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Friday, January 11, 2013

Do you need religion?

Religion is defined (by Google) as:

  1. The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods.
  2. Details of belief as taught or discussed
I would argue that their definition - especially number 1 - is not accurate. 

Google's definition of faith is:

  1. Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
  2. Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
If you look at Google's first definition of religion and their second definition of faith, you might come to the conclusion that religion and faith are the same thing. They are not.

Aboard the Deathstar (Star Wars IV - A New Hope), General Motti made the mistake of questioning Darth Vader's faith in the Jedi religion:

Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebel's hidden fort...

In the film, General Motti did not need to have any faith at all in the Jedi religion to feel its effects.

In real life, that is not the case. Whichever God (or god, or gods) someone believes in - i.e. has faith in - determines what religious practices they adhere to: how and where they worship, how they pray, what activities they engage in as part of the expression of their faith. In essence, it is the outward expression of our faith that is most closely tied to how we become identified (by others) with a particular religion. And short of just telling someone about it, there's not a lot we can do to help them experience our faith first hand.

There are times when I wish my faith in Jesus Christ gave me the ability to reveal His power to others in more tangible ways. Not to administer a force choke to non-believers; but more to act as a visual aid that would help others understand the joys of faith as I have been blessed to experience.

Unfortunately, there are so many religions in the world today that it's nearly impossible to share one's faith without being labeled intolerant, or worse. Let me be clear: I don't mean it's unfortunate that so many people can find peace and fulfillment in their particular faith/religious practices; I only mean to say that humans have tended to adapt religion into something that resembles more of a feel-good effect than a true faith-based existence.

Take the image above; as someone who has taught Bible study I can easily point out several things that are totally, um, wrong with that picture:
  1. The Bible tells us not to worship idols. An idol is a man-made could a man-made idol be God?
  2. In the Bible, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for humankind; there's no need for us to sacrifice anything - even flowers and milk - in order to curry God's favor.
  3. As atheists and many others are fond of pointing out the Bible also says, "Thou shalt not judge."
Of course, that last one is perhaps the Scripture that is most often taken wildly out of context. But that's a different discussion.

What does religion do for us? 

What a huge topic. Religion - what I think of as the trappings of faith - includes going to church (or the mosque, synagogue or temple), study of one's holy texts, prayer, perhaps singing, chanting, taking the Lord's Supper, and many more ways of acting out our chosen faith.

And that brings up another topic: choice.

As a Christian, I believe that God gives us free will. He offers us the gift of salvation through the sacrifice Jesus made for us by dying on the cross. We can either accept that gift - or not. It's our choice. Free will also applies to the events that happen in our life. This is another discussion much larger than a single blog post. Some people will argue that if God is omnipotent and knows everything that ever happened and everything that ever will happen, then there is really no such thing as free will; everything is preordained because God knows what is going to happen and when it is going to happen.

But this is kind of like the circular argument that we all enjoyed in The Princess Bride.

Note to self: Vizzini kind of looks like the priest in the cartoon above, doesn't he?

Just before he died from drinking poisoned wine, the character Vizzini chortled, "You only think I guessed wrong! That's what's so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well known is this:  never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Ha ha ha..."

Prior to his untimely demise - untimely to anyone except God, of course - Vizzini and the Man in Black engaged in a battle of dizzying intellects. We all know how that one turned out and if God truly is omnipotent, then He knew Vizzini would die. The thing about free will is that God may know...but we don't.

Hours ago, I entitled this blog, "Do you need religion?" After fighting down the urge to quote a line from Dirty Harry, I would argue that it's not religion we need, it's faith. Specifically faith in God. But where does that come from? Again, we come back to choice. My faith is based on a specific and personal experience when I believe that God spoke to me through His Holy Spirit - and I made the choice to put my trust and my faith in Him. I didn't just up and decide one day that God really did exist and gosh darn it, it seems like a good idea to become a Christian. 

Faith is not an intellectual exercise. You can hold an intellectual discussion regarding the existence of God but I would put forward that if you are going to believe in the God of the Bible - or any god for that matter - it is irrelevant how much intellect you apply or how much proof you have. Faith is a matter of believing what is unseen. Jesus said it best in John chapter 20:

Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing."

Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!"

Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."

I guess what I'm trying to say is, no, we don't need religion; we need faith. The Bible asks us not to forsake gathering in fellowship with other believers. As a Southern Baptist, I take part in the two primary ordinances of the church: Baptism by full immersion (as a public demonstration of my faith; being baptized didn't square me with God) and regularly participating in the Lord's Supper. I do my best to try and live a good life, but I will never be perfect no matter how hard I work at it.

I realize that accepting God into my heart does not immediately and forever make me a good person. But by accepting that His Son died for my sins, I can receive that gift, and in return, I want to try to do the best I can every day. I heard a great saying the other day: Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. If you go to church and are offended because people there act a lot like people everywhere else, don't worry; if their faith is sincere, they are just there trying to get better.

I'd love to hear what you have to say on the subject, whether you agree with me or not.



  1. As an atheist existentialist, I believe in free will and choice. I like what you said about not just up and choosing to be a Christian. For me, I've never had a spiritual experience that led me to God or Jesus, and can't just choose Christianity or any other religion because nothing in my experience shows the existence of a god. I was raised as an Episcopalian, but it never "took."

  2. Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comments. It would be easy for me to list off things that I believe reveal the existence of a creator God but as I inferred in the blog, I believe that for anyone to come to a personal relationship with Him, there has to be a moment in time when God reveals Himself specifically to that person. I can feel good by going to worship and singing/fellow-shipping with other believers but I don't believe that making myself feel good is the purpose behind church. It's a nice side effect but I think it causes a lot of folks to miss the point of faith.

    In any case, thanks again for dropping by and taking the time to read/comment!



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