If you have been following this blog at all, you will know that I'm certainly not a believer in the second part of that argument. Not only do I strongly doubt that there ever was a living Jesus, but any relationship with him seems to be impossible to prove objectively.
However, let us examine the claim that it is not a religion with the help of my trusty Collins English dictionary (Second Edition). It might not be absolutely authoritative but it is widely respected and very thorough.
Religion is defined in several ways:
- Belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny.
- Any formal institutionalised expression of such belief
- The attitude and feeling of one who believes in a transcendent or controlling power or powers.
- Chiefly the RC Church, the way of life determined by the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience entered upon by monks, friars and nuns to enter religion.
- Something of overwhelming importance to a person.
- Archaic: The practice of sacred ritual observances, sacred rites or ceremonies
- Yes, clearly even the 'wrong kind' of Christians have to believe in this.
- Yes, if you ever attend a church service, although possibly not if that service is an informal type of 'house church' or similar.
- Yes, if you believe in the power of prayer.
- Yes, even if you are not this particular 'wrong kind' of Christian, you must accept that some do believe in this.
- Yes, undoubtedly. What could be more important than your faith if you are a 'real' Christian (even if the wrong kind)?
- Yes, even if you are not archaic.
The same dictionary defines Christianity as "the Christian religion".
It might be a relationship too of course, but that does not prevent it being a religion.
My conclusion is that, by all these definitions, Christianity is a religion. You can only hope to deny it by some sort of cunning word play and use of rhetoric. Of course Christians are accustomed to doing that. It is the only way that they can make their somewhat shaky beliefs hang together with any kind of intellectual honesty, in the absence of any objective evidence for the existence of God or his intervention in the world
It is also worth noting that other religions adopt a similar argument when they want to make themselves stand out from the crowd and seem as though they are more important than all the rest.
I think that they are wrong too.
Your comments are invited.