Is Christianity a Religion?

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In The Myth Of Religious Violence, William T. Cavanaugh analyses the use of the term “religion” and uncovers some very interesting things. Some of these things I may expand upon at a later date, but one part of the discussion I will quote below (p. 63). Here he quotes and paraphrases Augustine of Hippo:

‘For Augustine, religio means worship, the action by which we render praise. There is true worship and false worship. False worship is directed toward many gods, or toward mere created things. True worship is directed toward the one God as revealed in Jesus Christ, and so true worship is found predominantly in the Church catholic. There are, however, vestiges of truth everywhere and traces of the Creator in the creation. The impulse to worship is found in all human beings as the inchoate longing for the Creator, whom Augustine understood to be the Holy Trinity. False worship arises when we pay homage to creation and neglect the creator. Augustine concludes his treatise with a long exhortation against false religiones: “Let not our religion be the worship of human works. . . . Let not out religion be the worship of beasts. . . . Let not our religion be the worship of lands and waters.” For Augustine, then, religio is not contrasted with some sort of secular realm of activity. Any human pursuit can have its own (false) type of religio, its own type of idolatry: the worship of human works, lands, etc. These, not something like “paganism” or “Judaism” are contrasted with true worship: “Let our religion bind us to the one omnipotent God, because no creature comes between our minds and him whom we know to be the Father and the Truth i.e., the inward light whereby we know him.” ‘

Is Augustine right? Is “religion” not to be contrasted with, say, economics or politics? Is religion a whole of life and mind endeavour? Was Augustine correct in saying that true religion cannot be just one compartment of a life? Is Christianity a religion? Discuss.

5 thoughts on “Is Christianity a Religion?”

  1. The word “Religion” carries baggage. The cool thing to say is that “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” I can’t really argue against the relationship part, but inherent in relationship is religion. My wife and I, in our 17 years, have religious things we do that are the foundation of our relationship–inside jokes repeated, eating lunch and supper at set times together, and on and on. One could also, albeit with a hard time not being sarcastic, say that my wife worships me and I her in our religious acts that comprise our relationship.

    Christianity is a religion. I don’t think we need to fear that.

    1. Jeff, thanks for your comment. I agree that it’s a cool sentiment to suggest that Christianity is not a religion. The point of my post was, in fact, to question that very sentiment by (indirectly) citing one of the Church’s greatest thinkers, and to highlight that how we define religion is very important. Cavanaugh’s book spends a lot of time showing how the term religion is used in modern liberal-democratic politics to legitimise the nation state, and the actions of nation states. In other words, it sure does carry baggage! I appreciate where you’re coming from, and agree that we shouldn’t fear labeling it as such – as long as we make it clear what we mean by religion.

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