leaders talk about needing to have the “fear of the Lord”. This phrase derives from the King James translation of the Bible, a translation that’s been around about as long as Shakespeare’s plays. At that time, the word ‘fear’ was more closely related to ‘respect’.
I do not deny that people tend to fear God, but the Bible says that being afraid of God comes when people do not yet realize how much and how deeply he loves them.
Christianity is not a religion.
I want to tell people what it really is.
Not because I’m trying to convert anyone (according to the Bible, that’s not even my job).
But because I have discovered that Christianity as many churches portray it is nothing like what the Bible really says it is and what I have heard of that portrayal breaks my heart.
This won’t happen every week, because this blog isn’t solely about Christianity, but it’s definitely happening next week. I’ll be telling the story that ties everything to do with Christianity together.
And no, it’s not what you’re thinking.