Saturday, June 23, 2012

Why I Dislike the Word “Religion”

Many Christians have long responded negatively to the word “religion” because Christianity is about relationship with God and should not be boiled down to a set of religious doctrines, institutional or liturgical practices. Reducing the Christian faith in this way has become problematic—no small part of the reason many westerners have rejected “religion.”

I have another reason that I struggle with the word “religion.” Generalizing terribly, the word has become a negative term which is used in the non-religious western discourse to categorise those who believe in the divine, and, in many cases, conveniently write them off.  To be religious means a person is one of those naïve people who still believes in a God or gods, those old “myths,”  who ignore science, and believe in, what is the equivalent of a mythical “flying spaghetti monster.”
For many, the religious are lumped together and directly or implicitly told to keep those “religious” views to themselves, within their gatherings—public discourse must be conducted without “religious language.” So strong is this that many Christians and organisations who engage in the public sphere play along with “the game,” fearing to use religious language, preferring to actively remove it from their communication to try to be influential. The problem is that as they play the game by “their rules,” they are selling out to the dominant ideology of the day and the gospel is lost in the noise. The world around usually sees through it anyway, and know where they are coming from.

What is religion? A religion has a view of life which includes an external cause (s) and in many cases, that this external cause (s) is behind the origins of the world and existence, has a prescribed view of how adherents (and sometimes others) should live depending on their view-point, and is considered when its followers make decisions. In actual fact, in each case, it is really just another philosophy which sees a bigger picture than the material. It differs from non-religious philosophy in that it has a different reference point. But in reality it is just a belief system, a world-view—and we all have one.
Non-religious philosophies are equally belief systems. They are also “religious” in that the worldview in mind is built on certain “faith” presuppositions. Without certitude that there is nothing divine and beyond except perhaps some aliens in this and possibly other universes, generally speaking, “they” have created a worldview that excludes the divine and any external influence (unless from within the material, e.g. aliens). Both “religious” and “non-religious” philosophies are simply philosophies, and have equal right to exist and be heard within public discourse. After all, no one can prove its hold on truth, there either is something out there, or there isn’t. Even among the “religious” of course there are massive differences in belief in what is out there, and the way they see the world varies greatly. Yet all have the same freedom to engage in discourse through their perspective.

As such, I suggest that the word “religion” as a label should be resisted by Christians. Perhaps we should say we are thinking people, we are philosophical, and then explain that this is what we believe and dialogue with others on that basis while at all times upholding the essential Christians principles of humility, love, respect, and the fruit of the Spirit toward all others (perhaps our failure in this is the real problem).
I suggest by using the word “religion,” it is a convenient way to demean philosophies that want to take into account that there is something out there. So, I wonder if it is time for those with a “religious” perspective to resist allowing themselves to be marginalised as “religious” as if their view is inferior. No atheist, agnostic, or secular philosophy has a mortgage on truth in the sense of proven truth. Mind you, neither do we, we have to join the world of competing ideas and we will win some, and lose some. We must allow others with different philosophical viewpoints, “religious” or otherwise, to speak out of their perspective as well—discourse should be free.

I suppose though there must be some agreement concerning “rules of engagement.” Perhaps simply “freedom of speech” is enough.
Religions and philosophies alike are belief systems, worldviews, they are not neutral. The current western dominant ideology has no more right to silence and marginalise those that are “religious” as the “religious” have a divine right to silent alternative viewpoints. The dominant ideology has become deified and allowed to dominate discourse, an ideology which is held by the power holders and imposed through law, media, schools, university, etc. on all including those who are “religious” pushing them to the margins. It seems an attempt to drive the naïve and religious into the sea, so to speak.

As such, I say we “fight back” (non-violence of course) and gently resist the word “religion.” When we hear the word used, we resist it, and turn the conversation back to a discussion of different philosophies, worldviews and ideologies. The “Christian” philosophy (s) or worldview (s) is at the least equally tenable, defendable, possible, and plausible, and has equal right to exist and speak into the public arena as the dominant ideology in our world.

So, while I am an avowed passionate Christian, I am not religious. I hold a worldview, a philosophy, an ideology, that says all of life is tied up in the Divine, and the Divine has shown us how to live. That Divine is Jesus. His life, words, teaching, death, resurrection shape the way I see the world and when I enter discourse I will not apologise or try and speak without recourse to explicit “religious” language; why should I? As such, when I enter the public realm, I will bring this faith into conversation with other world-views. I will not dominate. I will seek to persuade but not coerce, and will allow the majority to decide how life is played out. In my own life, I will live by my conscience. I will not be ridiculed and discriminated against for being naïve because I am religious; I have the right to my view, I will speak out of it, and will not be side-lined.

A non-religious philosophy becomes equally “religious” and “imperial” when it is a belief system that orders reality and it becomes tyrannical, silencing and marginalising others it doesn’t like. I believe we can challenge this tyranny by refusing to be marginalised and silent. Similarly, I do not expect the “non-religious” to hold back and be silent. While upholding the dignity of all humanity, let’s engage in discourse and not silence each other.  


George said...

I think your argument has merit, but I wonder if those who belong to denominations (say Orthodox or Catholic) where they believe or hold to a position of a much more structured ecclesiastical support to their daily walk would feel the same way.

George said...

I think your argument has merit, but I wonder if those who belong to denominations (say Orthodox or Catholic) where they believe or hold to a position of a much more structured ecclesiastical support to their daily walk would feel the same way.