Friday, November 07, 2008

Christianity - Relationship not Religion?

If I hear that line one more time I'm going to puke. If we say Christianity isn't a religion, then all we've done is re-define the word "religion". In any meaningful sense, yes Christianity is a religion. The statement can't be true unless it's meaningless and nothing can be true without meaning. Therefore Christianity is a religion.

This popular sentimentality is most often found spewing from those who think that Jesus' primary purpose was to teach Jews how to be Platonists (and when they didn't get it, He went and taught the Gentiles).

I called my boss out on it this morning perhaps a bit too hastily. She said something like "we don't like to feel like we're religious here - we think religion is a bad thing" and I responded "that's funny because Christianity is a religion".

Sentimentalism is lack of emotional sobriety. It's not just distasteful and embarrassing, it is a sin.


japhy said...

Here's the kicker: "religion" = "relationship". Sorry, religion-hating Christians.

I had a massive reply here, but I'm going to make it a blog post so as not to take up too much real estate here.

I'll come back with the link when it's done.

Dean said...

I've always found it ironic that the popular etymological origin of the word religion is linked to Religare, which means "to bind." It suggests a a bond or "relationship" between God and man. Not all scholars agree with this, but the majority do.

japhy said...

Dean - that's the very beginning of my response/post! :)

Clavem Abyssi said...

In pagan times, religion referred to a set of practices and obligations that one vowed to carry out. James uses the term religion in this pagan sense, but twists it to say that their new obligations as Christians are to the poor, the widows and the orphans.

In medieval times, religion referred to the taking of vows. Hence, "to convert to religion" or "to enter religion" did not mean "to be saved" or "to become a Christian" but to bind oneself to a master or later, to a monastic rule.

The reasoning is that all people, Christians and non-Christians are "bound" to the divine laws that govern all of Creation. Becoming a Christian frees us - it does not bind us in any new way. However, there are some who elect to bind themselves in certain ways for the Kingdom, forgoing their Christian freedom, and these people we call religious.

Of course, entering the Church does bind you to the discipline of the Church, (fasting, church attendance, etc...) and since the Church is the sole vessel of salvation, one could say that Christianity is, by extension, a religion.

But then again, why the contrast between relationship and religion? Many relationships are binding - a relationship with a loan shark, for instance. So what? Our relationship with the risen Lord is a fruit of our being bound to Him through the Sacraments. It seems to me that the popular notion of a pure "relationship with Jesus" is a fond thing, vainly imagined, with extremely little foundation either in the Scriptures, the Fathers, the saints or any source at all, aside from a furtive modern imagination.

Tiber Jumper said...

Unfortunately, many of us ex evangelicals had the words of a Scott Wesley Brown song swirling around in our heads all the time "I'm not religious, I just love the Lord." Catholics were religious, therefore they didn't love the Lord. Man was I deceived!!!!

Tiber Jumper said...

click here to hear it.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Clavem, thanks for the thoughtful comments. I didn't mean to imply that Christianity is not a relationship or that it doesn't involve one, just that it is a religion.

Clavem Abyssi said...

Oh, I didn't mean to imply that. Let me clarify. I quite like this subject. :)

Christianity begins in freedom and some Christians elect to forgo that freedom as a means to a more excellent good. Thus a Franciscan takes a religious vow of poverty, forgoing the Christian freedom to possess goods and money, but gains a more excellent freedom in exchange. Thus, for all Christians, the voluntary loss of freedom, which is called religion, is paradoxically the means to greater freedom, just as he who loses his life will gain it.

Since the end is freedom and religion is merely the means to greater freedom, I think it is misleading to call Christianity a religion. Conversely, Islam is a religion, since it essentially consists of binding oneself to the five pillars. Those Muslims who bind themselves thusly then hope that Allah will have mercy on them. This is very different than Christianity which begins with the liberation of man from the universal debt of sin into the beginnings of freedom.

Thus, those who call Christianity a relationship are only wrong insofar as they deny the positive value of religion. They are also wrong if they claim the Christian is freed from even the Natural Law, which binds all men from birth. Aside from these two errors, I think it quite correct to say that Christianity is primarily about relationship/freedom and secondarily about religion/obligation.

Tim A. Troutman said...


That's an interesting point - I hadn't really thought about it in those terms and if you put it like that, I think I mostly agree.

But the modern English term "religion" doesn't carry that meaning so well. To the average Joe, "religion" means a peculiar system of beliefs regarding the supernatural. It is in that sense that object to saying it is not a religion.

In so far as religion means a strict set of rules to follow (and merely that), then I certainly agree that it is not a religion.

But I think what happens in the interest of sentimentality results in ambiguity regarding the term. We consistently use "religion" in the sense of "system of beliefs" and while it has negative connotations, it has these negative connotations for mostly wrong reasons in my experience.

Eh gotta go cant finish thought process.

japhy said...

Ok, finally finished my response. Sorry for the prolixity... the summary sections (which aren't blocks of Scripture comparisons) are the substantial part.

George Weis said...

The thrust of such a statement is that one is not simply "religious". Yes Christianity is a religion, but just to be religious for the sake of it... what's the point?

Christianity is a religion of relationship(s). Is that a decent way to put it?

Hey, you need to fill us in on what led to that comment of your boss!

I know the feeling that the word "religion" brings to evangelicals... I am one... still :)


George Weis said...

Oh, but good point anyway Tim.


Tim A. Troutman said...

George, I have no problem with how you said it. I just don't want to neuter the word "religion" in the interest of preserving an idea about what we think our religion is like.

Joseph said...


I've been thinking this privately about many Christians lately:

"What's the odds that he/she voted for Obama?"

I think that question applies to your boss. When Christianity sinks to relativism, it becomes much easier to overlook the anti-Christian ideology of politicians in exchange for sentimentality or emotion.

Christian said...

when speaking about Christianity is not a religion but a relationship it is talking about the treatment of the commitment to Christ. Yes Christianity is a religion but it is not meant to be contained to that aspect but must develop to a personal relationship with Christ in order to be able to experience all God has for a person and the plan he has for them and their life.