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Christian but not Religious?

(71 Posts)
Thistledew Tue 09-Dec-14 07:27:08

I have heard this from a few different sources recently: "I am Christian and believe in God and Jesus but I hate religion and think it's wrong. All you need to do is read the Bible and love God".

It seems to me that one would have to perform the most tortuous mental gymnastics to arrive at this position. For a start, the dictionary definition of 'religious' is having a belief in a deity/deities and/or following a Holy text.

It seems to be that people are realising that there are a lot of negatives in religion but still want the security of having a benevolent deity caring for them. They seem to reject a 'rule based' religion - ie having to conform to any particular code of behaviour or lifestyle in order to call oneself Christian, and a dislike of traditional religious practice.

The thing that makes me uneasy about this is twofold. Firstly, it ignores the fact that there are still 'rules' to be followed: you can't just go and create your own definition of what god is or how god would behave, but have to confirm to what is an accepted definition. Same with Jesus and ideas of the afterlife and evil etc. There seems to be no awareness of how these concepts have been redefined by the Christian religion over the last 2000 years.

Secondly, is the change in emphasis from 'doing' to 'believing'. I know that Christianity has always been more about belief than action (unlike Islam, for example) but this seems to be taken to extremes. Gone are the days of your wooly Anglican priest who was happy to confess that he struggled at times with his belief in god but knew that as long as he kept up his prayer and religious reflection god would be happy with that and would still love him. No, this form of Christianity expects your belief in and love for god to be constant. The trouble with this is that it soon becomes another stick to beat people with: you have suffered misfortune and god has not answered your prayers? Must be because you don't love him enough. I had a conversation with someone who told me quite seriously, when I pointed out the famines that god has allowed to ravage Christian Ethiopia that she "couldn't be sure how committed those people were in their faith", unlike her, who as a white, middle class, landowning woman with a large family, has always been blessed with god's abundance. It just seems bizarre to me that it is seen as a positive, less harmful, more egalitarian way of doing things to set rules about how people are supposed to think, rather than just what they do. They are still rules. They are still a way of making a division between those who are doing 'the right thing' and those who are not. It still seems to walk and quack like a religion to me.

I really don't get why these people are trying to distance themselves from the idea of religion. Why not take ownership of the fact they are religious but say 'but we don't like how the old religions are doing things so we are creating a new one'.

Or have I missed something? Is it actually possible to be Christian but not religious and that this is a new and better way of doing things?

Gunznroses Tue 09-Dec-14 07:33:54

I think if you are truly Christian, you will also appear religious, but being religious doesn't always mean you are truly Christian. Hope that makes sense to you. As for the friend who proclaimed her abundance is because of her steadfast love unlike the famine ravaged Ethiopians, well isn't she the 'Pharisee' praying in public wink

mummytime Tue 09-Dec-14 07:45:16

Sometimes people define "religious" as being "pi" (not pious in the true sense), and "shoving your religion down others' throats".
They may also reject "church" as they know it.

But few people like this do get stuck into all the good aspects of being Christian, eg. food banks etc.

If you want to challenge them, then ask them questions. Especially about "what difference being Christian makes to how they live their lives".

But then there are lots of religious Christians, who if they were honest would struggle with that problem. And I think personally people who even say things like "I no longer take pens and paper from work" or "I try not to swear at people at Traffic lights" , are doing pretty well.

Thistledew Tue 09-Dec-14 07:46:02

I think that someone is 'truly Christian' if they profess themselves to be. They may engage in what seems to others to be un-Christ-like behaviour, but seeing as god apparently tells different people different things about his expectations of their behaviour, and then forgives them anyway if they say they love him, there doesn't seem to any basis to say X is a proper Christian but Y is not. You can't start doubting someone's personal relationship with god on the sole basis that you think god would not appear to them in the way they perceive, because that logic would turn back on anyone who professes a faith and the whole basis of a personal relationship with god would disappear in on itself.

piggychops Tue 09-Dec-14 08:07:42

I hate the word religious. Any task can be done religiously whether it's to do with belief or not.
As a Christian, I have a faith. It's simply believing that Jesus died for me.
The outcome of that is it changes the way I behave. The fruits or outcome of having that faith are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control. However, I am also human and not perfect so I'm going to get it wrong some of the time. We are also told not to judge others about their behaviour because we're not qualified to do that, only God can. Guide and help if people ask- yes, but judge and condemn, no.

Gunznroses Tue 09-Dec-14 08:12:38

When I say 'truly Christian' I am referring to your fourth paragraph where you say that yes, but there are still 'rules' to be followed to, you can't just create on your own definition........therefore if one is to follow this train of thought you may appear 'religious', but simply being religious does not make you a. Christian. It's not enough to just claim to be a Christian people should be able to see it in your life as well.

Can you give an example of where God tells different people different things about his expectations of their behaviour ? As it seems pretty consistent to me. Also I dont think 'forgiveness' works in quite the way you've described.

Thistledew Tue 09-Dec-14 08:41:29

I have met people who have told me that they have been called by god to spread his word by protesting outside abortion clinics and trying to prevent women from having abortions. They are devout people who read the Bible and pray every day and do their best to live their lives in the way god commands them. They have a firm belief that in order to be the best Christians they can and in order to please god they have a duty to 'stop the slaughter of innocents' and that other Christians who don't think the same are stopping their ears to god's true message.

I know plenty of other Christians who say that god wants nothing to do with harassing vulnerable women.

Likewise, god tells some Christians that it is necessary for them to attend church regularly and to evangelise their beliefs to non-believers. God tells other Christians that it is not necessary to go to church at all and that their belief is a private matter.

Each of these people have an ardent belief that they have a personal relationship with god. Yet if you say to person A "I cannot respect and acknowledge that you have a personal relationship with god because I don't believe that god would tell you to do that", then person A has as much right to say the same to B. Seeing as God chooses not to make it clear what his true intentions are, leaving the spread of his message to those who choose to have this personal relationship then we have no way of knowing whether it is person A or B who is 'right'. You have to accept the possibility that god tells different people different things. Otherwise the basis on which you can demand respect for your own relationship with god falls away.

Gunznroses Tue 09-Dec-14 09:04:34

But the examples you've given are based on what certain people told you rather than biblical fact. Just because someone says 'God told me.....' Doesn't mean He did. Perhaps ask next time someone says God told show you the evidence for that in the bible.

Thistledew Tue 09-Dec-14 09:14:06

People are able to use the bible to justify all sorts of things on all sides of the argument. I thought that was why your personal relationship with god was so important? To help you interpret the bible?

You can't say to someone "I don't agree with your beliefs, therefore your understanding of your personal relationship with god is flawed". At least not without a huge degree of arrogance.

Anyway, this is getting off my point, which is trying to understand how you can be Christian but not religious. Any ideas on that?

piggychops Tue 09-Dec-14 09:20:05

Can you define what you mean by religious?

niminypiminy Tue 09-Dec-14 09:23:36

Are you extrapolating a bigger phenomenon from a conversation with one person? Who seems to me, frankly, a bit thick and insensitive.

There is, unfortunately no magic effect that becoming a Christian makes people into sensitive, intelligent and empathetic human beings. (The same is true for atheism.)

Regarding the difference between being Christian and being religious, it's useful to go back to the founder. Jesus was scornful of Religion with a capital R. He scorned the hollow observances of the Pharisees, divorced from real faith and the actions that spring from faith. He wanted to replace the mindset that saw keeping the purity rules and being meticulous in your temple observances with a back-to-basics faith that spoke to the poor and outcast rather than the comfortably off.

But when people say that they are not religious now, they are often reacting to the way that religion as a concept has been rendered toxic. They are distancing themselves from sexual abuse scandals and collaboration with power; and also with the ways in which the idea of religion has been distorted in recent years by its critics -- for example, the wholly untrue claim that most wars in history have been caused by religions.

I don't think you can be a Christian and keep your faith private. That goes against everything that Jesus said - about visiting the imprisoned, feeding the hungry, eating with outcasts, sharing the good news. I don't think you can be a Christian on your own: Christianity is a collective faith, in which believers are joined together as the body of Christ on earth. You can't do that on your own.

Christianity is centred on right belief, it is true, but those beliefs should find expression in actions. As the letter of James puts it, 'so faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.' (2.17)

We can all hate 'religion' if what you mean by religion is a set of pointless and restrictive rules and systems for oppressing people. But that isn't what Christianity is, and it isn't what the Church (in its widest sense as 'all Christian people') is either. There are bad and stupid things about any human institution. But I don't think it's a lost cause -- how can it be, when God says that no one, no human being, is irredeemable?

By the way, you say OP that "Gone are the days of your wooly Anglican priest who was happy to confess that he struggled at times with his belief in god but knew that as long as he kept up his prayer and religious reflection god would be happy with that and would still love him." As far as I know Anglican priests are still around struggling with their faith from time to time. But none of them believe that God only loves them if they keep up with their prayers. God loves us whatever we do -- whether we forget him, or even refuse to believe in him. We can't earn his love, and we can't lose it either.

piggychops Tue 09-Dec-14 09:23:48

I can clean my house religiously every week. That means it is more of a habit. I think that's why some Christians don't like the word

Gunznroses Tue 09-Dec-14 09:28:18

There are many things you cannot justify with the bible. But it helps if you understand the bible yourself in order to engage in this argument. There are many things in the examples you gave previously which clearly are not in line with the Word of the bible.

It depends what you mean by 'being religious' for instance I'm a Christian and go to church every Sunday, I don't see how I can do one without the other, as the bible says not to forsake the fellowship of believers, it is through church attendance that i receive biblical teaching, we get encouragement from other believers, we are able to support one another through daily life which we wouldn't be able to do if we were all just practising our faith in private. As a church we can also reach out to our community as a stronger body benefiting Christians and non Christians, we couldn't make this impact alone. Most importantly, by attending church we benefit from all the giftings God has given us through the Holy Spirit, I.e teachers, healings, prophecy. But obviously by attending church consistently and taking part in regular rituals we are also religious.

Gunznroses Tue 09-Dec-14 09:33:42

I think perhaps what you don't like is people who claim to be Christian but you cannot see any good fruit from it other than the religious aspect I.e therituals. Not practising what they preach, but go to church regularly, take communion etc but really they're not particularly showing any Christlike behaviour.

Thistledew Tue 09-Dec-14 10:27:11

I don't dislike people who are religious per se, but I do dislike religions. I'm just trying to untangle in my mind whether the people that I know who call themselves non-religious Christians are in fact so, or whether however they try to dress it up it is still religious belief that has the same (what I perceive to be) harmful elements as those who own their religiosity.

What I'm pondering on is this principle of still having 'rules' about what is to be believed, and whether that is as invidious as rules about behaviour.

niminypiminy Tue 09-Dec-14 10:53:40

So what it comes down to is, are people who claim to be Christian but non-religious just fooling themselves by disengaging with a thing you have already decided is bad. Either Christians are deluded that they can escape from this bad thing, or they are stupid for colluding with it. There doesn't seem like much of a discussion point there since you already know what you think.

By the way. Do you think rules for behaviour are wrong? What, then, do you consider laws to be? Do you think we should not be bound by them because they are in principle wrong?

capsium Tue 09-Dec-14 11:12:57

But do you see, OP, how belief can have an effect on behaviour? Belief precedes our actions.

Belief can even cause physical manifestation, as certain patterns of thought can affect our brain physiology and development which then has a knock on effect on how we perceive.

Certain cultural beliefs can have a huge effect on language development, Danial Everett's study of the Piraha people found that talking about anything outside the immediate experience was Taboo, so much so there is no recursion in their language and number is a very difficult concept to communicate to them. This has great relevance as it practically redefines something, many linguists view as essentially human, the grammar element of language.

This article here also shows how culture can affect our perceptions:

So belief and faith can essentially change a person. However manifestations of that belief might vary between individuals.

Whether belief is 'invidious' or not would depend on how you view and value the belief(s). I find God, within the Christian faith, is best understand by viewing Him through Christ, the embodiment of God.

capsium Tue 09-Dec-14 11:24:52

Romans 14 explores how (Christian) faith can be manifested differently, how forms of worship can vary and how we should not judge others in their faith but also do our best not to offend others either.

niminypiminy Tue 09-Dec-14 12:11:26

Tbh, Capsium, I'm not sure I see the relevance of your posts to the point the OP is trying to make. OP is talking about whether there can be a distinction between faith and religion, not about the effect of culture on worldview (which is what your anthropological example is about) or whether beliefs shape behaviour or even, heaven forfend, about the way we can be transformed by the grace of God.

capsium Tue 09-Dec-14 12:38:21

Just that OP talks about whether belief or rules are the most important aspect to being a Christian and what she found most invidious within the Christian faith.(to paraphrase)*niminy*.

My point was that belief(s) precede actions and even change the type of people we are - collective rules reflect collective beliefs. The relationship between belief, rules and the type of people we are.

This comment was intended to help explore what exactly is viewed as invidious.

Thistledew Tue 09-Dec-14 12:59:10

What I find to be invidious is the idea that rules or codes come from a divine source rather than being acknowledged to be man made. There is nothing wrong with rules themselves but they must always be open to being questioned and tested to see if they are really the best we can do. There are multiple different ways this can be done in civil society but as soon as you say "these rules came from god" then that process gets shut down and people for whom those rules are harmful get silenced.

I have nothing against spiritual beliefs per se. I have my own. But I am quite happy to hold them up to scrutiny, to accept challenge as to whether they help me to be the best person I can, and to adapt them if they do not. What I find invidious is the idea that there are certain beliefs that are superior to my own mortal ones through virtue of being ordained by a deity, and that therefore my own efforts to be a better person will always be lacking.

capsium Tue 09-Dec-14 13:29:07


I find often, though, it is the way that rules are interpreted and enforced, not the rules themselves that are the problem. One example of this happening in practice is when people talk about practices, whilst not illegal, are not done in the 'spirit' of the law.

According to Christian belief, there is not one human being that can obey all of the Biblical law, in that all have sinned, we are all fallible. So any enforcement of it, that does not in turn condemn the enforcer is impossible.

When considering your own 'spiritual beliefs' I would ask what the bottom line is regarding how easily they are shaken. Is consensus important? But then you see how beliefs vary from society to society - how individual experiences can shape perceptions and how they can alter according to belief. From here it is very easy to get into relativism, which as I know, can leave a person finding it very difficult to decide on the best course of action.

I do not completely disregard consensus, though, myself, as I believe all are made in the image of God so will retain some of God in them. What is commonly regarded as good, across societies, IMO, can give some insight as to what is being retained. However many people can be flawed, in the same way - which is why consensus is not always completely reliable.

If you ask yourself the question of how you view what Jesus did, as depicted in the Bible and how much you agree with, you might find some common ground in terms of your own spiritual beliefs. I believe Jesus to be the embodiment of God and all that is good.

capsium Tue 09-Dec-14 13:37:04

...and regarding challenging beliefs there is still much of belief, in terms of what exactly is Christian, that can be challenged.

Interpretations of the Bible vary. Understanding all the historical account, symbolism, analogy, metaphor, allegory and which is which, the layer upon layer of meaning, within the Bible is a life's work.

headinhands Tue 09-Dec-14 22:27:18

life's work

How come people end up with contradictory interpretations after lengthy study with the spirit guiding? No one has anyway of actually knowing if god wants them to do a or be, they generally end up thinking god wants to them to have the same opinion as that of their own deep seated opinions anyway so it looks like indoctrination.

capsium Wed 10-Dec-14 08:13:25

head Simply because it is a life's work and more, to have a complete understanding. However you can get some understanding / revelation and grow in understanding:

" For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV)

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