It’s not a religion. It’s a relationship.

This page attempts to reduce the use of this rhetoric, which is neither effective nor accurate, by making atheists and heathens aware of some responses to it and by asking Christians to avoid it.

I remember sitting on the balcony of a highrise apartment down in Miami watching the boats go by and trying to win a relative to [C]hrist. He made a comment that he “wasn’t very into religion,” followed by my canned comment of, “Oh, but it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”

—Anonymous post from a former Christian on No Gods Allowed

Atheist David Hawkins points out on his MySpace blog that such a claim simply isn’t true, while demonstrating his imperviousness to the argument.

Most Christians who claim they aren’t religious consider their sacred holy text, the Bible, inerrant or at least divinely inspired and they often insist that you must believe … in the Trinity. … This is far and away enough to qualify [their beliefs] as religion by definition.

Indeed, where would one even get the idea to begin a prayerful relationship with Jesus if not ultimately from the Bible or clergy? It goes without saying both sources are clearly religious in nature.

Saying that your Christ-centered beliefs are not a religion, but rather a relationship, also opens up those who use the line to attack. If there is “no religion” involved, that would seem to imply no scriptures or dogma are serious contributors to one’s beliefs; if revelation comes directly through this relationship, then the lack of agreement that followers of Christ have on even the most basic doctrines of how salvation is attained would suggest that the relationship is entirely imaginary.

If one’s beliefs regarding Jesus are “not religious,” then a skeptic may wonder if one may maintain a relationship with Jesus while becoming a Hindu, Jew, Muslim, Sikh, or Buddhist. After all, religions are generally held to be mutually exclusive, but a relationship won’t preclude one from converting to a particular religion.

Even more light-heartedly, one may inquire as to the comparative benefits of a relationship with Christ versus a boyfriend or girlfriend.

The “relationship” is certainly not as friendly as Christians would like to assert; after all, Jesus is the only “person” who claims to torture us for eternity should we reject his “friendship.”

Dave urges Christians to avoid this rhetoric and instead use more sincerity in their attempts at conversion and apologetics.

That sentiment is echoed here.

3 thoughts on “It’s not a religion. It’s a relationship.

  1. Amerist

    I’ve heard this one numerous times on Mill Ave when studying the Mill Avenue Resistance and the Way of the Master preachers on Friday and Saturday.

    My first reaction came through as, “What else is a religion if not a relationship with the divine?” That, of course, gives way to my actual anthropological reasons for the purpose behind this phrase. It’s just a hook, and amusingly enough it’s designed to pull congregants away from other closely related religions and into their own.

    In this particular propaganda, the word “religion” only refers to a very specific form of organized religion—e.g. the Church—and deliberately ignores all the other trappings of religion: the mythology, dogma, doctrine, rules and regulations…

    Christianity is a religion, own up to it.

  2. Mr. Atheist Post author

    That’s very true; I wonder if a Catholic would even use the line.

    Do you think you are now better equipped to reply to it, or was it never really a problem?

  3. Amerist

    It was never a problem for me in the first place.

    I don’t know the origin of this particular meme, but I suspect that it’s part of Ray Comfort’s Way of the Master training rhetoric—there’s a great deal of extremely crystallized propaganda developed from that. I believe that as a hook it tries to cuddle up to a common social dislike or disagreement with what people perceive as “organized religion.” Throughout Western cultural upbringing the folk hero of the masses has been seen sometimes sitting at the bar after a hard day’s labor, drinking and insulting politicians and priests alike for similar behavior.

    The Catholic Church and the outgrowths of it, establishments of power and authority—in similarity to the machinery of politics—quickly get seen as corrupt and callous by the street classes. These are the very type of people who are most likely to be evening passersby, not enough money to hop into one of the night clubs (and more attention to spend.) This meme is not part of the spectacle of street preaching, it is only ever pulled out when attempting to one-on-one proselytize.

    I suspect that this meme works best for members of Protestant sects; it allows them to mentally segregate themselves from the highly organized structure of Catholicism while maintaining the substance of conservative traditions. Although, I might be missing the cultural atmosphere of modern Protestant communities since it has been a very long time since that schism and it itself has branched hundreds of times.

    I am surprised that dishonesty about their sect of Christianity being a religion or not by definition is considered morally proper.

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