What is Religion?
This is an important question since what people call "religion" is very important to many people. Religion is also a primary cause of strife and conflict in the world. Like anything else, who or what is the authority which defines the answer to this very important question? Let us provide a definition first, and then find out who or what is the authority which provides the definition.
A person's attempt to gain the approval of, be accepted by, or please, a supreme being, power or concept whom they believe will somehow influence or control their destiny or will somehow hold them accountable for their thoughts, words or behaviors during their life on this earth.
The means of seeking this approval or acceptance - or of modifying their destiny - is primarily through the following things:
Participating in rituals and rule or law observance (such as 'going to church'; keeping the sabbath; participating in the 'key' rituals while at the religious building like communion, confession, meditation, prayer, baptism, singing songs labeled 'worship'; or other 'sacraments'; observing certain holy days by fasting or other behaviors; foot washing; head coverings, etc.; and of course doing all those things in the "right way"!); and/or;
Moral good works (helping other people by providing material things or health services; or by helping people overcome addictions or bondages to things considered unhealthy or immoral like cigarettes, gambling, pornography, alcoholism, drug addition, gluttony, etc.; or by working for the betterment of an oppressed people usually through political or 'humanitarian' means); and/or;
Membership in, activity for, or support of, an organization they believe represents their god (being on the membership role of the organization, or attending the organizations meetings usually called 'going to church', or giving your money or other resources or labor to help the organization increase its membership or promote or further its goals and programs; just being part of the group);
Gaining intellectual knowledge about this supreme being or what he/she allegedly wants (typically known as studying their sect's beliefs, doctrine or theology); or;
A combination of the above.
Usually, a person's religion is set by their parents or other close natural or legal relatives or other significant adults in one's life.
Distinctions Among Religion, Belief and Faith:
Let us take a look at two other important concepts in respect to this article on defining religion. Those concepts are identified by the terms "belief" and "faith".
Belief: A thought or concept held in a person's mind.
Faith: Placing trust, or having confidence in, someone or something to meet some real or perceived need.
Religion: Abbreviated general definition: The beliefs or practices someone holds or does in order to be accepted by their God.
The world is filled with many religions as well as billions of religious people.
All people have beliefs about the basic questions of life and the purpose of their own existence, even agnostics and atheists.
Many people have some level of faith in something, usually in themselves.
Does religion have a purpose? The common understanding of the purpose of religion is to provide answers to life's most important questions, or to provide hope or comfort in the face of death. Religion does do these things, but its primary purpose is to be used to hide the true and the living God from people so that people will remain in darkness. Please listen to the One who defeated death in this regard,
"This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil". (John 3:19)
Stated another way, religion's purpose is to make it very difficult for an individual to find and know the true and living God, which God the Light reveals. Since men love the darkness, the primary means they use to hide the Light is religion.
Very few people have faith in the true and living God, the Creator and Sustainer of the physical and metaphysical realms. Why? Because the darkness seeks to hide the Light, and people participate fully in that endeavor primarily through their religion.
What about you, dear reader?
There are many religions on the earth, perhaps thousands. There are a few major ones which are more organized and which claim there is but one god, like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, known as the three 'great' monotheistic religions (although a christian has a basic contradiction with monotheism due to their trinity doctrine) . Then there are tens of thousands of beliefs that people fit into many thousands of religions - including the thousands of sects within each of the large monotheistic religions. Each religion claims to represent the truth about the ultimate questions of life like what is the purpose of life, is there a metaphysical realm, and does the human soul continue to exist after physical death and if so, what becomes of it.
This article will focus on christianity.
Christianity is a Religion:
Many christians would be loath to admit that christianity is a religion as defined above. They would say, 'well, maybe for most people, but for me it is a personal relationship with christ'. That is a clever line they are taught, but if you look at how their 'personal relationship with christ' works its way out in their daily lives, you will see them practicing religion as defined above.
Here is a definition of christian religion from the perspective of Jesus of Nazareth:
People seeking to be accepted by, or to please, God by means other than what Jesus of Nazareth prescribes.
Most christians try to be accepted by, or please God by the same means listed at the beginning of this article - they are no different than Jews, Muslims or other religious people.
Does Jesus of Nazareth - this author's standard of truth - define religion as above? While he does not use the term 'religion', he does correct the religious people of his day. By understanding his corrections of their religious beliefs and practices, and by our using deductive reasoning, we can arrive at a definition of religion. Let's take a look at a few of his teachings which help us to see how he defines religion.
"The religious leaders and the lawyers asked Jesus, "Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders (religion), but eat their bread with impure hands?" And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.' "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men (or your religion)." He was also saying to them, "You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition (religion). "For Moses said, 'HONOR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER'; and, 'HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER, IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH'; but you say, 'If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),' you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition (religion) which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that." (Mark 7:5-13)
Essentially, Jesus says here that the people he is addressing and an aspect of their religion invalidates the desire of his Father...which Father is a living Being who both defines and wants what is right for his Created children, in this case for children to care for their natural parents.
In the passage, Jesus addressed the religious practice of an adult child giving their disposable money to their religious organization instead of using it to help and care for their parents (always a popular practice among the religious leaders!). As one knows Jesus and his commands and teachings, one will find that his teachings point people to love one another, which in its essence is to have compassion for others and to act selflessly towards them and thus help and care for them. Jesus everywhere teaches that we are to have faith in his Father and himself, an inward thing of the heart, which will lead to loving other people. Jesus NOWHERE promotes religion as defined above, and everywhere rebukes its role in hiding his Father and promoting hypocrisy.
In this case, he says that a ritual (giving money to your religious organization instead of using it to help care for you parents) is wrong and invalidates the will of his Father. The will of Jesus' Father as given by his Word is the truth (caring for our parents) that religion (Corban) seeks to hide. The practice of "Corban" was said by the religious leaders to help a person be accepted by God.
Let's look at another passage where Jesus deductively defines religion.
"Woe to you, lawyers and religious leaders, hypocrites! For you are careful to give ten percent of your expensive spices, and yet you have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. "You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! "Woe to you, lawyers and religious leaders, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. "You blind religious leader, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. "Woe to you, lawyers and religious leaders, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. "So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:23-28)
In this entire chapter, Jesus rebukes religious people (especially religious leaders and their peers, lawyers) and their religious practices, which religion promotes hypocrisy and self righteousness and thus negates love. Jesus again emphasizes the truth that one's heart is primary, not outward acts...that a humble heart is what is required, not outward rituals. Religion always promotes hypocrisy, for religious people are always striving, primarily through outward means, to both be accepted by their god as well as prove themselves more worthy of acceptance than the other people around them...especially those from different sects.
Here is another passage:
Departing from there, he (Jesus) went into their synagogue (or church). And a man was there whose hand was deformed. And they questioned Jesus, asking, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"--so that they might accuse him (for it was against their religion to do certain kinds of work on their holy day). And Jesus said to them, "What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? "How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the sabbath." Then He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand!" He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. (Matthew 12:9-13)
Here, Jesus was addressing perhaps the main religious observance of the religious people of his day - their keeping a day called the sabbath (essentially the equivalent of today's 'going to church'). They had many do's and do not's for their sabbath, just as the thousands of christian sects have the 'right' and 'wrong' way to 'do church' or to 'keep the sabbath' (see Sabbath?). In the example above, their religion said that a person could not heal another person on the sabbath, for that would be work, and their religious leader's defined work as including healing a person. Jesus did not respect that religious belief, for it was not from his Father, and it prevented his Father's will, which is for people to show compassion on each other whenever the opportunity presents itself. Thus, his healing the man was a rebuke of a key aspect of their religion - a ritual, belief and rule observance called 'not working on the sabbath'.
There are MANY other such examples of Jesus rebuking the people's beliefs and practices that they believed made them acceptable to God, and in the process, trying to show them what mattered...relationships based on love for his Father, himself and for one another.
Unfortunately, nothing has changed, except that the christians or bible people now say their religion was given to them by the christ!
The truth is that their religion comes from their parents, family traditions, their sect and its traditions, parts of the bible that avoid or contradict Jesus' primary teachings, or a combination of these things.
Jesus' voice continues to rebuke the religious people of this time, but now it is much easier for the people to ignore him and even to say he supports their religion. How is this possible?
"For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance." (Matthew 24:24-25)
"Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many." (Matthew 24:11)
"Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' (Matthew 7:22-23)
There is no greater deception than religion in Jesus' name and using those teachings of his which seem to support one's religion. For example, many christians say that it is un-loving to show a person the error of their religion, and yet Jesus himself did that many dozens of times...in fact, he was killed for that. So, the christians use their religious dogma to hide the Light. In other words, the only 'truth' to be put forth is that which will cause them the least conflict in the world and which at the same time builds up the power base of the religious system they are a part of.
How People Will Know the Followers of Jesus:
"He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal." (John 12:25)
"If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." (John 15:19)
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)
These teachings and commands work together to define how a follower of Jesus is to live his/her life. For a more detailed look at Jesus' teachings in this regard, please read How Should Jesus' Followers Live? Once the follower sees the darkness of the world, and the foolishness of pursuing the things the world values (especially religion), he/she will learn to hate their life in this world in order keep life eternal. Their declaring the foolishness of what the world hold's dear (especially religion) will lead them to be hated and thus rejected by the world. This rejection will then set them up to live out the "new" command of Jesus, which command is the primary command among the followers of Jesus. If the followers of Jesus do not live this command out, then there is no witness of the Light to the dark world we find ourselves in.
Sadly, these teachings of Jesus are foreign to christians, and thus they are ignored in favor of paul's teachings (see Are Paul's Writings Flawless?). In the place of living out these teachings of Jesus, you have tons of religion and millions of hours of 'going to church' and bible study and resultant beliefs and practices, but virtually no true love for one another. Of course, the command to love one another must be the love that Jesus defines. Please see the article What is Love? to see Jesus' definition of love.
The love that Jesus both demonstrated and taught about manifested great unity among his followers. To reject the world, and then be rejected by the world, will always bring both a love for other followers, and a very great unity. In truth, the followers of Jesus are in unity with one another. There may not be many of us, and we may be spread apart for a time, but the unity Jesus speaks of in John 17 has always, and continues to exist among his followers.
The Truth About Christian Unity:
Christianity likes to claim it is fairly united. This is a very dishonest appraisal. You have the roman catholic system, the anglican system, the protestant systems, the orthodox systems and other bible based sects like mormonism, jehovahs witnesses, messianic sects, etc. By some estimates, there are over 30,000 christian or bible sects on the earth at this time. Each one claims to have the truth and to accurately represent the "Christ" or "God"...and if they are honest, each sect believes they have the "truth" a little better than the other guys! The belief the members of the sects have that their truth is better than the others is manifest as they divide and separate themselves. You can drive through just about any town in nations that have christians, and see two or three 'church buildings', each representing a different sect, all within close proximity of each other! (apparently these folks never spend much time seriously considering Jesus' teachings on unity! And of course they will have a myriad of justifications for their real and formal separations from other sect's members.)
No, the truth is that christanity is as divided as a crystal bowl dropped on a stone, and to try to claim otherwise is irrational.
Why is this so? What is the problem? What causes the division and dis-unity?
Simply put, it is that christians are not willing to love the Father and each other the way that Jesus defines those things.
Said in a different way, christians don't know the God they say they worship...in other words, christians try to know Jesus' Father not by Jesus, but by the rest of the bible, their favorite prophet's so-called and other's writings in order to avoid loving one another.
One other way to say this is that christians continue to love the world more than they love the Father and His Son. Christians have lots of beliefs, lots of defending the bible, and much religion, but very little faith in the one they claim as their Father, or their faith is misplaced in a god not revealed by Jesus or the book which contains Jesus' words. Jesus said it this way to the religious people of his time and place:
"If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing; it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, 'He is our God'; and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word." (John 8:54-55)
Christians claim to know the Father of Jesus, and to claim Him as their God. The sad reality, however, is that most don't know him, and thus they don't keep His Word as given by the Son. Instead, they have created a huge religious system with millions of beliefs based not on the Son, but on substitutes for the Son, namely the rest of the bible and so-called prophets and their writings, plus their own traditions. Christian religion's 'christ' is a trans-morphing chameleon, changing its shape, meanings and teachings for each sect according to their own desires and traditions. Each sect creates a 'christ' to fit their member's lifestyles. However, this 'christ' self-destructs on its contradictions when viewed through eyes of truth and reason based on the One who says he is the Truth.
This author hopes that the reader will see the truth in this article, which truth is based on the One who says, "I am the Truth". More importantly, this author hopes to hear from others who also want to follow Jesus, so that we might start practicing the love for one another that is the only Way that the world will know that we are his followers.
Please turn away from religion and it's traditions, and instead turn to the Light who will bring you out of the darkness of religion.
Send comments to the author Tim
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