The intellectually honest and the humble will agree – comparatively, very few things can be proven to be true. So invariably, this makes most of what we’ve accepted to be true, a collection of things we’ve chosen to believe to be true. And such a collection of beliefs, no matter how informally held, very often take on the ardent conviction and fervor, of what one might associate with religious belief. But this really isn’t that surprising, given that faith is a choice to believe something is true – even when it can’t be proven. In this way all belief systems are a form of religion, each one embraced as the definitive understanding of reality — each one attempting to live out the implications of its claims.
This is where my non-theist friends tend to object, arguing that what they’ve chosen to believe without actually having indisputable proof, isn’t really a belief system held as if it were religious dogma – because they have chosen to believe in science . . . with every expectation it will be a salvific agent of progress, capable of solving every unforeseen problem humanity may encounter in the future. Needless to say, I’ve long given up trying to break the Gordian Knot that is the conspicuous cognitive dissonance of their argument, as I’ve come to believe that ironically, their faith in what they’ve chosen to believe in is simply impervious to an intellectually self-aware examination.
But I get it – no one wants to associate what they’ve chosen to believe with how religion usually goes off the rails. After all, what kind of society would we be if we still lived during a time when religious mythology allowed mothers to throw their children into volcanos? O sure, an alien from another planet wouldn’t be able to distinguish the barbarism of such practices from our abortion clinics that allow mothers to dispose of their unwanted children – but then again, no one would expect a space alien to appreciate the subtle political nuance of how this modern dogma of choice had become so socially sacrosanct. Clearly, some religious folks believe their body to be a temple, while others choose to believe that having the freedom to practice human sacrifice is what makes their temple sacred.
So yes, the distortions of religious fanaticism are ubiquitous — even in the religious belief systems that pretend to be secularly irreligious. Politics have long been an incubator for the type of emotional tribalism that demands an unquestioned loyalty to partisan ideals – insisting that the very existence of the world hangs in an apocalyptic balance. Demanding lockstep conformity and devotion, politics very often mirrors the presumed religious instinct of marginalizing the unbeliever as the unwashed infidel – a tactic useful for intimidating unwanted dissenting opinions. In this way, each belief system relies on its own religious methodology in making its claim on what is true . . . even when feigning to be non-religious.
In all four Gospels we find Jesus engaging the religiously devout of his day – but he does not take issue with the fact that the Pharisees had religious conviction, but rather, with how their misplaced devotion to the Law had become a distortion, making of God a cruel taskmaster who could never be pleased. Ironically, among many practicing Christians today, this distortion of God’s nature is still prevalent. And unfortunately, because of that, many followers of Christ today reject the idea that they are religious, erroneously assuming that being religiously devout is synonymous with being heartlessly legalistic. So it might surprise you to discover that I consider myself a religiously devout follower of Christ. Which is to say – I don’t pretend that my choice to believe in Christ as my Savior is anything but an act of faith that defines everything else about me.
. . . and so you’ll catch me holding on to the Kingdom come.