Separation of Politics and Faith?

We often hear in our society that our spiritual beliefs shouldn't influence our politics. That view can only come from people who have superficial beliefs (beliefs that they intellectually assent to but practically avoid) or none at all. I don’t mean that to be offensive to those who separate their faith from their politics, but let’s be honest. If your beliefs don’t influence the way that you view the world and the way that the world should operate, then your beliefs are not really beliefs; they are just part of some religious ritual that you give intellectual assent to.

Our deeply held spiritual beliefs will influence our politics. They aren’t contained in some fictitious fairy tale section of our minds. Instead, they transform the way we live and view the world. If we really believe the spiritual things we claim to believe, then those beliefs will permeate our entire life. If we compartmentalize the practical applications of our spiritual beliefs to our church life or our life around a certain group of people, then we really don’t believe the beliefs that we claim to believe; we just give them lip service. Authentic belief influences the way we live, everywhere we find ourselves living.  That is what genuine, true belief is. The truth of the matter is that our beliefs always influence our politics. The question is, “What do we really believe?”

Now this doesn’t mean that we should have to spout off about Scripture in the political arena. What it means is that our politics are shaped by our beliefs, and those beliefs should be able to hold their own without referring back to Scripture with those who do not believe in Scripture. Truth doesn’t need Scripture to show that it is true. It is the truth. It is in Scripture because Scripture contains the truth, but the truth is not confined to Scripture.

Let us look at some clear, Christian teachings from Scripture and see how those should influence what our political views are. We need to recognize these problems in our nation and work to resolve them rather than turning a blind eye toward them or, even worse, supporting these sinful actions that are contrary to the teachings of God.

Jesus teaches us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). All too often our society’s fervent nationalism will spur us to dehumanize our enemies and harm them. Jesus went so far as to say that we are to love those who persecute us. So these enemies are doing harm to us, yet we are still supposed to love them. This might be difficult to iron out politically, but we must always remember that we are called to be faithful, not effective.

The Bible is filled with passages on how we are to treat the immigrant (Leviticus 19:33-34). We are taught to treat the immigrant as a native and love them as we love ourselves. Yet all too often the mentality of many politically active Christians is to speak against the illegal immigrant who has a worse life than us, not because of his or her work ethic, but because of the place they were born. This hatred has no room in the Kingdom of God because a brother or sister in Jesus who is from a foreign nation shares their primary citizenship with us in the Kingdom of God. We should be concerned about their well-being, not attacking them or making things difficult for them.

When it comes to abortion, the church is typically against it. Unfortunately, we often stand against it in a "you should do things my way" approach rather than a "we will sacrifice ourselves to help you despite your bad decision" approach.  Many people are hurt by abortions. We need to be willing to take the burden of sacrifice necessary to help the women who wind up being unwanted mothers. We need to make the sacrifice and adopt the unwanted children. We serve a savior who died for us despite us not deserving it; we are called to do the same for the others (Galatians 5:13-15).

One of the biggest dilemmas facing our society is the increasing income gap between the rich and everyone else. Not paying workers a fair wage, profiting off of unrighteousness and injustice, and ignoring the plight of the poor and needy are all actions that disgust God (Jeremiah 22:13-17). We may or may not think the government is the solution to these problems facing our society, but we, as followers of Jesus, cannot be complicit in, participate in, or even be supportive of those who bring these problems about.

Those are just a few of the issues where following Jesus criss-crosses with society.

We must make sure that in the process of being politically alive, we never compromise important beliefs. The ends never justify the means. However, that expression is often used as an excuse to be an obnoxious jerk, one who is unwavering and unwilling to compromise. We must realize that it is better to head in the right direction than to hide in our ivory towers, be self-righteous, and make no progress for the betterment of those who need help. We understand that this world will never be what God intended it to be prior to Jesus’ second coming, but we also recognize that striving for His ideal is what will make life better in the here and now.

We must be vigilant that we never lose our focus on Jesus in the mire of politics. This nation will not be transformed into what God wants it to be through political action. The key problem is a problem of the heart. But that does not mean that a follower of Jesus cannot be involved in shaping laws to promote the common good. We might hear the retort, “You can’t legislate morality.” But that is nonsense. Every law is a moral teaching, even in a secular nation.

When talking about politics, we must never forget that our primary witness for Jesus is our not our political stances; it’s our life together as a church. The government is not the salvation of the world; Jesus is. And He reveals Himself to the world through the local church. We must love one another and be the light of the world that we were intended to be.

It is my hope that the laws of the land I live in reflect the teachings of the spiritual kingdom I exist in. Everyone wants the laws of the land to reflect their own personal beliefs. The question is “What do we really believe?” Do we really believe in Jesus? Or do we believe in some warped rendition of nationalism? Or a gospel of selfishness? Or something else? Are we really agnostic? Our actions show what we really believe. I hope and pray that we, the people who claim to follow Jesus in America, will begin to truly live as if we really believe. What a difference that would truly make. We would really be a city on a hill.

Please Pray For My Trip To Liberia

Through the support of my friends and complete strangers all of the support I needed to meet my financial goal has been met. But what needs to be done in Liberia cannot be done with money alone. Please pray for me.

Preparations are going well. I now have experience with the water systems. I made some mud water and filtered it through to impress my kids. It’s amazing how just a little device can filter water and make it safe to drink. The great thing about these devices is that they really have no expiration date. The systems we provide on this trip will provide safe water for years to come and greatly improve the standard of living for those who we distribute them to.
I have all five of my lessons prepared for the conference. I will be teaching five different one and a half hour sessions two times each. I have some exciting interactive activities that I am excited to do with the Liberian people to help make them memorable.

If you would pray for John, David, Shane, and me each day, I would be extremely grateful. I have attached a schedule of the planned big activities. We have been prepped to be flexible because we don’t know what will really happen. On a previous trip, their car broke down in a little village and that is where they ministered for a full day. I pray that we will be flexible enough to be where God wants us to be so that we can do the work that He wants us to. I hope to not pick up any diseases (a real threat), to be safe (the UN has peacekeepers there and I will have guns pointed at me at times), but, most importantly, I hope to plant seeds for God’s kingdom that will last. The work that we want to accomplish cannot be done effectively without God being involved and changing people’s hearts.

February 25 – Travel from Indianapolis.
February 26 – Arrive in Liberia, settle in, and visit the church.
February 27 – Check on previous work that Hope 2 Liberia has paid to have done to make sure progress is being done. Train an individual on a larger water system in Marshall. Give away water systems in the capital of Monrovia.
February 28 – Give water systems away in Buchanan. Train a local worker on a water system for at the Burgess School.
February 29 – Conference begins. I will be teaching on God and the Church. It’s Eli’s birthday back home.
March 1 – Conference continues. I will be teaching on Repentance and the Lord’s Supper.
March 2 – Conference concludes. I will be teaching on the Mission of the Church. We intend to attend the Rotary meeting in Monrovia.
March 3 – Distribute and train on water systems. Wrap up unfinished business. Take the native missionary family (the Buegars) out for dinner.
March 4 – Preach the Sunday morning sermon at a Liberian church. Start trip back home later in the day.
March 5 – Arrive back home.

Thank you for your support and prayers.

Are Sermons Worthwhile?

There is a lot of anti-sermon sentiment being expressed these days. Recently, a friend posted an Alan Knox quote on Facebook: "If people rarely learn to do through lecture, why do we continue to put so much focus on lecture in the church (the sermon)."

It raises the question, "Is the sermon useless?"

Obviously, I believe in the power of the sermon. It's part of my ministry to deliver one every week. But notice here a theme that will continue throughout this article. My belief in the power of the sermon causes me to deliver them every week. I wouldn't do this if I believed sermons were ineffective. My actions are influenced by my belief. Beliefs are very important.

Sermons are not as effective as standing by your neighbor's side and helping them through a situation. Nobody is arguing that they are. Sermons play a different role. The role of a sermon is to help many people at one time on a mass scale. We don't have to decide between listening to sermons or helping our neighbor on an individual level. That is unless you are one of the highly scheduled people who only has one hour of free time each week. "Should I use the only hour I have available to go sing songs to God with my brothers and sisters in Jesus and listen to a sermon or should I just use that time to help my neighbor?" Most of us don't face that dilemma. The sermon and the individual life of loving one another work best in tandem. A sermon doesn't teach "how to love your neighbor"; it teaches "why you should love your neighbor" and inspires you to do it. The "how-to" will vary from person to person, but the inspiration and encouragement should be universal.

Modern church culture teeters on the precipice of belief. I frequently encounter the idea, "Belief doesn't matter; all that matters is action." It is true that belief without action is meaningless, but that does not correlate that belief is meaningless. Belief influences and inspires our action. Without belief, we wouldn't have the action. Our lack of action only shows our belief in the wrong things.

Harvard Magazine recently published Eric Manz' The Decline of the Lecture. A quote from it was repeated on Scot McKnight's blog, Professors: What about lectures?, which was then reprinted at Alan Knox' post Sermons sound like a great idea, but what are people getting from them?:
When Mazur speaks to audiences on pedagogy, he asks his listeners to think about something they are really good at—perhaps some skill they are proud of, especially one that advanced their career. “Now, think of how you became good at it,” he says next. Audience members, supplied with wireless clickers, can choose from several alternatives: trial and error, apprenticeship, lectures, family and friends, practicing. Data from thousands of subjects make “two things stand out,” Mazur says. “The first is that there is a huge spike at practicing—around 60 percent of the people select ‘practicing.’” The other thing is that for many audiences, which often number in the hundreds, “there is absolutely zero percent for lectures. Nobody cites lectures.”
Mazur's question is rigged. Having a person name something they are really good at would lead one to answer with an action. You don't learn actions in a lecture. A lecture would not be the best place to teach someone how to file records in an office, program a computer, or fix a car. But if the question was to name a belief, where you learned it, and how it influences your life, then you would encounter the power of the lecture. And that belief might cause one to file records as quickly as possible because they value honest pay for honest work. Another belief might cause a programmer to try some experimental code because she values creativity. And belief can cause a car mechanic to be excellent in what he does because he values the importance of doing things right. Beliefs operate on a different level than practical applications. If being a follower of Christ was only practical applications, then we should get rid of the sermon. But it's so much more.

The sermon does not really operate in the realm of practice but in the realm of belief and inspiration. It is the firm conviction of most who deliver sermons that beliefs are important, that they influence peoples practice. Sermons help build the belief structure that is the foundation for application. We see many people who are struggling in life because they have wrong beliefs that cause their wrong actions. Now, we could force them to do the right actions through some experimental learning exercise, but their lives will not be fixed until they actually transform the belief that is causing them to do the bad action.

The church isn't teaching the science of Christianity but the art of living like Jesus. Good art exudes from the core of a person, from their beliefs and feelings. Boring art is procedural and replicable. Great art inspires people to view the world differently. Boring art just placates for a moment. A sermon deals in the realm of beliefs, feelings, and worldview. I measure a good sermon on whether the people that heard it are going to change because of hearing it. True, the end goal is a change in action, but that change will come about through a change in beliefs, feelings, and worldview along with the motivation to overcome what they need to conquer.

Auditory learners (around 30% of people) actually learn best from lectures. So at worst, a sermon is a good learning tool for 30% of all people. Combine the lecture with a good, complimentary Powerpoint presentation and you get the visual learners (around 65% of people ). So a good sermon with a good visual Powerpoint will reach 95% of the people involved. You will still have problems with the Tactile learners (around 5% of people), but thankfully a church is not only the Sunday Morning gathering. Stats come from the Center on Education and Training for Employment at The Ohio State University.

Steve Holmes replied to Scot McKnight's blog, Professors: What about lectures? :
I reviewed almost all the academic literature on the worth of lectures for a book on preaching I’m writing just now. It is, I think it is fair to say, inconclusive – as many studies found lectures to be better than other forms as found them to be worse. That is, in terms of promoting student learning of material; if you factor in efficiency of academic time, lecturing probably beats any other mode of delivery other than sophisticated online self-directed learning modules).
 At the same time, there is a large body of communications literature that stresses the peerless superiority of the set-piece monologue – when done well – in selling vision (why did Steve Jobs launch his products at keynotes? why do politicians make speeches on the campaign trail? it’s not because they can’t be bothered to do something better…)
Which raises the question – what are we trying to do when we lecture/preach? Tell people something they don’t know? Or inspire them to live out what they do know? In the case of preaching, I know the answer to that one…
You can talk to any preacher, and they will be able to share with you times that a sermon they have shared has been used by God to change lives. It is a humbling and extraordinary act to be involved in. I have delivered sermons where people weep because of the healing they are receiving regarding some past emotional pain. I have also delivered sermons where people's lives are changed because they discard a past, destructive habit. And I have delivered sermons where nothing happens because I wrote a bad sermon. The problem isn't the medium, it's the methods. As preachers, we have to continually hone our craft to bring about God's will in the lives of our listeners.

Most of the resistance I see to sermons are people who don't want to hear any view different than their own. They want their life the way they want it and don't want input from others. It fits very well in the American gospel of individualism. In this day and age, we can get all our news from sources that are filtered through the viewpoint we already have. We can ignore the "friend" on Facebook who continues to state things that don't align with our worldview. We can get radio that plays only music we like. This is all dangerous. We need to stretch ourselves and allow ourselves to listen to other viewpoints because, in the end, we will discover that some of the things we currently believe are wrong.

Disclaimer: I try to listen to around two sermons a week from other preachers because they inspire me and challenge me to view things differently.

For further reading, Adam Kotsko gives a good defense of the lecture at Inside Higher Ed: A Defense of the Lecture. The general idea is that people have to have a good framework of thought prior to being thrown into a discussion.

Into The Wild - Happiness Is Only Real When Shared

Into the Wild is the true story of Christopher McCandless, an Emory Univeristy graduate who became fed up with society, traveled the country without any money, and made a trip to Alaska. If you plan on reading the book or watching the movie, please note that this article has spoilers.

Throughout the movie, I struggled with the idea of whether it is wise to go out and discover the "truth" in the wilderness all alone. The idea of isolation has been glorified as a concept in the American psyche ever since Thoreau and his experience at Walden Pond. Our culture is fascinated with the self-sufficent individual. My reaction to the individuality of our culture has been just the opposite. I long to share my life with people. I have always thought that God was experienced more in community than in a beautiful meadow alone. This movie made me question that. Would it be good for me to go and experience God all alone for forty days like Jesus did? Should I? As I sat on the couch watching this movie, a real wrestling match was taking place in my mind. Maybe in the end the healthy life is a combination of both isolation with God and a shared life with others.

At other times throughout the film, I envied Christopher and the community he experienced while traveling the nation without any money. Part of me wants that life. At times I have been ready to sell everything and hit the road. I want to share my life with others and have a good time just like he did. It seems like money, selfishness, and material goods get in the way of doing that. When I look around, it seems that the poor and their transparent selves seem to have better community than the rich and their acceptable facades. If I have to become poor to experience life more fully, then that is what I want to do. Then I struggled with the idea of my children. I do not want them to grow up poor. Deep in my core, there is apparently a clinging to the belief that money is essential to happiness or I would be fine with raising my children without much money and material possessions. This movie revealed that about me, and I just do not know what to do.

In the end, Christopher began to die. The movie makes it look like he was poisoned from eating poisonous seeds. Apparently, outdoor experts that know about the plants and the area he was in do not know if that is the real story. He might have just been dying of starvation and thought it was the result of the seeds. Whatever the reason, Christopher was dying alone in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. Before he died, the movie and his writings seem to show that he began to understand what life was all about. It took going into Alaska, living by himself for over 100 days, and dying to figure it out. May we be able to learn the real meaning of life in time to enjoy it.

He inscribed in his book, "Happiness is only real when shared." This is a complete reversal of his previous thought, "You're wrong if you think the joy of life comes from human relationships." It was only when he was faced with death that he made the decision to forgive his parents, throw away his made up name, and take back his real name. There in that "magic bus," Christopher learned to forgive. He heeded the words of the old man that wanted to adopt him: "When you forgive, you love. And when you love, God's light shines on you."

This movie made me long for community, to share my life with people and get to know them. Every day, I need to strive to be what I was destined for. I will try to listen to people who need to share their hurts, wishes, excitements, or any other thing. I will look for ways to help those around me. What a tremendous story. I am blessed to have watched it. I am sad that Christopher died.

When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:31-35 NIV).

Happiness is only real when shared. Let us share life.

The Building is For Sale; Not the Church

Because of circumstances (the public listing, people inquiring, and some controversy at a local diner), I have decided to release this letter for public consumption. There have been a few changes since this was writtn. First, we are not broke as our projections forecasted we would be at this time because of a generous $2000 gift given to Riverside after the writing of this letter. And the outside support did not come through.


The title says it all. We are looking at selling the building; however, the church is not for sale.

What that means is that we believe the church is the people.

Together, we are the church. Whether we worship in the park as we have before or whether we have to find a new, permanent location to meet at, we, people with friendships with one another under the lordship of Jesus, will still be the church. Nothing can change that unless we get too discouraged.

The reason we are looking at selling the building is that we lack sufficient operating revenue. We have been blessed with an outside donor who has been giving us $2000 a month for the last two years. He heard about the changes we were doing and wanted to support us as he would a new church plant, which we basically were. When the leadership of the church decided to hire me and to bring about changes, we faced all of the hardships of being an old, established church while facing all the obstacles of being a new church without the funding that a new church has. In December we saw the donations from our generous donor drop to $1500. That amount will continue to drop by $250 per month every quarter until our generous donor is no longer financially supporting our church. Our current shortfall is around $1500. With the incremental decreasing that we will see in the coming year and a half, our shortfall will eventually reach around $3000 a month.

As you can see, the amount of money that we’re taking in does not cover the expenses that we have. This means that we have to do something drastic. Our church is heading in the right direction. People are growing in the Lord. People are excited about loving their neighbors. And we are growing in numbers. We want to keep going. We believe the work that God has started here is not over yet. We are excited to see what God will do through us.

We have cut expenses to the bare bones. The people in our church are giving generously, yet we still do not have enough to make ends meet. We must grow in people who are emotionally, financially, and spiritually committed to our mission so that we can meet the budget needs that we currently have and will have in the future. At this point in time, we are faced with some difficult options: To close up the church completely, to lay me off and go without a pastor, or to sell the building. We don’t want to close up shop because we believe that God is doing great things among us and through us. This church has previously tried stretches without a paid pastor, and it is our opinion that during those stretches the fruit has been lacking. We see no reason to believe that by laying me off our church will prosper, and that is the most important thing here. Not to mention that I still feel called to minister in Antwerp. Considering all of that, we’ve decided that at the present time the best option out of all the bad options is to put the building up for sale.

Receiving miraculous financial support would be great. Even with more outside support to help us through the coming year, we will be in a similar situation at the end of next year. We are thankful to hear that another organization, who asked us to keep their name anonymous, wants to support us with $1500 a month for a year. This has not officially gone through yet, but it looks promising. What this means is that we don’t have to close up or lay me off in mid February like we feared we would. But it does not get us out of this crisis. It gives us some breathing room to allow God to do what He wants to do.

We must reach a point where we’re financially self-sufficient if we are going to continue to minister to and have an impact on the community of Antwerp. We don’t want to always be on the receiving end of help; we want to reach a point where we can have a local, national, and international impact for the kingdom of God. If we can sell the building, the revenue received from that sale will give us some operating cash to function for around two to three years. As we grow and the financial giving increases, the length of our survivability increases. We hope to reach a point where we will be receiving more money through offerings than we have going out through ministries. At that point we can look at owning a building again, but the key is to be a self-sufficient church before making that decision. A building, although a great and useful tool, is not necessary to be a thriving and community-impacting church. The key to be a thriving church is for all of us to be surrendered to the Lord’s will for our lives.

It is a shame to have to sell the building. A lot of people have donated generously through the years with their time and money to make this building what it is. Unfortunately, those blessings from the past cannot help us at this point in time to get us where we need to go. Financially, selling the building is a terrible long-term solution, but it is the best short-term one available to us. However, God might have better long-term plans for us in selling the building and meeting in a different location. His ways are not our ways. And just because we list the building does not mean that it will sell.

The great thing about being followers of a wonderful God is that we know He can turn what we perceive as bad situations into great, life-changing events. We can be better as a result of this change than we were before it. This might even be what God wants for us. He knows what we need and what our community needs better than we do.

So I want to encourage you to not be discouraged by the circumstances. That’s easier said than done. I spent a few weeks deeply discouraged about our financial situation and the future of this church, but God continues to convict me that what I perceive as a bad situation will actually bring him glory. Paul wrote, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV). That promise was true for the Philippians and it is true for us today. I know that God has been doing great things here in Antwerp as a result of our faithfulness to him. Let us not give up hope. Let us not be discouraged. Let us continue on in our mission to love Jesus, to love each other, to love our neighbors, and to expect God to bring about positive change. The building is for sale, but the church will continue on in the work we have been called to do. Where he will have us worshipping him in a year’s time does not really matter. What matters is whether we are committed to worshipping and serving him together.

Grace and peace,
Regan Clem
Pastor at Riverside Christian Church


If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below.

Like a Child

 “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them” (Mark 10:13-16 ESV).

Jesus loved the children coming to him.

Just prior to this passage, Mark records the story of the Pharisees asking Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Immediately after this story is the story of the rich, young man who wanted to do the right things to get into heaven. I don’t think Mark accidentally placed them in this order.

As we age, we have a tendency to lose our zeal and passion for Jesus. Instead of having that radical faith of a child, we try to justify away remaining selfish in some areas. We try to find excuses to do what we want while keeping a modicum of religion. Just enough religion to get us saved.

But Jesus smacks these two ideas down. We must be like the children. The crazy, fun, loud children.

Francis Chan shares the following in his book Forgotten God:

When I was preaching through this passage (Acts 2:38-39) at my church, my seven-year-old daughter, Mercy, understood. She came to me afterward and said, ‘Dad, I want to repent of my sins and be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ I love the simplicity and greatness of her faith. She didn’t need to debate the finer points of how and when, exactly, the Holy Spirit would come. She just wanted to obey the passage to the best of her ability. I realize Mercy doesn’t have the biblical knowledge many of us do, but I wonder how many of us have the faith she has (69).

The faith of a child.

It’s the faith of the child that causes us to drop all of our doubts, our inhibitions, and our hesitations. It frees us to live fully in the glory of God, being used by Him to do His work and bring about His will here on earth as it will be in heaven. When we feel God’s prompting, it doesn’t need to make sense. We need to let go and follow. The love we will show. The change we will bring. The hope that will come. It will all surprise us. And we will be more blessed for it.

May we learn to love the children like Jesus loved the children. May we avoid becoming frustrated when they are loud and crazy. Instead, may we see a glimpse of how free we are to be in the presence of God.

The popular musician Beck said in an interview, “I think you have to keep a childlike [quality] to play music or make a record.”

It’s not just limited to making music. It’s necessary for living the beautiful music of God. Having a childlike faith is necessary to hear God’s tune, find your part, and to start making wonderful music with others hearing the same tune. God’s tune. Available to the ears of people with a childlike faith.

Is Atheism A Religion?

It is a typical rebuttal from atheists that atheism is not a religion. When the subject is further discussed, it will often devolve into leprachauns, goblins, unicorns and the like. For an example see the answer to this question: Are atheists in the exact same religion as Jews and Christians? describes religion as:
1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially 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. 
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion. 
3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions. 
4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion. 
5. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
Under definition #2 and somewhat in #1 and #5, atheism would qualify as a religion.

At this point, I want to move into my view of what a religion is and how atheism stacks up with those views. Feel free to comment below if you think that I have missed a key element that defines religion in general.

A religion is something where people have shared beliefs. An anti-belief that is held as a belief is still a belief no matter how much one wants to pretend that an anti-belief is not a belief. Shared beliefs among atheists are that there are no gods, science can explain everything eventually, and reason is king. Please correct me if I am wrong and have misrepresented atheism.

A religion has shared prophets. Jesus, for lack of a better term for this discussion, and Paul are shared prophets of the Christian religion. Modern-day prophets could be John Piper, Rob Bell, or Pat Robertson. Each would give you a whole different approach to the Christian faith. Moses is a prophet for the Jews. Mohammad is a prophet for Islam. Joseph Smith is a prophet for Mormonism. In atheism, we have Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins. Like in all religions, atheism can then produce a variety of world views. As both Ayn Rand and Karl Marx claimed to be atheists yet their approaches if adhered to would create two divergent worlds. 

Having shared ethics is not essential to being a religion. If ethics were necessary to be a religion, then that would eliminate Christianity. Once you zoom in and have a closer look at all the diverse expressions of Christianity (Reformed, Baptist, Methodist, etc.), you would see shared ethics, but Christianity is still a religion without the shared ethics that comes only from zooming in on particular subsets of the Christian religion.

Religions typically proselytize. Richard Dawkins spends nearly a half hour in Richard Dawkins On Militant Atheism encouraging atheists to be more evangelistic about their lack of belief. Atheists do this more aggressively than any group except Christianity in my experience. It is understandable for a person who believes their view is the best for humanity to then share that view with the rest humanity. Actually, I would not respect the person who did otherwise.

A bad religion demonizes those that don't agree with them. Unfortunately, many atheists also frequently fall into this category. They label believers in gods or God as idiots and unintelligent, frequently mocking them. You can see this in I Hate Religion, And Jesus Too, a rebuttal to the recent internet phenom poem Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.

Obviously, "religion" has a negative connotation in atheist circles. But if we don't categorize atheism as a "religion", what should we categorize it as? A world view? A belief system? An anti-belief system? It gets difficult because atheism is usually contrasted with Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, or Buddhism. They all compete in the same societal space for the mind of humanity. What is the broad category that includes all of these competing ideas for the mind?

By saying atheism is not a religion, I think atheism runs into the arrogance that I see Christianity run into when they try to claim that Christianity is not a religion. "It's not a religion because it's right" is the arrogant mentality that some Christians have. Others proclaim, "It's a relationship, not a religion." "Religions are [this] and [that], but we are not [this] and [that]."

Back to the leprechauns.  If 60% of the population believed in leprechauns, lived their life according to the teachings of the imaginary leprechauns as explained by their prophets, and the other 40% didn't, I would think we would have two different religions. More than likely, the other 40% might fragment into other groups, and we would have more than just two religions. The goblin followers, the followers of no one but the thoughts of man, and the followers of the moon. What is the overarching category to contain all 100% of human beliefs, even if they are crazy? Is not "religion" a good word for this?

Then again, maybe not. The big question is what broad category contains all of those competing ways of thinking about God or not about god. For most, "religion" is the word used. It's only derogatory to atheists because they don't like religion. But don't feel bad, my atheist friends. You are not alone. Christians who don't want to be called a religion feel the same way.


A few useful links (all from an atheistic perspective) that I found in the follow-up discussions to this post:

Different Types of Atheism by Martin Willett
Belief Vs Disbelief by Austin Cline
Philosophy Vs Religion by Susan Quilty


You might also be interested in a few other posts.
A Response to Claims of Atheistic Persecution
Tax The Churches

Robert the Bruce, Exploding Milk, and Repentance

Braveheart has a scene where Robert the Bruce betrays William Wallace. Instead of coming in and helping William Wallace as they had planned together, Robert the Bruce sided with the enemy and turned on Wallace. After the battle, Robert the Bruce struggled with having made the wrong choice. He passionately told his father, who had convinced him to make the wrong choice, “I will never be on the wrong side again.”

Prior to this, his father tried to alleviate his guilt: “You saved your family. Increased your land. In time you will have all the power in Scotland.” To his father, doing the wrong action didn’t matter because of all of the benefit that it brought. Robert the Bruce replied, “Lands. Titles. Men. Power. Nothing.” In that scene we see true repentance. Robert the Bruce realized that he did wrong for all of the wrong reasons and would never do that again.

Similar to, yet so unlike, Robert the Bruce, we give up what is right for things much less than lands or power. We give up the right path for temporary and momentary pleasures. For a little extra money. For just a little bit of control. For a little outburst to get back at someone.

It’s easy to watch someone repent in a movie; it’s much harder to repent in real life. (Repent is churchy-language for turning back toward God and doing what He wants.) As long as you are not dead, there is still time to head toward God with your life. It is never too late to do what is right.

But it’s not easy. Sin stinks. (Sin is churchy-language for not doing what God wants you to do or doing what he doesn’t want you to do.) It leaves its stain. When we turn toward God and start doing what He wants us to do with our lives, we have the pain and destruction from all of our past failings to contend with. We can stop sinning, but the ramifications of that sin will continue on into the present.

It’s like spilt milk in the van on a hot summer day. Or maybe a few hot summer days.

This summer, we went grocery shopping. Nothing unusual about that. We thought we had unloaded the whole van, but, unknown to us, we left a bag filled with a half gallon jug of milk in the van. This bag went undiscovered for a few days. After discovering it, we decided to give it to the cats. This was when we were moving and the cats lived out in the country while the milk was discovered in the van while we were in town. I was assigned to give the milk to the cats on my next trip out to our home in the country. But I forgot.

The next day, after realizing I forgot and leaving the milk to ferment and expand once again in ninety degree outside of the van weather, I had remembered too late. The milk had fermented and expanded so much that it exploded out of its container. What a big, stinky mess we had on our hands. Rotten milk had spread through the carpet in our van. Horrible. So we quickly removed the half gallon container, but the damage had already been done. Damage that would take a while to clean up. The source of the problem had been removed, but the ramifications of the problem had to be dealt with.

Sin is the same way. If we don’t stop it early, the pain and destruction it will cause will only increase the more we ignore or don’t even recognize it. Sin must be stopped. Immediately. As soon as we notice the problem. That’s what repentance is.

So what is the half gallon container of milk in your life? What are you holding on to that you will regret like Robert the Bruce did? Jesus came to give us freedom from sin, but we have to be willing to give everything up for Him. We have to place His plan for our life above everything else that we value. It’s much easier read than done, but I know that God will give you the strength to be who he wants you to be if you seek Him and His will with all you are.

The Soterian Gospel, Scot McKnight, Ben Witherington, and God

The Soterian Gospel as Selfish by Scot McKnight from February 1, 2012
The point I want to make is that the soterian gospel is too often an individualistic, even at times incredibly selfish and self-serving, reshaping of the Story. The Story of the Bible is about God directing all of history toward Jesus as King and toward the arrival of the New Jerusalem where God will be all in all. We join in on that, but we are not the Center of the Story. The soterian gospel makes us too much the center of the Story.
Any gospel that is not God- and Jesus- and Spirit-centered is not the full gospel and is not driven by the right categories. Any gospel that is soterian shaped is, to one degree or another, shaped by the liberal impulse to make life about good ol’ me!
"For God so loved Himself?" Is God a Narcissist? by Ben Witherington from November 20, 2007
I suppose we should not be surprised that in a culture and age of narcissism, we would recreate God in our own self-centered image, but it is surprising when we find orthodox Christians, and even careful scholars doing this.
McKnight, at least in this article, misses that God loves humanity, Jesus served humanity, and we're called to do likewise.

If we are supposed to be the image of God, and God is all about Himself, then shouldn't we then be all about ourselves? But what if we are supposed to be the image of God, and that image is one of creativity, love, and service to others? (Phil 2:5-11)

 God's kingdom is upside down and it is through service one toward another that people are exalted. (Mark 10:43)

Jesus is our King. He should receive glory. And we should join with Him in His work of loving others. It is about others because we love God through loving them. (Matt 25:40, 1 John 4:20)

 Many go too far in making the gospel only about the individual, but to go and make the gospel only about God also goes too far. When we talk about the emphasis being God's glory, we cannot remove that from how God goes about getting that glory. He gets it by serving us. Lowly, created, sinful humans. What a great God! Worthy of glory!