Christianity is a religion!
Christianity is the largest religion in the world. Yet the seemingly odd title of this essay was chosen because one of the comments one hears, from Evangelical Christians on MyNews 24, with regularity is that: “Christianity is not a religion, it is a personal relationship.”
As a result of “knowing God personally” the creator is expected to respond to mere mortals and leave the trillions of other planets, stars, galaxies to their own devices when: personally summoned to organise parking at Sandton City, asked to bless the food eaten three times a day by billions of Christians, expected to miraculously heal your body of numerous aliments and is even required to actually come and dwell within you - Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 13-5 “Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” Who would not want God in them, especially in SA, with our violent criminals running amok and exorbitant cost of private medical care?
Obviously Evangelical Christianity has accepted the oligopolistic competition in the religious market, so it uses this rhetoric to create an illusion of superiority over other non Christian religious competitors and from competing Christian denominations that boasts a similar package of goods. It is nothing more than good marketing that promotes the benefits of “born again” Christianity over the competition. That is why the American form of evangelical Christianity (American Jesus) has spread all over South Africa and the World. No one can compete with the Americans, as they wrote the book on slick and effective sales techniques. Who will buy into your product if it does not have more benefits than that of the competition?
Given the choice, who wants Chinese rip offs when you can have Levi jeans. They may look and feel the same, but Levi's is perceived as superior and therefore you extract more satisfaction from owning Levi's jeans - the real McCoy. Born-again-relationship-with-Jesus is the new buzzword that sets them apart from other religions because of its perceived superiority. They will explain that religion is a practise of engaging in impersonal, traditional rites, rituals and worship in an abstract impersonal God. They will even accept that the mainline Christian denominations are “into religion” but they themselves are not, as they experience a special and personal one-on-one living relationship with Jesus Christ.
They regard religion and religious people as different to what they ‘have’ for religion is “dead” and what they experience is “alive.” They believe that religion is what people do to pacify God; where as Christianity is not what you do for God, but what God has done for you-., therefore it is not a religion. But the Bible clearly shows that God required blood sacrifices in the OT and Jesus Christ was the final blood sacrifice in order to once and for all pacify an angry God in the NT. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that God was in Christ on the cross reconciling the world to himself; so God judged himself as the perfect sacrifice, delivered himself to himself, pacified himself by sacrificing himself to himself. That makes a lot of sense? Apart from that dubious scenario where a blood sacrifice is required by a God - you must have a religion and Christianity is based firmly on the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ the Son of God. If you have seen the film “The Passion of Christ” you will not doubt that Christianity is a religion.
Even the Bible is not averse to calling Christianity a religion as we see; "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" and "If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless" (James 1:26,27)
In reality Christianity is a salvation religion because it teaches a message of salvation which is supposed to apply to all of humanity. How salvation is achieved varies: some forms emphasise works, some emphasise faith, and some argue that salvation comes to all who have been predestined. Whatever the exact circumstances, though, the long-term purpose of life is generally treated as reaching salvation from the consequences of sin, by the atonement of a saviour (Christ) and by substitution being given the power or authority to become a child of God and thereby achieve eternal life after death in paradise in the heavenly realm. No wonder some Christians are always smiling, they have landed with their butts in the proverbial butter, by doing nothing but having faith and believing in the “good news”.
There are numerous definitions of religion, but most will entail the following points: Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power regarded as creator and governor of the universe. A personal or institutionalised system grounded in such belief and worship. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader normally found in a divinely inspired book. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal, conscientious devotion and commitment. Religion is the substance, the ground, and the depth of man's spiritual life.
Evangelical Christianity certainly falls into these definitions of religion. They believe in a supernatural power; that he has rules and commandments, has passed down a divine and holy book, demands worship, praise and obedience, expects you to try to convert others, etc.
Thus this “Christianity is not a religion” argument is a mere attempt to make Christianity stand out from the competition which consists of mayor religions like; Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Judaism and hundreds of others including Tom Cruise’s Scientology, that is neither Christian nor Science, but sheer fantasy. In fact all religions are just sheer fantasy and are products of evolutionary adaptation, but that is another story.
What your local Christian Bible puncher does not know or will not tell you is that almost every religion tries to set itself apart from the rest and from the common definition of the word “religion” in some way or other. For example:
“Buddhism is not a religion because, first, the Buddha is not a "supernatural being power." The Buddha is simply a person who has reached Complete Understanding of the reality of life and the universe… Second, Buddhism is not a religion because "belief" in the Buddha’s teachings is not blind belief, blind faith and is far from superstition. Buddha Shakyamuni taught us not to blindly believe what he told us, he wants us to try the teachings and prove them for ourselves. The Buddha wants us to know not merely believe… Third, Buddhism is not a religion because all the "rites and celebrations" are not centred on a supernatural being, but rather on the people attending the assemblies… Finally, Buddhism is not a religion because the "devotion" used in Buddhism is not one based on emotion, but one based on reason.” (http://www.buddhistinformation.com/path_to_true_happiness.htm)
And not to be outdone by Christianity or other competing religions, Islam states that “it is not a religion because it is “a way of life.” Islam" means "peace through the submission to God". "Muslim" means "anyone or anything that submits itself to the will of God". Islam is a complete way of life that governs all facets of life: moral, spiritual, social, political, economical, intellectual, etc. Allah is not the God of Muslims only. He is the God of all people and all creation. Islam teaches a balance between fear and hope, protecting one from both complacency and despair. (http://www.turntoislam.com/forum/showthread.php?t=29606)
Likewise, even cults such as Scientology have made the claim that it is not a religion but “an applied religious philosophy” (http://www.holysmoke.org/cos/religion-not.htm). The Bible makes demands of Christians, just like the Koran makes demands of Muslims: care for the unfortunate, keep yourself unstained by the world, bridle your tongue (James 1:26), gather in Church often, (Hebrews 10:25) (Acts 2:42), hear God's word (Joshua 1:8), obey Christ's commandments (John 14:15, 21, 23-24), be baptised (Acts 2:38), receive communion – symbolic of blood and body of Jesus (John 6:53), confess you sins (James 5:16) etc.
So, yes, Christianity is a religion, just like all the others; and as such it does not have the monopoly over supernatural conversion experiences, miracles and testimonies as millions convert to other competing religions yearly and millions de-convert to become born-again atheists under the inspiration of reason. Christian's never address the testimonies or “miracles” of people in other religions, except by saying, "Satan can come as an angel of light", which is their typical copout default phrase that even a child can see through. Atheism is also thought to be a religion by Evangelicals, which is absurd, as atheism does not meet any of the definitions of a religion.
Some go so far as to say that Christians that de-convert were not Christians in the first place. This is done to protect them selves because what they fear the most is to loose their faith and become apostate. That is why they only; talk to each other, read the Bible and religious self improvement books and demonise ex Christian/atheists/ agnostics? as Satanists and rebels that do not want to be accountable to God, which is ridiculous, because if there was a God, the atheist would be accountable to Gods judgement and even though he was “soo loved by Jesus” he would be put in eternal hell for a finite offence.
So why do we have religion? “Religious ideas are common to all cultures: like language and music, they seem to be part of what it is to be human” says Paul Bloom, a psychologist. Religion is an evolutionary adaptation that makes people more likely to survive and pass their genes onto the next generation. Shared religious belief helped our ancestors form tightly knit groups that cooperated in hunting, foraging and childcare, enabling these groups to out compete others. In this way religion was selected for by evolution, and eventually permeated every human society.
There's now a lot of evidence that some of the foundations for our religious beliefs are hard-wired. “All humans possess the brain circuitry and it never goes away” - New Scientist, 28 January 2006, p 30. Richard Dawkins tell us “Evolution predisposes children to swallow whatever their parents and elders tell them, as trust and obedience are important for survival. Asked about the idea of pre-programming (hard wired by evolution), the Oxford University professor said: "I am thoroughly happy with believing that children are predisposed to believe in invisible gods - I always was”.
Some good books to read by Richard Dawkins: "The Selfish Gene", " The Extended Phenotype" , " The Blind Watchmaker", “ The God Delusion”, “The Greatest Show On Earth”, “River Out Of Eden”, “Climbing Mount Improbable”, “The Magic Of Reality”, “Ancestor's Tale”.