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There is a distinct line which differentiates Christianity as a religion and Christianity as a way of living. To some, this separation can be unclear and leads to the assumption thatChristianity is always a religion; however, this confusion leads to an undermining of Christianity as a whole. Christian religion and a Christian lifestyle which focuses on a relationship with God, are two notions which are extreme opposites, yet they are continuously recognized as one. An art piece which serves as a visual representation of the confusion between religion and faith is Worship-Altar to Roberto Carlos by Nelson Leirner.
At the center of the piece lays a portrait of Brazilian and Catholic singer Roberto Carlos, which is surrounded by religious figures. The face of Roberto Carlos flickers on and off, catching the human eye and accentuating the importance placed on the role of man in religion, whereas a Christian lifestyle places all importance on God. Nelson Leirner’s work of art depicts Christianity as a religion as opposed to a relationship-a perception which causes division in society.
Religion is a concept which is self-serving due to the fact that it is created by man. The origin of the word “religion” derives from the Latin root word “religare” which means “to restrain or “tie back” (religion). Just as the etymology states, religion has the power to keep its participants bound as a result of the exhaustion of the obligation to follow rules. In the article Why Christianity is NOT a Religion, Jake McWhirter states “Religion (almost universally) is enforced by those in power in an attempt to maintain, increase, or abuse their power over others. Religion is the creation of man and is not the intention or design of God.” Human instinct is to care for oneself before others, but when Christianity is treated as a relationship rather than a religion, one is taught to serve others over themselves. In Nelson Leirner’s piece, man is the focal point, thus religion is depicted as self-indulgent rather than self-effacing. A relationship with God is essentially the complete opposite of religion. Relationships are established and built on trust, intimacy and time. In the case of Christianity, this intimacy is with God as opposed to man, which is demonstrated through religion. When people confuse the two they automatically associate the word Christian with religion, although they do not always compare.
Nelson Leirner’s piece puts a particular importance on the saints of the Catholic religion a conceptualization which distinguishes Christian religion and a Christian relationship. In many Catholic churches, portraits of idols such as Saint Mary and Saint Peter are displayed. Catholics believe that prayer to different saints brings certain blessings. In Catholicism, saints are seen as Holy, whereas many people who are Christian but not religious do not believe in the worshiping of anyone except God (which includes Jesus). In fact, the act of praying to saints is seen as idolatry- a detestable sin. In fact, the Bible tells Christians to “flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). Both Catholics and Christians who do not belong to a denomination, believe that Jesus is the son of God, however remains the same entity as God. In Worship-Altar to Roberto Carlos, the portrait of Jesus is displayed in the same light as Catholic saints, allowing for the assumption that they are considered of equal importance. Leirner’s inclusion of Catholic saints proves the depiction of religion as opposed to a Christian relationship.
In the article Seven Deadly SINS, American Author-Kathleen McGowan, discusses a study by scientists which was conducted to find the root of bad behavior in relationship to the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, greed, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth). McGowan states, “Indeed, psychologists say that arrogance comes naturally in Western society. Most of us perceive ourselves as slightly smarter, funnier, more talented, and better-looking than average.” In this sense, the egocentrism of religion is deemed inevitable seeing as it is created by man and consists of man at the center. Humans are naturally drawn to feelings of arrogance, making it easy for one person to believe their opinions are correct over their neighbors, however this exact trait is what causes separation between people in society. In the Bible, it is stated that one of the things the Lord hates most is a person who “soweth[s] discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:19). Often religion is the root of altercation due to its controversy; however, the solution is found in humility.
Although pride is considered one of the deadliest sins in the Bible, it is often the foundation of religion. Religious leaders often seek power, but leaders who maintain a relationship with God give all the authority to Him. College and youth minister of Campbell Street Church of Christ, Frank Powell writes, “Righteousness is based on knowledge and works, so righteousness is a product of self, not God… It breeds pride and arrogance. This is why religion causes wars. The more someone disagrees with you, the more offended and upset you become.” Offense and righteousness are traits which are considered sinful in Christianity, however they consume churches all over the world. The Bible states that “A man’s pride will bring him low, But the humble in spirit will retain honor” (Proverbs 29:23). Thus, people who follow a Christian lifestyle as opposed to Christian religion believe that pride brings no reward, but humility receives honor from God.
The main principle by which Christianity as a whole is founded on is faith. Regularly, people define the term “faith” as the belief in a supreme being, however “faith” is the completion of trust in God. Often times in the Bible, Jesus corrects those around him such as his disciples for a lack of this attribute. Without faith, Christianity has no foundation. Even though Christians are to continuously grow their faith, Jesus states, “if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 12:20). Jesus explains that if one has faith, there is nothing that a person is not capable of. Faith is a principle which religious and non religious Christians can attain; as a result, people associate religion with faith. A 2014 article in the Huffington Post perfectly illustrates this confusion. In the article Does Religion Cause War… And Do Atheists Have Something To Answer For?, Louise Ridley writes, “religion is the main cause of wars. Without faith, many say, there would have been no 9/11 attacks, no Israeli-Palestinian conflict, no Troubles in Northern Ireland, no violent disputes over words in holy texts – even no Islamic State.” Ridley is correct in stating that religion causes wars; however, religion and faith are unrelated approaches of Christianity. Although all Christians can attain faith, people who have faith are not always religious.
In religion, favor with God is received through work. It is through the effort of man that one can be permitted into Heaven after death. Christianity that does not include religion does not focus on the abilities of man but the graciousness of God. The righteous deeds of man are often denounced, as many believe that it is by their effort that they are capable of entering heaven. However, Christians are told “when [they] display [their] righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). The concept of religion sets its focus on reaching up to God in order to attain permission into the Kingdom of Heaven. On the other hand, those that have a relationship with God, believe they are granted acceptance into Heaven once they accept Jesus.
As a religion, government becomes involved in Christianity as a result of the tension between the religious and secular population; Church-state separation is one of the results of such tension. In the Bible, Christians are told to “submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good” (Titus 3). Although Christians are to teach and spread the message of the Gospel to others, they are to be humble in their teachings rather than forceful and aggressive. In the article Social Distortion: Democracy and Social Aspects of Religion-State Separation, Robert Brathwaite discusses the role that religion plays in the development of democracy. Brathwaite explains his theory of a social dimension of religion and its relationship to religion-state separation. He writes, “The structural dimension of religion – state separation refers to the degree of government involvement in religion (311).” Christianity as a lifestyle, offers a relationship between man and God, versus man and man. When Christianity is lived rather than argued, tension is lessened between the secular and non secular population in society.
In society, it is often seen that those who call themselves religious will argue why their beliefs are the only true way. However, those who follow Christianity without a religious mindset are taught to be humble. The difference between religion and a relationship with Christ is that religion often imposes its rules on those involved, Christianity is based upon the concepts of free will, humility and love for those around. Christians are told to “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love” (Ephesians 4). In fact, in Matthew 21, Jesus criticizes the religious leaders (Pharisees) for their righteousness and condemnation of others saying “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be denounced due to their lack of faith and inability to get rid of pride.” As a result of pride, a Christian’s ability to enter heaven is hindered.
Repentance is vital to Christianity, however the process differs in Christian religion and a Christian lifestyle. Religion requires those involved to seek penance, while Christianity as a lifestyle, introduces grace by cause of God’s unconditional love. In Catholicism, confession is often required in order to gain forgiven. In Christianity which consist of a relationship with God, it is believed that forgiveness was ultimately given when Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for all sin, thus the sin of humanity was purified. In believing that Jesus made that sacrifice, one is automatically granted forgiveness for their actions-past, present and future. Although the God of the Christian religion is the same as that of a Christian lifestyle, followers of these approaches attain different perceptions of the God they serve. In Christian religion, participants often forget about the generosity of their God; however, a relationship with Christ focuses on the fact that God is slow to anger and has already granted forgiveness for those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
In the book, Contending For The Faith: The Church’s Engagement With Culture, Ralph C Wood, University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University, criticizes Universities and Churches for calling themselves Christian, but have no knowledge of the God they serve. Receivers of this criticism hide behind the term “religious” although their lives outside of school and church do not match up with their personas while in that setting. Wood comments that Christians are called to be faithful instead of being “professionally well-trained people” (Wood 12). In other words, Christians have the tendency to use the fact that they go to church as a way to hide their sinful ways. This religious mindset leads to an altered perception of the way that all Christians act. In Christianity, which is focused on a relationship with God, one’s church life and normal life are merged into one and they carry their knowledge throughout life in order to teach others and make disciples just as Jesus did.
In his essay “Present Embarrassment of the Church”, Gustave Weigel displays criticism of the egotistical values and self seeking mannerisms of those who call themselves religious. Weigel brings attention to the significance of discipleship, in which one will “speak the good news to all his fellows to whom he is attracted in love by the very faith he possesses” (223). Although it is likely that not everyone will listen to one’s testament of faith, in acting out out of love, division is less likely. Weigel also writes, “The secular community certainly does not want to be converted into a religious community” (229). In society, separation is caused due to the fact that the secular community bears witness to the negativity that religion can bring. Subsequently, the secular community is repelled and led to alienate the acceptance of Christianity as a whole.
Many times, the Bible, which is the guidebook for Christianity, is contradicted by Western culture’s definition of religion. Therefore, it is impossible to relate the two concepts without giving context to the mannerisms of both. Not only does the confusion between Christian religion and a Christian lifestyle cause a detachment between the Christian and secular population, but this lack of knowledge between the two notions results in a bigoted opposition of Christianity. Nelson Leirner’s piece depicts religion as righteous and egotistical-although this is not always the case. Religious and non-religious Christians share many attributes, such as the belief that Jesus is the Son of Man, the importance of repentance and discipleship; however, they differ in various mannerisms. Without further knowledge of Christianity, a secular person can not be expected to receive a proper representation of Christianity, correspondingly allowing for their perception to be impeded. Appropriately, the secular community must make lifestyle decisions with a knowledge of the difference between religion and a relationship with God, furthermore seeking an accurate portrayal of both.
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