ISIS just executed 13 young boys for watching a soccer game, and they’ve been throwing homosexuals off tall buildings; Boko Haram murdered thousands just last week. And worst of all, these groups have done it all in the name of religion.
As a “religious” person I find that very difficult to wrap my brain around – how does a person worship a god who demands such atrocities? If we have to include such belief systems in our concept of religion, then how do we define that term?
The word religion comes into English through Old French – probably riding in the boat with William the Conqueror in 1066. It came into French from the Latin words religāre (to tie up) and ligāre, to bind. Very interesting – it’s oldest uses have nothing to do with God.
“To tie up; to bind” – sounds like slavery. But Christ said, “… the truth will set you free.” He didn’t say, “Let me bind you hand and foot.” His Gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16) has to be considered good news and not repression.
According to Merriam-Webster religion means a body of beliefs and practices regarding the supernatural and the worship of one or more deities. That is, however, inadequate. Not all “religions” are centered on a deity. In 1961 in Torcaso vs. Watkins the Supreme Court justices pointed out that, “Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others. “ Even atheists are having “church” services these days. So I’m not sure that religion necessarily has anything to do with God or with gods - exactly.
If we look at the world’s great “religions” we can see some commonalities:
• ritual practices –anything from baptism to smoking ganga (marijuana) and dancing (Rastafarianism); from circumcision to pulling teeth.
• prayer/meditation – conscious messages to a deity or a silencing of conscious thought through chanting of mantras, or ritualized prayer -- memorized and oft-repeated or mechanized as in the Buddhist prayer wheels.
• a concept of what happens to us after death – heaven/hell, reincarnation, nirvana, obliteration.
• rules of conduct – often quite onerous, instituted with either the welfare of the follower or the welfare of the community in mind – sometimes with nothing other than the dissemination of the religion as a goal.
• special holidays.
• some sort of priesthood – imams, rabbis, shamans, gurus, prophets, witches, commissars-- even temple prostitutes.
• sacred writings – the Bhagvad Gita, the Torah,, the Qur’an, the Communist Manifesto, Origin of the Species, etc.
• worship of a deity, or deities – either supernatural or human.
• we also see an effort on the part of the followers to appease or gain the approbation of the worshipped being. This involves anything from volunteering and social work to ritual human sacrifice (either in the form of cutting out the hearts of young virgins or the deaths of suicide bombers. Perhaps these sacrificial behaviors can give us some idea about how the Latin verb meaning “to bind” came to be associated with religion.)
We know that our founding fathers were not thinking about beheading children or raping young girls when they recommended “the free practice thereof.” The brilliant men who started this nation started it from a biblical perspective in a context of controversy among Christian sects, not a war between rival religions. Their only lack of foresight is in this area – they assumed everyone knew that their reference was to the Judeo-Christian background from which they came. The Puritans had no problem condemning witches or fighting the Barbary pirates, nor would they have condoned human sacrifice or ritual sex.
But I digress. We need a clear, morally stable definition of this troublesome word. The Urban Dictionary (which is mainly a glossary of leftist talking points) states that religion -- The biggest lie in human history. It has been responsible for more deaths throughout human history than all other unnatural causes combined.
There may actually be some truth to that – but with two caveats:
• that we include Satan worship and communism as examples of religion,
• and that we differentiate between Christianity and Churchianity.
Here’s where we can gain some thinking traction. The West has been now for hundreds of years steeped in the moral traditions of both Christianity and Judaism – our moral compass points always to our true north – Moses’ Ten Commandments and Christ’s famous two. And we associate that moral compass with the book it comes from: the Bible, the Word of God, and therefore to what we’re used to calling religion. This is why it is so deeply disturbing when we’re faced with “religions” that recommend, demand brutality, dishonesty, murder and death.
Allow me to suggest that if we include Churchianity in the list of world religions we would not find the problem so bewildering. There must be some perverse human tendency – original sin, for lack of a better term – that twists every encounter with true divinity into some knock-off that we’re comfortable with. We saw that happen as far back as Cain and Abel. Cain wanted his own version of religion – not the relationship Abel enjoyed with God; Cain wanted to do it his way.
It took very little time for the gnostics to invade Christianity, a while longer for the hierarchy of Rome to enter the picture, and even the Reformation didn’t take Christianity back to its biblical basis. Wherever the Bible was ignored amongst Christians, the ugly parts of “religion” start growling. Christians, in spite of their “belief” in Christ, revert to Cain’s emphasis on his own accomplishments any chance we get. Churchianity has run inquisitions, burned people at the stake, abused Jews, started wars, made ritual the center of worship, made prayer into a mockery, and generally speaking, raised pan-handling to a high art. Churchianity is just like the other religions.
The fact is that Christianity – as presented to the people of Asia Minor by the disciples – is not a religion. It lacks most of the attributes of the other religions:
o It only had one recommended ritual or ceremony– Communion – the up-date of the Jewish Passover, but it was to be celebrated whenever a group of Christians wanted.
o The emphasis was on private, or semi-private, personal, relational communication with the first person of the Godhead, not so much on public recitation of memorized prayers.
o Christianity, in its purest sense, has only two commandments, two rules of engagement. In Christ’s own words, ““‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 28:36-40)
o No special holidays were required.
o No priesthood was essential – the apostles had authority to write the New Testament and to train men to teach its precepts, but they mandated no other hierarchy..
o Mainly, the emphasis was not on earning approbation from God. That was the “good news.” Christ paid the penalty for our sin and our belief in His sacrifice eliminated our need to scramble around trying to piece together our own ticket to heaven. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
If we think of religion as man’s ruthless climb toward whatever he wants to pretend is at the top, and include Churchianity in that group, then we can look clearly at Christianity, and not only find new appreciation for all that it originally was, but we can also, without confusion, roundly denounce the actions and motivations of Islam, and get on with the business of stopping it.