iSoul In the beginning is reality.

Tag Archives: Religion

Is Christianity a religion?

It’s not uncommon for evangelical Christians to say that Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship. Or to contrast works-based religion with faith-based Christianity, making that the difference between religion and non-religion.

But it’s a mistake to say that Christianity is not a religion. For one thing, that would mean religious freedom wouldn’t be important for Christians. But we dare not give up religious freedom. For another thing, it drops the question of which religion is true. And it promotes negativity about religion, which is bound to impact how people react to Christianity, too.

One problem is that the word religion is almost impossible to define since there is such a variety of religions. For example, not all religions are theistic. And where does irreligion fit in? Is atheism a religion? How about secularism as a way of life? There could be no end to what counts as religion.

The Oxford dictionary defines religion as “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” Does that apply to Christians? Certainly it does. And it justifies the separation of the state from oversight of religion: a secular state has no competence or authority over what is beyond life in this world.

Christians would do better to adopt a positive attitude toward religion, since at least religion as defined includes “belief in and worship of” something or someone beyond us. That is a better place to begin than secularism, atheism, or irreligion. Christian apologetics could focus on making “the case for Christ” rather than having to convince materialists that transcendent reality exists.

I am offended

I am offended by judges who unilaterally decide that unborn children do not have a right to life. I am offended by politicians who defend abortion as “health care”.

I am offended by politicians who ignore problems and by their inaction let them become worse. I am offended by politicians who take advantage of crises to promote power for themselves.

I am offended by public funds subsidizing religions that market themselves as secular. I am offended by state schools promoting their own philosophies and religions.

I am offended by news media who promote anti-Christian or anti-Semitic bigotry and make light of religious liberty. I am offended by mass media who promote hate in the name of love and intolerance in the name of tolerance.

I am offended by activists who cry “racism” as a cover for their intolerance. I am offended by leaders who cave in to activists and mobs rather than challenge them.

I am offended by scientists who use science as a cover for their atheism and materialism. I am offended by leaders who defer to scientists without question.

I am offended by religious leaders who deceive their followers as to their real intentions. I am offended by theologians who deny the faith they purport to represent.

I am offended by cults that masquerade as religions, threatening death to any who would leave their cult. I am offended by people who would kill people in the name of a religion and threaten any who criticize them.

I am offended by judges who unilaterally decide that marriage must be redefined beyond recognition. I am offended by politicians who undermine marriage and families.

I am offended by politicians who put their own interests above that of the electorate. I am offended by politicians who do not solve problems but make them worse.

Belief and knowledge

Knowledge is conditional. Knowledge starts with an antecedent, which is assumed, and proceeds from there. Its consequences are therefore certain, but relative to the antecedent. “If P, then Q” is the form of knowledge.

Belief is unconditional. Belief is a beginning; it does not begin from something else. “In the beginning God…” is the form of belief. Belief is a commitment; it is not hedged. Belief has no Plan B.

Theology, history, philosophy, science, etc. are all knowledge. Religion, dogma, ideology, way of life, etc. are all belief. Knowledge is accepted conditionally. Beliefs are affirmed unconditionally.

Law is knowledge. Gospel is belief. Biblical knowledge is conditioned on the Bible. Biblical belief is unconditional affirmation of the Bible.

Belief grows through knowledge. Biblical belief grows through knowledge of the Bible. Knowledge matures through belief. Biblical knowledge matures through believing the Bible.

The naive person has beliefs but lacks knowledge. Socrates believed he knew nothing, which is the ground for learning. One who believes they have knowledge but doesn’t cannot learn.

The skeptical person has knowledge but lacks belief. If the skeptic is willing to know their beliefs, they can grow in faith. Otherwise they cannot have faith.

Belief and knowledge should be balanced. If knowledge outstrips belief, skepticism and doubt ensues. If belief outstrips knowledge, naivety and presumption ensues.

To the believer, it is better for belief to outstrip knowledge than the other way around. To the unbeliever, it is better for knowledge to outstrip belief than the other way around.

Constitutional law is conditioned on a constitution. Belief in principles that are seen to underlie a constitution is not constitutional. A constitution is accepted conditionally; it is subject to change.

Secularity is knowledge that beliefs can divide the public, so it is best that the public square should not be committed to any one belief. The secular public square is full of knowledge but lacks belief.

However, if the knowledge that beliefs can divide the public becomes a principle of public belief, it will divide the public. Secularism is the belief that the secular is superior to the non-secular, that the non-secular should be kept private or not tolerated at all. Secularism will divide the public. Secularity will not.

Secularism excludes and denigrates other beliefs. Secularity separates beliefs but does not denigrate them. Beliefs strengthen secularity but threaten secularism.


Religion in Ngrams

Google’s Ngram Viewer gives the frequencies of words and phrases in books since about 1800. It is an interesting way of looking at history in the last two centuries. What follows are some observations about the usage of words associated with religion and Christianity:

Usage of the word religion has gradually decreased since 1810, steeply until 1860. The words virtue, virtues and virtuous have declined since 1810. Trinity has decreased since 1815.

The words priest and pastor move in parallel with priest more common and both declining moderately since 1860. Bishop declined rapidly in the 1840s and 1850s.

Several words have declined since 1840: irreligious, evil, wicked, church, God, Jesus Christ, Christianity. The word theology had a peak in 1890 and a trough in 1940. Christian declined from 1850 to 1920 then leveled off.

The words atheism and atheist decreased until 1920 then leveled off. The terms evangelical (or Evangelical) and reformed (or Reformed) declined from the 1840s to 1920 then leveled off.

The words moral and prayer declined from 1840 to 1940 then leveled off. Holy Spirit decreased from 1840 to 1940 then increased as Holy Ghost declined.

Contrary to this trend Christmas increased from the 1830s to the 1940s, declined until 1970 and then has increased since then. Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol was published in December 1843 and likely contributed to the rise.

Buddhist and Buddhism have been on the rise since 1820. Hindu has been on the rise since the 1790s. Islam and Moslem slowly rose from 1820 to 1950 but then diverged: Islam sharply higher and Moslem lower. Pagan and Paganism were on a long decline since before 1780, with a modest rise since 1990.

The words secular and secularism have increased since 1920. The phrase organized religion took off from 1900 to 1940, and has oscillated since then.

Bible peaked in the 1850s but has been on the rise since the 1970s. Bible study had a steep peak in 1915, declined to the 1940s, and a steep rise since the 1970s.

So the period 1840 to 1920 had a general decline in usage of religious words. Since then it is more mixed: some decline but also some increases, Bible study being the most dramatic.

Secular religion and religious secularism

Aren’t “secular” and “religious” mutually exclusive terms? Not necessarily. The term “religion” has two basic senses. The narrow sense of the term that means an historical religion, a self-identified religion, does not include secular religion. But religion in the broader sense is something that constitutes one’s life goal, the highest authority one recognizes, the self-existing reality one acknowledges. Negatively, it is something that people most resist changing. In that sense a secular religion is the religion of secular people.

Secular people are those who recognize or value no reality other than secular reality — a reality of this world, this era, this life. Marxism is the best known example of a secular religion. It is a religion for people who are anti-religious (meaning against every non-secular religion), and whose life goal is the establishment of a certain political system.

Religious secularism uses traditional religious language to express secular motivations, means, and ends. For example, those who use religious language to promote political or social goals are engaging in religious secularism. Both religious liberalism and militant forms of Islam fall into this category.

Secular religion and religious secularism find it advantageous to hide their agenda. Secular religion hides religion behind a secular facade. Their words are secular but their goals are religious. Religious secularism hides secularism behind a religious facade. Their words are religious but their goals are secular.

How do you tell whether someone has a religious agenda hidden behind secular language or a secular agenda hidden behind religious language? “By their fruit you shall know them.” Actions speak louder than words. Do they always interpret religious matters as secular realities or secular matters as religious realities? Do they consistently demonize their opponents? Does their agenda consume their life?