Have you ever met one of those people? Those who say: “Religions are horrible and boring! I don’t have a religion; I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ!”
To be honest, I have been one of them, throughout my whole teens, but lost it by the time I was 20 or so. There were even those that came to missionary college, and would protest vehemently whenever the words ‘religion’ and ‘Christianity’ were used in one sentence. Of course they would be persuaded after a while to see Christianity as a religion, because no matter how you define religion, it is worthless if it doesn’t apply to faith in Jesus Christ. For those unconvinced: Christianity has rituals, supernatural beliefs, a Deity even, community, prayer, morals, etc. It simply is a religion, even the biggest in the world. The fact that it also involved a ‘personal’ relationship with God does not negate the rest.
The interesting question here is: what is behind this repulsion for religion?
My View Has To Be Unique
My guess is that we want to believe that our way of looking at the world is unique. It must be unique, because my way is true, and everybody who does not agree with me is wrong, right? 🙂 For the believer, it is therefore quite uncomforting to view your own faith as a religion. There are so many religions out there, big and small, short lived or with a long history, so this immediately begs the question: what makes mine unique? Why should I pick my religion above everybody else? It is so much easier to put your faith in a separate box called ‘relation’ instead of ‘religion’, so you can feel all unique about yourself…
Your Take on This Story
However, religion, or even that ‘relation with Jesus’, has everything to do with how we view the world and interpret events in life. Just imagine the following scenario:
- Peter gets cancer
- People pray intensely for Peter for healing
- Peter is treated with chemo therapy
- Peter is healed of cancer after 6 months
What do you think happened here? Your worldview will tell it all:
- If you are an extreme Pentecostal Christian, you will thank God for his healing, and perhaps question Peter’s faith by going to the hospital so soon!
- If you are a reformed Christian, you will thank God for the healing as well. God has provided talented doctors who could heal Peter.
- If you are secular, you are simply happy that Peter is healed and praise the doctors for their work, and science for its advancements in treating cancer. You see the prayer as unnecessary.
Can you see how each ‘take’ on things only reinforces their own faith, their own web of belief? The Pentecostal will only believe more in the power of prayer, and the secular will only believe more in the advancement of science and the uselessness of prayer.
Even when Peter would die of cancer the responses would still fit their ‘filter’ on what happened:
- If you are an extreme Pentecostal Christian, you will blame the devil for taking Peters life so soon, or seek the sin in his life that caused him to die so young.
- If you are a reformed Christian, you will say that Gods ways are higher than ours, and that God has his own purposes with Peter.
- If you are secular, you are simply faced with a loss because deceases are a part of this natural world and you will have to deal with them. You may donate more money to cancer research.
As you can see, all views are perfectly self-reinforcing.
A Little Diagram
So what does this mean? As a software developer, and a beta-oriented science geek, I could not resist creating a poorly designed diagram:
In the case of Peter’s illness, your ‘worldview’ will determine how you interpret what has happened. The worldview is comprised of the core beliefs that you hold about yourself, other people, how the world works, how the supernatural works, etcetera. And those core beliefs form a filter on everything that happens.
Then there is the web of belief, which can never be entirely separated from your world view. It involves things like prayer, reading your Bible, the church, belief in creation, etcetera. Because your world view is showing reality in a certain way, this web of belief will usually only be strengthened.
For those who know a thing or two about postmodernism, or postmodernity, this may sound all too familiar. Am I trying to say we all just have our own truths and everything is therefore good? Are we all just blind people who feel different sides of the same elephant?
Nope, that is not really want I want to say. Although we are often blinded by our worldview, I am a living example that it is possible to change the worldview and even the web of belief that you have. So how exactly did this realisation of the worldview got me ‘out’ of Christianity? Let’s save that question for part 2…