Argument # 12: Christianity is not a religion. It is a personal relationship with God.
To set Christianity apart from other religions, some like to use this line when witnessing to others. They will say that Christianity is not a religion in the dictionary sense that involves a system of impersonal rites, rituals and worship to an abstract impersonal deity. But rather, it involves a personal one-one-one relationship with Jesus Christ. And that’s what makes it special because you are having a personal relationship with a living being.
However, if you look at the American Heritage Dictionary definition for “religion”:
1a. Belief in and reverence
for a supernatural power or
powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe. b.
or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
2. The life or condition of a person in a religious order.
3. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
4. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.
You will see that mainstream Christianity as it is believed and practiced certainly falls into these definitions. They believe in a supernatural power, that he has rules and commandments, has passed down a holy book, demands worship and praise and obedience, expects you to try to convert others, etc. This argument is a mere attempt to make Christianity stand out from the rest and appear special. However, consider the following:
1) Almost every religion tries to set itself apart from the rest and from the common definition of the word “religion” in some way. For example, Buddhists explain that Buddhism is not a religion, because
“Buddhism is not a religion because, first, the Buddha is not a "supernatural being power." The Buddha is simply a person who has reached Complete Understanding of the reality of life and the universe… Second, Buddhism is not a religion because "belief" in the Buddha’s teachings is not blind belief, blind faith and far from superstition. Buddha Shakyamuni taught us not to blindly believe what he told us, he wants us to try the teachings and prove them for ourselves. The Buddha wants us to know not merely believe… Third, Buddhism is not a religion because all the "rites and celebrations" are not centered on a supernatural being, but rather on the people attending the assemblies… Finally, Buddhism is not a religion because the "devotion" used in Buddhism is not one based on emotion, but one based on reason.”
Likewise, even cults such as Scientology have made the claim that it is not a religion but “an applied religious philosophy” (http://www.holysmoke.org/cos/religion-not.htm).
Buddhists have cited one interesting difference between their religion and Christianity that is worth noting here. One Buddhist thinker remarked “The difference between Buddha and the founders of other religions such as Jesus, is that even if the Buddha never existed, what he said would still be true.” Now, that’s huge. It’s saying that even without the historicity of Buddha, the teachings of the religion, regardless of its originator, that deal with the human mind, attachment, suffering, karma, meditation, etc. would still be true. And remember that Buddhism in its basic untainted form makes no claims about deities or theology. Instead, it is about liberating your own mind from attachment, suffering or karma, and putting meditation techniques into practice, without requiring belief in any doctrine or theology. However, you definitely cannot say that about Jesus and Christianity. Without the historicity of Jesus (whose existence is still questionable as mentioned in earlier sections) the Gospel of Christianity would fall flat on its face and be rendered completely inept and powerless. That is the weakness of Christianity which the Christians must constantly believe and develop extreme doctrines/teachings for in order to maintain their confidence and security in it.
2) I could also use the New Age or metaphysical paradigm of reality which is pantheistic/monistic (everything is part of God theory) in nature to say that I have an even deeper connection with God than the Christian does. You see, in the pantheist’s view, everything is God, or all is one. Therefore, there is no separation or duality with God. In other words, God and you are not two separate beings at the quantum or spiritual level. Duality and separateness between the self and all objects of creation is an illusion at the macro level. (See Michael Talbot’s The Holographic Universe) When one is able to transcend the dual state of mind, one sees that the separation between themselves and others and God is all an illusion. Therefore, I can argue that Christianity involves a sense of duality “relationship” with God which puts you at a less evolved state of mind, while the mystical consciousness transcends this and eliminates the illusion of separation and duality with God. An article in the Times of India put this idea well:
God is truly all that is, what can possibly make one of his
names more powerful than any other? For that matter, what is the
purpose of naming him (or her or it) in the first place? Naming
anything creates a subject/object relationship between you and the
thing named, and that in itself means a separation.
Every name of God, no matter how holy, drives a wedge between the
creator and the created ? which includes you and me. This separation is
the primal breeding ground for fear, for we then see ourselves as tiny
beings, abandoned and living on the fringe of an incomprehensibly huge
Also, here is a mystic on my list giving her take on it:
“I say to those people... I agree that Jesus IS... the ONE and the Way BUT... What IS being referenced here by the words... "The ONE" ????... Jesus' physical form? NO.... not even close. He is referencing "The Christ" or The Pure Consciousness within, which everything is. We are ALL The ONE. But Jesus had attained that Supreme Knowledge... via Grace... whereas most have not.”
3) If you look at what it involves, this “relationship” with God / Jesus Christ is indeed an odd one. In it, a Christian is supposed to obey God without question. He/she does NOT have the freedom to disagree or hold opinions contrary to Bible teaching. This means that he/she cannot say to God, “I love you God. But I don’t agree with what you said in the Bible here and here…” To do so would mean he/she was not a true Christian, and the church would not accept such an opinion either. Instead, any believer disagreeing with God or parts of the Bible in ANY issue would be encouraged or lectured to submit and acknowledge that God’s opinions/ways are perfect, righteous, and therefore there is no disagreeing with it, and to do so is morally wrong.
So, to have a relationship with God, a Christian must agree with him and obey everything in the Bible. This means that you are not allowed the freedom to have your own opinions or to think for yourself! (Obviously, the Bible does not honor your First Amendment Rights) What kind of a relationship is that? Would you want a relationship or even friendship with someone that required you to obey and agree with everything they said? In our society, we consider that to be an unhealthy relationship. In fact, that is more like a master/servant or dictator/pawn type of relationship. And it’s one where you cannot even both respectfully disagree. Is that what you would call a great relationship?
4) Finally, what kind of relationship can you have with someone you can’t see, touch or hear? Isn’t that kind of delusional when you think about it? Why can’t God or Jesus appear to those who have a relationship with him? Why all this hiding? It doesn’t make sense.
Besides, how are you supposed to know what God wants you to do if he never talks to you or appears before you? I’m not talking about basic moral commandments. I’m talking about specific things in YOUR life that he wants you to do, or specific decisions. This never made any sense to me when I was a Christian. You were told to surrender your life to Jesus Christ and let him take over. And you were told to seek God's will in everything you do. But how are you supposed to surrender yourself to God and do his will when you have no idea at all what his will is for the daily issues and decisions you go through?
Although Christians say that every problem and situation has a solution in the Bible, that just isn’t so with regard to decisions in daily life. For example, suppose I were facing decisions such as: which class to take, which job to take, what to study in college, which house to buy, where to move to, etc. How would I know what God's will is? I could pray and ask, but I wouldn’t get a clear direct unambiguous answer like I would from a person in real life. I could pray for signs and omens, but you can pretty much read signs and omens out of anything, even the most trivial things. Therefore, it is too inconclusive to rely on. Furthermore, you could get signs and omens supporting both decisions as well.
I could try to be filled with the Holy Spirit and see if it would move me toward one of the decisions. But here’s what would happen. At first, I would feel the Holy Spirit move me toward one decision and I'll think “that must be it!” Then, later I'll have doubts about it and feel moved toward the other decision. After a while, I would be wondering why the Holy Spirit would be moving me in different directions, as though it kept changing its mind. Eventually, I would get frustrated and confused and say, “What the heck.” So you see, I would have no way to know what God’s will is. There’s simply no sure way to tell.
Another big problem I had was this: How could you live a holy Christian life separate from the secular sinful world, while at the same time be physically in this world and exposed daily to its influences and people? Such leads to inevitable clashes and conflicts daily. It would be like living with someone whom you have constant personality clashes with. It just wouldn’t work. That's how it was for me. I found that I had no peace at all trying to do this, so I had to eventually give up trying, so that I could just be a normal human being again!
So, as usual, the extreme fanatical set-in-stone beliefs of Christians just doesn’t add up, is not realistic, not logical and goes against common sense as well. How long does one have to delude themselves before realizing the obvious?
Freethinker Darryl Sloan, author of Reality Check, has a great video analyzing the “Christianity is a relationship with God” argument: