Religion; I cannot think of a more misused word in our culture today. It is disappointing how often one hears statements like: “all religion is dangerous” or “all religious people are foolish,” etc. Does anyone even know what the word means anymore? I found a decent definition the very first place I looked online; especially the first entry:
Religion is: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
I would reword “esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies” as atheists are quite dogmatic and devoted to their metaphysical views on the cause, nature and purpose of the universe without appeal to superhuman agency. Philosophical naturalism (the logical position for an atheist) leads rationally to specific moral positions that can and have governed the conduct of human affairs. And every time I see a Darwin-fish emblem or an internet infidel T-shirt I have to wonder about their devotional and ritual observances. Yet when you hear your average irreligious American use the term they typically twist the word to mean something like:
Religion is: the institutional Christian church and Islamic radicalism, its members and their less than desirable actions today and throughout history.
These people ignore the central and most relevant aspect of the word and focus on secondary and less relevant meaning filtered through their biases. When you hear someone say “religion is dangerous” ask them to clarify what they mean by the word “religion.” Or, just cut to the chase and ask if they are an atheist! If willing to answer; they will usually fall into one of three camps:
1. “Yes, I am an atheist.” – Now I actually appreciate this answer because they are willing to step up to plate and with bold faith proclaim a universal negative (as if they have turned over ever stone in their multiverse.) So I can at least appreciate their misplaced conviction. On the other hand, if they are part of the “new atheism,” then see #3 as they are really closet-atheists masquerading as agnostics.
2. Or..."No, I am a Christian [or Jew, or Muslim] but I think religion is dangerous when depraved man perverts it.” – This is not unreasonable. I agree; the institutional church is and has been the best and worst witness to the Gospel. Every time a TV-evangelist has an affair or flashes his gaudy jewelry; or every time a child is abused by a parishioner, unknown numbers of those seeking the Truth are steered away from it – Matthew 18:6 is an appropriate response from Jesus to these so-called leaders. But the key element of what “religion” means remains open: what do we believe about the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe?
3. Finally..."I’m an agnostic” or “I believe we should be good to one another and tolerant” or “There is some higher power out there and we are all just working our way towards it,” etc. This sort of lukewarm, indecisive and incoherent position ought to be unfashionable; unfortunately it’s all too common. Some of these fall into the "I don't know and I don't care" self-absorbed crowd. Others fall into the "I took a comparative religion class in college" and now I have special understanding crowd. And there may be a few seekers out there who honestly do not know, but I have yet to meet one. Regardless, these are the people you have to drill down with and get them to clarify their position.
In conclusion, the next time you hear someone make a half-cocked generalization about religion, ask them to define the term. Help them to articulate something substantive. You will usually find a wholly different presupposition at the core. Ultimately Christianity is a system of truth, not a set of practices where we go through the motion every Sunday. Christianity is not the sum of behavior and actions of its adherents – especially those who are not acting according to its truth claims. Christianity, as a religion, does make certain claims about the cause, nature and purpose of the universe including: God physically raised Jesus from the dead putting a divine imprimatur on his proclamations about the way things are. From a Christian perspective, the truth of this proposition is paramount; today's twisted version of "religion" by comparison is irrelevant.