top of page
  • Writer's pictureDub

Owning My Religion

*Note - I wrote this piece for my blog one year ago. I felt it was worth reposting on my website.


Religion. It understandably has a bad rap. When someone tells me they know I’m religious it makes me squirm. I don’t even like using the word religion in conversation because it is so pejorative. Religion has been used by evil people in terrible ways to harm and even to kill. I feel you. However, when I consider God’s views on religion in the Bible, I am inclined to believe true religion remains the greatest force for good on the planet, when it is done well. Even if you hate religion, please hear me out.


This week I met with a medical professional for my annual health review. Our initial mundane conversation drifted into the role of religion and its influence on health and quality of life. That piqued my interest.


Religious Identity

She told me she was from China, had moved to the US as a young adult, and became a citizen. Her mother in China claims to be Buddhist, but doesn’t really know anything about the Buddhist religion, writings, beliefs, or practices. She just tries to be a good person. I replied that in my experience and travels, this is common to all religions. People often claim to be believers of various religions but in reality, they are like her mother, understanding very little of it. An individual’s religious identity, or lack thereof, is often more rooted in culture, heritage, tradition, location, and family expectations rather than the result of informed or zealous pursuit of a worthy god/gods or philosophy.


I shared some examples. I’ve known more agnostic and atheistic Jews than individuals that actually believe in the Hebrew God and practice Judaism as a religion. That’s true of Muslims I have met and dialogued with in the West and in the Middle East. Most haven’t read the Quran (especially in Arabic) or studied the history, practices, and beliefs of Islam. They adopt the necessary cultural cues to fit into the community but their genuine beliefs often conflict with their religious identity. Most just want to be a good person, live a reasonably untroubled life, and have a good family. All good things. All human things.


Southern Christians

I told her the same is true of many people that claim Christianity, particularly in our region, the Southern United States. Many people raised in the South claim to be Christian but often are expressing a religious identity based in their family, an assumed church or denomination affiliation, or even just their identification with the region and nation. In reality, more than a few professing Christians know little about what the Bible actually teaches and less about what it means to faithfully follow Jesus. Their beliefs and actions may completely contradict Christian faith and practice without concern or care.



The Role Of The Bible

She was shocked and asked me how people claiming Christian faith can do that since they’ve read the Bible? I told her the assumption that American Christians read and know what the Bible says is not generally accurate. Many folks have been to church at some point and may even have a Bible at home. That doesn’t mean they have read it. She was genuinely perplexed. Coming to faith in Jesus from her background it was inconceivable that someone professing to be Christian would not read and study the Bible or observe obedience to its teachings. What a refreshing perspective.


Until that moment I assumed she perhaps shared her mother’s latent Buddhism or a secular, agnostic worldview. Turns out, that wasn’t the case. She purposely chose to believe Jesus is God, the Bible is true, and to earnestly practice her new faith. She became a Christian after being introduced to the Bible and the message of Jesus by a friend in the USA. She is actively involved in her church and practices her religion faithfully. Moving recently, she’s new to the Bible Belt and apparently had not encountered people that, while claiming Christian or denominational identity, likely have not read or studied the Bible, do not understand or practice essential precepts like prayer and faithful obedience, and may not have gathered with other believers for worship in a church setting in years.


There Are Commandments?


Ten Commandments
Getty Images

Here’s an example from the Bible that casual claimants may not know. In John 15:14 Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” That means to be recognized by God as a friend of Jesus, first you have to really know Jesus. Then, you have to know His commands. Finally, you have to obey His commands. What are they?


In Matthew 22:27-40 Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”


In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells His disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus laid down His life for everyone that will believe in Him in order for their sins to be forgiven. Jesus commands His friends to love one another in the same way, laying down their own lives by following His example. That’s a pretty high standard of measure. Knowing this reminds me to ask, as a disciple of Jesus, how am I doing in following His example? Do I love my neighbor? Do they see Jesus in me? Am I willing to give my life to serve others and demonstrate God’s love?


More Religion - Not Less

Here’s my point. I think the world would be a better place with more religion, not less. I wish people would sincerely practice religion with conviction and purpose, or entirely reject religion and commit to humanism, rather than resting on a vague form of religious identity that is without substance. Dependence on a syncretic, often contradictory, non-religion leads people to minimize, ignore, or reinterpret foundational religious writings, the nature of God or gods, religious beliefs, and religious practices. I propose it is commitment to those very ideals that actually give life meaning and purpose. It’s worth the effort to investigate the religion you claim and make a conscious decision about where you belong.


I grew up in the age of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was once beaten by the boys in my neighborhood because I admired Dr. King and agreed with his Christian mission. They didn’t like his skin color or his aims. So, in spite of my whiteness and privilege please allow me to repeat a statement he made more than once that means a great deal to me. He said, “There are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they are worth dying for. And I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”


Cold Or Hot?


cold or hot

More than 2000 years before this, Jesus made a similar statement. Speaking to some of His followers that kept the name but abandoned the faithful practice of their religion He said, “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3:15-16


There’s nothing like a cold drink on a hot day, or hot coffee or tea on a cold day. But lukewarm? Blech. A life of faith is considerably more serious than what we drink. True religion is important to our health and well-being, to God, and to the health and well-being of our neighbors and the world. I reject the argument that the abandonment of religion is better for society than the alternative. True, there have been terrible atrocities committed in the name of religion. However, the same is true of godlessness and various forms of humanism. Give me a true believer of any religion or philosophy any day that is zealous in his belief. At least they stand on principle. I can work with that.


 

To you, I'm an atheist. To God, I'm the loyal opposition.

Woody Allen

 

Pure Religion

Jesus’ brother James was inspired by God to explain religion this way. James 1:17, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” He follows a few lines later (James 2:8) quoting Jesus, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well.”


Christmas Religion

So here’s my proposition. Let’s be sincere in our chosen religion. Christmas forces us to think about at least one religion. Sure, it’s getting easier to celebrate the Christmas holiday and avoid relating it to the namesake of Christ. Still, the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day provide an opportunity for reflection as everything slows down. There’s time to consider the year that has passed and the year that is to come. To take stock of our lives. To consider where we put our hope, our trust, and our faith. We get to consider the important things in life, what kind of person we want to be, and what we hope to accomplish.


Perhaps, just perhaps, this is a good time to reevaluate the place religion holds in our lives. Is there a Creator God? What do I really believe? Is there more than just what we experience in the natural world? What is the greatest virtue? Is there anything or anyone I’d be willing to die for? Is anything of eternal value? What is true? What is worth giving my all to accomplish?


Inspiration and Reflection

The sincere religion of the lady I met at the medical clinic inspired me. We rarely take time to stop and ponder these things, much less ask questions, read, pray, or reflect. I want to encourage you to take time between now and the end of the year to do just that. Consider the place of religion/faith/belief in your life. Then align your actions accordingly.


I stand with Joshua in the Hebrew Bible, who declared, “Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15


That's what I mean by owning my religion. Will you own yours?


merry christmas
Feel free to insert your choice of seasons greeting. This is mine to you.

Thanks for reading. I hope and pray you enjoy a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

65 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Homeless

Comments


bottom of page