How Do You Define Religion?

In news on April 24, 2008 at 7:30 pm

My good friend and realtor extradorinare Dave passed this article my way. It seems Florida is considering offering a license plate with a cross, a stained-glass window and the words “I believe” on it. This would be in addition to the plethora of other sports team and college university logos already offered by the state. Obviously there is opposition to this, it could be seen as state-endorsed religion (a big no-no according to the US Constitution). One law-maker was quoted saying:

“It’s not a road I want to go down. I don’t want to see the Star of David next. I don’t want to see a Torah next. None of that stuff is appropriate to me, I just believe that.”

So this got me thinking. It is easy to say that Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam are religions because it’s always been that way. But when you get down to it, how do you define religion? Belief in God? There goes Buddhism. Belief in an afterlife? See ya Hinduism (sort of). So what distinguishes religion from other belief systems?

During the course of a week millions of people flock to large meeting places, some indoor, some outdoor, some capable of holding thousands, some only a few dozen, to join with each other in their common love for a particular thing. During their meetings they express their excitement in various ways, sometimes in song, sometimes in silence, sometimes with clapping, other times you’ll see arms stretched towards the heavens. There are common rules at these gatherings that most folks will follow and there are consequences for breaking these rules. But even when these folks aren’t gathered together, they still connect and read and experience whatever it is they worship. There are websites, radio stations, TV channels, books, magazines and plenty of merchandise devoted to their similar object of affection.

Is this how you define religion? Does that sound like church or the NFL to you? You really could substitute just about any passion in that last paragraph I just used sports because I see a lot of parallels between the worship of our favorite teams and the worship of God. One could argue that no one really considers sports to be of eternal consequence but what about religions that don’t even believe in an afterlife?

This seems like a difficult question, I mean let’s face it, Jedi is considered a religion in the UK so I’m not sure anyone has really nailed this one down.

So, after all that, what do I think? From a legal standpoint you have to define it somehow, otherwise everyone would claim themselves as a religious organization on their income tax forms and not have to pay taxes. But how about from an eternal standpoint? I think Tim Keller says it well when he says “religion is I obey and then I’m accepted by God”. Religion is a way to get what you want from God be it blessings, health, happiness, or a good spot in heaven. Religion turns God into a genie-in-a-bottle. Someone to give you what you want and to make everything go smoothly in your life. Here’s what Christ says about all this, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” Jesus says we’re not to give up parts of our lives or follow a set of rules to gain favor, He says we’re to give up our entire lives and follow Him; a person, God.

I don’t like thinking of Christianity as a religion but yet I can’t escape it. I just hope that, given the animosity that seems to exist against organized religion, my practice of following Christ will be seen as so different it doesn’t even have the smell of religion.


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