Some Thoughts on Religion, Part 2

Greetings and Salutations;

Politics and Religion…two topics that can always generate lengthy and, at times, contentious discussion. One of the several groups I follow on Facebook is a philosophy group that deals with various aspects of religion. When the angry atheists do not take over and fill it with posts, crapping on the “foolish mythology” of religious belief, some rather interesting conversations can take place. I thought I would grab the following one, before it vanished down the flood of words, as it has some interesting points in it.

Original Post, 2020/02/05 at 9:17 AM by H.M.

Religion vs. personal faith. Time to time I encounter this argument that religion and faith in Jesus aren’t the same thing, and therefore its okay for a Christian to agree with atheistic argument that religion causes more harm that good.

I can feel that there is something problematic with this argument but I can’t put my finger on it. Any thoughts?


D. G.: I believe religion is dogmatic but faith is something personal.\

C. S.: The obvious problem is to deny Christianity is a religion.
You can point out how those who seemed to hate Jesus were the religious crowds and how His words and followers wouldn’t fit in at most churches even today, but that doesnt mean Christianity isnt a religion.

R. A. S.: It can be separated, but eventually in some contexts it leads to a No True Scotsman Fallacy or other fallacies. Essentially the person wants to be exempt from certain aspects of the religion as exampled on a whole, but they want to qualify for the belief related to the religion still while excluding those other parts. Sometimes it leads to cults / offshoots, other times the person may be a lay person who is unaware of the arguments for divisions/trains of thought; or if there is sufficient information to place them in minor divisions. Christianity is unlike Islam and many others (but I can’t speak on behalf of too many religions). Christianity allows individual analysis and conclusions for its holy texts, and often strongly encourages access to it, especially with mass production. This access alone instead of going through a religious leader is what has frequently led to the personal faith vs religion argument. Such an argument I might add wasn’t really commonplace in Judaism which it offshoots from, as rather few had access to holy texts.

I. G.: R. A. S. “christianity allows individual analysis and conclusions for its holy texts”
Matthew 12:25: Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.

R. A. S.: I. G. so you believe Christianity has been ruined?

I. G.: R. A. S. yep. It has no place in the modern world

D. C. M.: I. G. An interesting point. However, I am moved to disagree for the reason that, while it is not the ONLY source for building a good, moral, ethical, life, Christianity has more, positive lessons on how we should treat our fellow humans than many religions. As I discuss in the blog post I link to elsewhere in this thread, even if one removes the concept of “God” from the Bible, it is a very useful collection of parables and lessons about how we should, or should not, treat other living beings. Having such a valuable resource at hand makes it far easier to teach one’s children the basic rules of ethics, empathy and the like.

D. T.: Fortunately the bible tells us what true religion is in James Chapter 1 vs 26 and 27. (26) If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not bridle his tongue, he deceives his heart and his religion is worthless. (27) Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

M. W.: D. T. the Bible is nit an authority though.

D. C. M.: M. W. What brings you to believe this? It seems like the quoted verses would apply very well to a Christian’s life, and, are even applicable to other religions.

There is quite a bit more in James about how religion should change one’s life, some of which has caused controversy through the ages. For example, he says “Faith Without Works Is Dead” Some folks have interpreted this to mean that there is some sort of scale out there that compares the good works of a person’s life with the evil that they do…and if the scale tips to the good side, one gets a passage to Heaven.

My interpretation is a bit different from this view, though, and is one that many scholars through the ages have come to accept. In my view, The good works we do are generated by our faith and striving to be more Christ-like in our lives. We do not believe they are a “get out of jail free” card, but a reflection of our inner beliefs.

I am re-enforced in this belief by the words of Christ, who said, in John 14:6 “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” And, as Romans 3 says “(23) For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
(24) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
(25) Whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
(26) To declare, [I say], at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”

As I touched on in the opening to this comment, these words of James apply as well to a wide diversity of religions, from actual, “Christian” religions, to belief systems such as Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism and the like.. This brings me to the opinion that the are reflecting a “Universal Truth” that underlays many philosophies.

M. W.: D. C. M. nice sermon, moat of it falls on deaf ears.
Christianity is only one religion among many and not the authority on the issue.

D. C. M.: M. W. I am sure you are correct. There are none so deaf as those that will not hear. My problem with issues such as what we are discussing now is that they are not simple things, that can be defined with a 280 letter tweet…so, in order to clearly explain where my head is at, I DO tend to go on a bit. Folks that know me well are careful NOT to ask me an essay question!
I am not arguing that Christianity is more than one of many…I have come to understand that there is more than one path to understanding. If I implied it was “The Authority” then, I was unclear in my comments. I would only say it is “The Authority” for Christians.
That having been said…my comment about “Universal Truth” is not intended to claim that Christianity is the template applied to all religions. Rather, I was touching on the concept that there are certain facts that are common to the human condition, no matter what religion or society we are a part of. I realize that is a topic that would likely create a thread at least as convoluted and long as this one, so, I was simply referring to it in passing, instead of delving into the concept.

D. T.: If any atheist or sceptic wishes to point to the failings of the church administrators down the centuries then they may be disconcerted to find that the bible has a lot of support for the unfortunate truths they may wish to point to. At no point does the bible give a rosy and idealistic view of ‘God’s people’ in either the OT or the NT. Whatever sins you can find to hold against the church authorities the bible can match that with unvarnished revelations about the corruption of human nature – including of course in those who claim to be religious leaders

  • S. S.: The problem is this: if one uses this method to, effectively, shield the text from the stains of the people following it, then why should we give *credit* to the text for the behaviors of people following it? It appears to make said text irrelevant.

J. C.: We should never judge a philosophy by its abuses.

S. S.: No one gives credit to the text for the (mis)behaviors of the people following it. Your point would have more weight if all Christians universally, and especially if Jesus himself proved themselves abusive, selfish, manipulative jerks. But that simply isn’t the case. So instead of the subset of jerks staining the text, the opposite is true. The text agrees with you that they are jerks.

M. W.: R. A. S. pretty much said it all.

When people try to disconnect their faith from their religion, what happens is people conforming their religion to their faith, instead of the other way around, causing many different religions and denominations. As an example; It would be like claiming that you are a Nazi, yet believe that hating and vilifying Jews is wrong, and any Nazi that does is not a TRUE Nazi. It’s all about having a personal relationship with Hitler, not who you hate or who you think is the master race.

M. W.: As an atheist I respect this idea, to separate the good from the bad. It shows that the person recognized the evil in the Bible and they cant-wont, event try to reconcile good with evil.
Dogmatic beliefs in religion are dangerous and I see no reason not to idolize a good person instead.

R. A. S.: Wonderful example above. Apologies D. T., but I’m copy-pasting to ensure if the comment is removed the example remains.

“Fortunately the bible tells us what true religion is in James Chapter 1 vs 26 and 27.
(26) If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not bridle his tongue, he deceives his heart and his religion is worthless. (27) Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

So H. M. what we have with this example is 2 things:
1) Redefining “religion” for ones use;
2) Ignoring the religion in which the context is.

*sigh* I hate going into these TLDR’s, but it’s relevant and important here.

So the first thing is to define religion, and the “religion/religious” used in this passage.

Religion is generally defined as a particular system of worship or collective of faith for various followers.

The adjective used in this Bible passage is threskos (repeated as threskeia) which although shows an English rendering of “religious” derives from throeo which is to fear, giving threskos a more proper rendering of one who fears or reveres (their deity implied). In other words it is a term of reverence, not directly synonymous with piety or holiness, nor can it simply mean a person who practices a religion.

So James is basically saying if anybody considers themselves to be a person who reveres God, instead of losing control of their lips they should learn to help those in circumstances which they could not control. It doesn’t say anything about practicing Christianity really. And it would be a funny summation to say all Christians should simply be ascetics giving away to charities constantly.

What you do have within Christianity is a lot of information about the beliefs and system, which can be drawn upon. And examine any one individual’s practices. Even with different sects and types of practices in the world which each claim to correctly interpret the original languages.

J. S.: Yeah, well look. Religion is a goofy word and thing, in and of itself. People refer or consider it variously. Whatever they happen to have in reference might have legitimate underlying concerns they’re placing in front of their expression. It’s worth listening in communion with them instead of seeking opposition by problematizing their statements. Critique from the wilderness that the religion has made is where new life can be breathed into a god who was made dead by religion or vocal celebrity.

D. C. M.: I am ok with the original Post, and have an explanation about how a Christian can agree with an atheist/agnostic about the effect of religion on society.

This is an issue that I confront regularly, and, in the process of wrestling with it, have come to the understanding that “Religion”, as laid out by the Holy Books of the Abrahamic religions and others, can be a positive force in the world. I speak at length about my views on the Bible here.

The controlling factor that causes religion to be a negative force in the world is the way it is perverted by humanity, in order to support their, very human, agenda. For example, people who are anti-choice, often cherry pick verses that they can interpret to mean a fertilized egg is a human being. Folks that find the LGBTQ community icky, interpret verses to make them condemn single sex relationships. Folks who hate a given group (Muslims, Democrats, etc) will pervert the Biblical teachings to allow them to murder or or oppress their opponents without penalty.

M. M.: Well the Apostle Paul, at least, does not seem to have conceived of faith as a solely personal experience. To have faith, you had to be a member of the Assembly, the Church, and without membership in an association of a Christ believers, it’s not clear that Paul would have considered you truly a Christian.

  • D. C. M.: HA! Well, he would be in good company then! I have a list of folks that consider me to be anything from a “Questionable Character” to “Spawn of the Devil” because of my views on religion!
    Quite some years ago, I was watching an interview on BBC America, with John Cleese. This was, I believe, in the vicinity of the time when “The Life of Brian”, or, possibly “The Meaning of Life” had been released. Of course, they talked about the movie a bit, and then, Cleese got onto a very serious discussion of Martin Luther, and why his actions were taken so seriously by the Catholic Church. Cleese made the excellent point that, up to Luther’s questioning the Church, Religion had been very “Corporate”. The parishioners spoke to the Priest, and listened with (hopefully) rapt attention to the interpretation of the Bible the Priest would provide. Bibles were chained to bookshelves, and out of the reach of the common person, both because of that, and because of the inability of most folks to read Latin. As with all corporations, there was a hierarchy of control, up through the bishops, to the Cardinals, to the Pope…and all of it was oriented at being the source of Religious knowledge.

    Martin Luther, though, had the revelation that it was not the corporation that was important, but, rather, the one-to-one connection between the person and God. He realized that it was our responsibility, and our gift, to read the Bible, study it. and come to understand the lessons in it. This is one reason that, once he became a marked man, he spent a year or so translating the Bible into German…to make it accessible to everyone.

    In Hebrews, the Followers of Christ are told: “Hebrews 10:25 King James Version (KJV)
    25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Some interpret this as a call and a requirement to attend church on a regular basis, and, that it implies that (as you say about Paul), if we do not, we are not “Real Scots…sorry…Christians” I am all for church and Sunday School attendance, as it can be an excellent tool for educating oneself, and, focusing on the interpretation and message of a given set of verses from the Bible. However, as I have said to others – My Journey has taken me on a different path.

    That having been said, I would not consider myself to be “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” as the wide range of discussions I have on Facebook and other social media, as well as in real life, bring me into contact with believers and non-believers alike. As with Jacob, wrestling the Angel, these interactions force me to seriously consider what I believe, often bring me to new ways of looking at the information I have, and, provide me with new data about a given topic. All of this data gets meditated on, and may change my views.

J. S.: M. M. well. There was no such concept of religion as distinct thing separate from life. You’d be religioning (not a word and not a separate concept) somehow or another, regardless.

M. M.: J. S. sure, but I think the point stands that this idea of Christianity as a very personal and individual connection to God is a very modern idea, a product of the Enlightenment and its ideas of the individual.

J. S.: M. M. oh yes definitely. Peace to that. We’ve been fussing about the personal for a while, trying to work that out, to the point that now it’s equivalent to individual without any external reference. The atomic self, I think, is going to have to get a jostling.

M. M.: As I touched on before (and this is a minor quibble) Martin Luther was the origin of that personal connection to God. The Age of Enlightenment, while good for the philosophical growth of society was not supportive of religion in any widespread way. Many of its followers rejected religion (as many do today) as a myth that has no bearing on today’s society. They focused on Science, the growth of philosophical thought, and rationality, instead. There was a small sub-group of these folks that were not so willing to throw out the baby with the bathwater, and so, worked to keep religion as an important part of society, but they were a minority.

M. M.: D. C. M. I’d say Martin Luther planted seeds, but it wasn’t really until the Protestant Pietism of the 18th century that the idea really flowered.

D. C. M.: M. M. This is a valid point. It can be a real challenge to deal with the chaotic and complex history of Religion in the world, especially when struggling with such a radical schism as produced by Martin Luther. I often use the example of trying to change course as the captain of a SuperTanker. It is quite possible, but it is not a quick process, and takes a LOT of ocean! Luther’s original heresy and subsequent excommunication from the Catholic Church was the start of that turn. His several years spent, carefully translating the Bible into German continued the process…and increased the distance between the slow spread of Protestantism, and the Catholic Church. The process was helped quite a bit by the advances in Gutenberg’s Press, making it a quicker and easier process to print large numbers of copies of the newly translated Bible. I agree that the process took a leap forwards in the 18th century, with the growth of the Pietism you mention. (Here is an interesting article on this movement, by the by…). When I look at this progress, it is rather like an exponential curve…rising very slowly in the early days, then, hitting a point when it exploded.

To a certain extent, the sequence of events we are touching on here is not a surprise. Humans do not take to change well, at all, and are often resistant to any new thing. Luther’s diverging path from the Catholic Church was a huge and radical change in the view of the world, so, it was slow to be adopted. It was, I believe, the increased access to Luther’s arguments in published form, and the newly translated, German Bible, that began to spread the concepts of free thought, and questioning the establishment through a wider population. His concepts of that one-to-one relationship with God likely triggered an emotional response in many folks, motivating them to take up the cause and helped the growth of the Pietism movement.

One thing I found interesting in early studies of Luther and the growth of the Protestant church, was how pivotal Germany was in the process…this has nothing to do with the current conversation, but, it is an interesting point that all three of these major events, Gutenberg, Luther and Pietism either were native to Germany, or, had a large following there.

This is a somewhat lengthy discussion, and, alas, kind of a challenge to follow thanks to the limitations of HTML. However, it seems worth plowing through… Its discussion of the effects of Luther’s resistance to the Catholic Church and the path it was on has some merit…although the whole issue of the one-to-one relationship to God was not the only issue that Luther’s 95 Theses dealt with. That having been said, I thought that the issues of humanity dealing with change, in both a positive and negative way, were rather to the point in today’s political climate. Also, of course, the issue of Works vs Faith for redemption is another point in today’s world.

I have to say that I enjoyed the conversation, and debate. I hope it will speak to someone else too.

God Help Us All.

Bee Man Dave

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