The “R” Word

In March 2011 I sat down to complete my UK Census form. For the most part it was straightforward and uncontroversial, but then I reached a question and my heart sank. I had to make a decision about whether to lie or to express my beliefs.

I chose to lie.

What question could cause me such a dilemma? Why would I lie? Here is the question:

20 What is your religion?

  • No religion
  • Christian (including Church of England, Catholic, Protestant and all other Christian denominations)
  • Buddhist
  • Hindu
  • Jewish
  • Muslim
  • Sikh
  • Any other religion, write in ____________________________

Ever since I was saved, and for a short while before that, I’ve had it drummed into me, from preachers, from God’s word in the New Testament, and from the Holy Spirit’s influence within my heart and mind – that I don’t have a religion, I have a relationship with God through His Son and my Lord Jesus Christ. My faith is in Him, and my relationship with Him is what persuades me to do things that the world might consider “religious”. But to me, religion is the law, religion is doing what I’m told out of fear of consequences, religion is following traditions for their own sake, or to fit in to a group. It is so many wrong things.

I wrote about religion in my John Lennon post. I referred to what I consider to be Jesus’ response to that religion which I just described, found in Matthew 23, from verse 13. I don’t want any part of religion, and I don’t want to be thought of as religious.

I haven’t read any of his books yet, but whenever I’ve heard Richard Dawkins speak about his atheism, I can only recall him rallying against ‘religion’, rather than particular faiths. Yes, he will use an Old Testament example of his “evil God” idea, but the main thrust of his argument seems to be against religion in general, and the way he thinks it stops people from thinking critically or objectively because it forces people (especially vulnerable children) to accept blindly and unconditionally what the religious leaders tell them.

This isn’t the Christianity I recognise. I am expected to test the spirit of those who teach (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, Hebrews 13:9, 1 John 4:1). I am expected to give the reason for the hope I have (1 Peter 3:15).

Maybe there was once a definition of religion that concerned itself with obedience to God’s commands out of the love of God – a reflection, or consequence, of our faith, rather than being its own purpose. Maybe this is the religion we see mentioned in the Bible, for example in James 1:26-27. But the definition in common use today seems very different.

So I was strongly tempted to answer the Census question with “No religion,” but I realised that this would be a hollow kind of protest against a poorly worded question. And I would be reducing the official count of Christians in the country, which definitely felt like a foolish thing to do. So I chose to read “religion” as “faith” and answered it accordingly.

I’m reminded of my Census quandary every time I read or hear the word “religion” in the media. And it still troubles me. But why do I have such a problem with the word? Am I just making a big fuss over nothing? Am I getting tied up in an argument about semantics and does it hinder me when I want to spread the good news of Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation? I think probably yes, and I think I need to get over it. I include “Religion” as a category for my posts because I think it is something people will search for. It hurts a bit to do so, but perhaps I’m making a start in my rehabilitation.

What do you think? Words are important, and we need to use them wisely, precisely, to be properly understood. Has religion become a barrier between man and God? Does the word “religion” and its connotations form another kind of barrier? Or is it commonly understood in a more positive light than I see it myself?

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One thought on “The “R” Word”

  1. Yes, words are important. For two thousand years, faithful Christians have made the distinction between true religion and false, including leading figures like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, etc, or more recently, C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer (True Religion is Not Feeling but Willing)…

    What moderns have done is to construct a false dichotomy. In true religion we do have a personal relationship with Christ.

    We would do better at keeping words important if we followed C. S. Lewis’ advice on reading books. He said to never allow yourself another new book until you have read an old one. And if you do not have time to read both, read the old. [Try Augustine’s “On True Religion.”]

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