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Religion vs. relationship

May 27, 2009

OK, there’s just one thing that’s been kinda getting at me. It’s this seemingly ridiculous dichotomy that people have begun drumming up…A tremendous conflict between our two pugilists…in the red corner: Religion. Namely, Christianity, but in some instances, people will target certain denominations (like, for this article, Mormonism.) And…in the blue corner: Relationship. Namely, with Jesus Christ and/or God.

Now, there are a few reasons I don’t understand why this boxing match is even happening, but I guess I’ll link to an article that got me thinking about this most recently.

I do have some theories on this phenomenon. Many times, I see people renouncing Christianity (don’t get excited for fresh members, ex-Christians and atheists…) Why do they do this? Because Christianity is a religion. So, as they renounce Christianity, they become Christ-followers, and they presumably have the same framework of beliefs, same book they follow, etc., but they have a new and jazzy name.

Anyway, my theory is that people renounce Christianity for a reason…they don’t like the what organization has done to it. So…actually, I should clarify…these people aren’t rejecting Christianity (although some people will phrase it just like that)…they are rejecting the organized religions and denominations surrounding Christianity. Why? Because many of these denominations and organizations have become rather embarrassing liabilities. Mega churches are marrying political movements, and they are adopting the sleazy baggage of these movements…and people aren’t liking that anymore. So, the new name of Christ following is a new attempt to cleanse the brand of baggage. See similar articles about upcoming “evangelical collapses” and discussions from Evangelicals who support such an idea because of the purifying role such a collapse could have.

And in this kind of disaffection, I guess it would make sense to abandon religion and then go to a relationship. However, I think where nonbelievers go wrong is in assuming that the rising number of “unaffiliateds” refers to a pure growth of atheists and agnostics…when in actuality, we do seem to have this phenomenon of people who are unaffiliated with any church, but most certainly know what they believe.

So, here we go. We have Christ followers. Spiritual but not religious. Etc.,

Well, that was a tangent…really, I wanted to write about a rather specific form of this phenomenon. So, I hypothesize that the shift is due to a decay in organized religion that causes people to disaffect from it, while maintaining their faith. So, theoretically, certain denominations and churches should be more prone to this effect than others. What if, for example, a church had a very formal hierarchy, formal rules, but was seen as not emphasizing spirituality enough (even if that isn’t true)?

Geez, I don’t know…maybe that could possibly apply to the Mormon church? Well, Gloria of Musings on Mormonism certainly thinks so (she’s the first link I put here).

I understand the basic framework of what she’s saying…because it seems to be a common thread. I guess, just anecdotally speaking, the most “common” things ex-Mormons do is (strawman alert) 1) become nonreligious and nonspiritual or 2)  join some kind of countercult ministry in their newfound religious zeal.

So, it seems that Gloria fits 2. Well, not saying she’s part of any ministry. (That makes it sound like they do it for a job or something. Like people think I’m atheist for a job; isn’t that funny?) BUT, definitely, she wants to share the good news of Jesus with others.

But even though I understand that this is a relatively common path, it makes little sense to me. Perhaps because, as a number 1, I can’t see down number 2’s fork of the road. What do I mean? Just read Gloria’s article…she is talking about having a relationship with Christ. Oh, that’s nice. Relationships are good.

Maybe my atheism is showing, but…she seems to be describing this intense relationship with someone who is not…here. (A word of advice: long distance relationships…just don’t…)

This is the crazy thing about the difference between religions and relationships with Christ. See…the organized religion makes some sense to me because it is a physical organization and physical community. So, in your struggles, you gain relationships with people. With this decentralized relationship with Christ business, because the organization has been dismantled (or at least pruned severely — of course there are still churches for those Christ followers), it seems like one instead places a premium on this spiritual one-on-one. I mean, I’m an introvert, so I can dig it, but…this is ridiculous.

…This is really pathetic. In the end, for whatever reason, thousands and millions of people have absolutely no problem with this idea. I bet I’m going to have commenters screaning, “OMGosh; HOW CAN U NOT UNDERSTAND RELATIONSHIPS WITH GOD!” Maybe I’m just silly, but I just do not understand it.

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  1. It’s not hard to understand. Didn’t you ever have an imaginary friend as a child? 😉

  2. Can’t say I did (now I have an intense desire to wail on the concept of imaginary friends). Was my childhood bankrupt?

  3. I wound up walking out of Christianity for completely different reasons. I have no problem at all with the institutional church. I even like it. If I could get myself to believe in the divinity of Jesus, I would become an Anglican/Episcopalian in a heartbeat.

  4. I followed you over from Gloria’s blog, your blog name caught my eye being a former mormon Calvinist. I also fall into category 2 and I would say you are dead on that people who leave either walk away entirely or get zealous to witness to those still trapped in mormonism.

    It is not odd or surprising at all that you find more commonality with organized religion. In fact organized religion is designed to appeal to people who don’t believe by creating a false sense of community. All Christians are in fellowship and community, just not all of us are into the formalized, empty religious expression Gloria is talking about.

  5. I just am still baffled, Arthur. By default, a community with real people is a real community. Now, I agree with you that in the end, you can have some formalized, empty religious expression there…but that’s a completely different thing than having a relationship with Jesus.

    You can have fellowship and community without such relationship, so the two aren’t equivalent.

  6. It’s not that baffling if you check out his blog Andrew.

    Arthur is just pulling that same tired “Evangelicals have JESUS, but Mormons just have each other” crap that he’s pulled everywhere else on the internet.

    It’s Standardized Talking-Point #11 in the Evangelical anti-Mormon playbook.

  7. I suspected something like that, Seth, but it still baffles me.

    Basically, that talking point is exactly what I don’t get from a nonbelieving aspect. Let’s SAY Evangelicals have JESUS and Mormons have each other. Having JESUS (caps necessary to show the zeal) is creepy and escapist. Having each other is practical, meaningful, and valuable. As a nonbeliever, I don’t care if Mormons have Jesus or not (I do happen to believe for all reasonable definitions of Christian, Christ follower or whatever, Mormons fit the bill though…arguments to the contrary involve rather specific and exclusivist definitions of Christianity that aren’t entirely convincing)…so the obsession with trying to show how Mormons *don’t* have Jesus (or have a different Jesus) just seem in bad taste, and don’t really seem relevant.

    Basically, what I want to see is…who’s life is improved by their religion. And I think a lot of talking points vs. Mormons do a tremendous job of showing impoverished lives who have to take it out on others.

    …Now, someone is probably going to levy these same claims against me, so time to get my defenses up :3

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