By David G. McAfee, author of The Belief Book
If you believe in and/or worship Jesus of Nazareth as a messiah, god, or prophet, you are religious. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is a fact that deserves recognition if words and definitions are important to you.
As is the case with a number of other belief systems practiced today, most notably Buddhism, some followers of Christianity have started to distance themselves from the word “religion” (likely in response to negative associations with the term). Oftentimes these believers will refer to their faith as a “philosophy” or a “relationship,” not realizing that these terms aren’t mutually exclusive–they all may be applicable.
It’s perfectly understandable, in my opinion, to find good things in the teachings of Jesus Christ or any other figure, mythical or otherwise. But to base your life on the teachings of Jesus as they are portrayed in the Bible–a religious text–and claim that you are not religious, is disingenuous and demonstrably false.
“It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship!”
Without Christianity, without its archaic and flawed holy texts, there wouldn’t be anything for you to manufacture a “relationship” with. Without the wars and forced conversions key to the religion’s spread across the globe, it may have died out long ago like so many others before and after it. If that were the case, you wouldn’t know the characters of Jesus and Yahweh–their stories and other Judeo-Christian myths might be lost.
If not from ancient religious texts, where does one glean knowledge of Jesus’ teachings? Can’t we simply be good people without doing it in Jesus’ name or because he would have done the same? The fact is that, without cultural indoctrination, no one would be “Christian” or “Jewish” or “Muslim.” People may dream up their own Gods as did our ancestors, but established religions are accepted because they are taught by families and cultures and not because they are received by divine revelation. Without the texts and churches and familial instruction, there are no independent evidences that any specific religion is true. Outside of the Bible, how would one hear of Jesus? The same goes for figures and ideas common in every supernatural belief system.1
Is Jesus God?
While some Biblical passages seem to show Jesus as merely the son of god (John 10:36, John 11:4, etc.), others portray him as God incarnate (John 10:30, I Timothy 3:16, etc.). Most Christians, however, accept the doctrine of the Trinity–making Jesus both man and God.2 In that context, Jesus and Yahweh can be seen as different representations of the same omnipotent Creator, with the former becoming the latter’s physical form while on earth.
This means that, according to Christian doctrine and the vast majority of modern Christian denominations, Jesus is God. Jesus is the same jealous3 and angry4 God that abhorred homosexuals and condemned them as “an abomination.”5 He is the same deity that gave instructions on how to beat slaves6 and the same divine Creator that recommended the stoning of non-believers and disobedient children.7 With deities and with people, you have to accept the good along with the bad. After all, Jesus said he came not to abolish the Hebrew laws, but to fulfill them.8
“But that’s the Old Testament!”
What we consider “moral” has changed greatly since the days of the Old Testament. The outdated moral laws present in the Hebrew Scriptures demonstrate Bronze Age ideals – and it’s understandable that modern Christians separate themselves from that era as much as possible. But to discount the entirety of Hebrew Scriptures is to reject the religion’s history and the actions of God Himself–and to take meaning away from Jesus’ own words and teachings.
The fact is that the jealous and angry God that allegedly justified the killings of millions and set plagues on first borns is the same God that Christians believe came to earth in Jesus. Whether Christians choose to obey early Old Testament laws or not, the deity hasn’t changed.
So, before you claim to hate religion and love Jesus (as a divine/religious figure), think about it. Take a look at what Jesus claimed and understand that the Christian religion was built upon those teachings. Accept that, if your worldview mirrors that of religious texts and institutions, you are by definition a religious person.9
David G. McAfee is a Religious Studies graduate, journalist, and author of The Belief Book, a children’s book explaining the origins of beliefs and religion, and Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-believer. He is also an editor for Ockham Publishing and a contributor to American Atheist Magazine. McAfee attended University of California, Santa Barbara, and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in English and Religious Studies with an emphasis on Christianity and Mediterranean religions.
1 Excerpted and paraphrased from Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-believer.
2 The Family Bible Encyclopedia, 1972 p. 3790
3 Exodus 34:14
4 John 3:36
5 Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:23
6 Exodus 21:20-21
7 Deuteronomy 13:6-10, Deuteronomy 21:18-21
8 Matthew 5:17
9 While there are a number of different definitions for “religion” in various dictionaries, it’s generally acknowledged by scholars in the field that religions have a uniform set of (supernatural) beliefs and that they relate to the creation or nature of the world around us.