In plain straightforward terminology I want to explore why religion should move away from language that describes and purports some kind of “relationship” with unseen divine beings. For many folks who think it is appropriate to use these terms, I believe they are demonstrating some fundamental flaws about human perception and the actual knowledge that they possess.

In every other context that the word relationship is used, it is understood within physical reality toward other human beings, animals, and living things. In other words, in these contexts relationships are very much objective and not disputed by anyone.

Within the realm of religion however, this is a constant in house debate! When I say in house, I mean across the divide of religious belief. Evangelical Christianity is for the most part atheistic toward all other competing religious beliefs. At most, this form of Christianity will often cite demonic spirits as being the source of competing religious experiences.

It is this kind of assertion about reality that fails to acknowledge that religious knowledge claims are in fact rather weak in being able to create a large consensus of agreement. This utter weakness stems from a loss of objectivity pertaining to what all humans are said to experience.Within physical reality the sciences have developed various methods that confirm what is going on behind the veil of what we can see. This cannot be said of any religion.

What religion attempts to do instead is look back to isolated instances in which prophets and teachers were said to have encountered divine beings. What this becomes is a competition for authority. Which religion appears to have established a certain view of God within a collection of separate isolated incidents throughout history?

I am here to contend that an all-knowing, all-powerful God that expects present humanity to trust in one set of past isolated claims from numerous other competing strains of religion is a joke! I mean this in the nicest way possible, but I must maintain that the sheer variety of claims that have been put forth in our present day is far better explained by our previous and continued evolutionary growth as a species.

Human beings undoubtedly have a spiritual component. A longing for a deep connection with people and the universe. We are pattern seeking mammals that have to deal with the consequences of an enlarged frontal cortex. My challenge to my believing friends is this. You have to at the very least acknowledge that your religion is on the very same soil of knowledge claims as all the rest.

Judaism is just as plausible as Christianity is to Hinduism and Islam. Each of these religions is based in tradition and on the teachings of past authoritative prophets and teachers. Religion is a matter of preference. If you can do this, then maybe you can begin to see that the other component that largely shapes every religion is geography and culture.

23 thoughts on “Religion ≠ Relationship (Part 1)

  1. There’s another reason to examine the whole religion as relationship with a deity aspect of Christian faith. Healthy relationships at least imply that the entire affair is based on mutual assent and understanding. What does it say when the deity in the relationship threatens either eternal damnation or withholding some sort of divine prize in return for the relationship?

    If two humans were in a relationship like that, it might be termed abusive. Why should a deity get an exemption?

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    1. This is true, which brings me back to how much of a guilt complex is actually fostered within Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. To be fair to my religious friends this is not me saying that human beings should not assess the consequences of their actions and experience proper guilt concerning poor choices. What I’m driving at here is that guilt can become irrational when it ever looms as a result of constantly pondering one’s eternal position in the eyes of the almighty. It is a system of justice that breeds guilt and certain fear because even a lustful thought is said to be deserving of eternal punishment. One isolated wrong doing deserves an eternity of unrelenting pain and anguish. Something definitely doesn’t seem right with this picture!

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    2. Hey buddy 🙂 I’m not sure you’re giving the situation a fair shake, actually — does the presence of boundaries and consequences for breaching those boundaries preclude a relationship from being a healthy one? I tend to think that such should be hallmarks of every healthy relationship, in fact.

      As an illustration, you have a relationship with your local police agency — because you reside in their jurisdiction, they will protect your rights as defined by the law, but on the other hand will enforce punishment upon you if you violate those same laws. Is that relationship an abusive one?

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      1. Hey Seth!

        Actually, that’s not quite what I’m talking about here. The relationship with the police agency began when I consented to be protected by the laws of wherever I lived. In that regard, I am aware that there are laws to be enforced. I may regret it later when I get a traffic infraction, but I’m still being protected by their laws.

        The purported relationship of some religions (and Christianity is one of them) is different in that some adherents will assert that it exists whether I like it or not, claiming that consent is not necessary to have those boundaries enforced.

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      2. Thanks for clarifying 🙂 You seem to be saying that a healthy relationship, then, requires an element of choice, or consent. If you don’t like how the police run things, you can move to another place. That is, so long as you’re an adult, right? If you’re a kid, then you’ll just have to wait until you’re 18 to make such a decision. So, there is a fixed period of time where this relationship is, in fact, imposed without consent, followed by a period where we can choose our own way.

        Well, the way I see it, that’s pretty much exactly the situation with the Almighty: The earth belongs to Him, and we are His creation whether we like it or not — this pretty much imposes upon us some sort of relationship, whether we like it or not. It’s just the reality of the situation. However, like a good parent, God doesn’t force our hand in anything — He’s there if we want Him, and He offers a level of protection over us all regardless of this desire or lack thereof. And, once our period on earth is over, He allows us to go wherever we have chosen in our hearts to go — whether it be a place where God reigns, or in a place where He doesn’t, so to speak.

        If lack of consent alone is what makes a relationship abusive, then I think every child would have to be said to be in an abusive relationship with its parents. I’m curious to hear what you think.

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      3. Hey Seth!

        I think the analogy you drew is not quite what I’m getting at here. What I’m referring to is the idea of advocating a relationship that doesn’t exist yet (at least with regards to people who aren’t Christians). For example, one would say that anyone who is not a Christian does not feel like he or she has any relationship with any divine beings of that faith.

        That’s what makes this different than a relationship of necessity – like children and parents, siblings, or other family members. That’s also why arguing a relationship of necessity isn’t appropriate when discussing an idea as it is presented to people who are being asked to consent to it.

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      4. That raises an interesting question then: Is a relationship an objective quality, or is it predicated upon perception? I tend to think of relationships more in the former sense myself. For instance, I have two half-brothers of whose existence I didn’t know of until somewhat recently. I didn’t become related to them when I found out they existed — I was always related to them, objectively, regardless of whether or not I knew of or acknowledged their existence.

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      5. Arguably the relationship between you and your half-siblings existed. I say it’s a relationship of necessity because in the definition of the word “half-brother,” one must share a parent in common. There are plenty of necessary relationships out there: hydrogen to oxygen in water, sunlight and chlorophyll in photosynthesis, etc. It’s like saying the red barn is red.

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      6. So, when a Christian, say, appeals to someone and invites them to “have a relationship with Christ,” it’s not really in a strict sense of “Form a relationship” but rather, “Change the status of your existing relationship with Christ from unreconciled to reconciled.”

        Are we on the same page, or am I still in another time zone? Sorry if I’m not catching your drift 😛

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      7. I think the English language is doing us no favors here, mate — there seem to be two distinct definitions of “relationship” floating around in this discussion: formal (or objective) relationship, and (for lack of a better term) “relational” relationship, where it is assumed that both parties acknowledge and consensually participate in said relationship. Let’s call this latter kind a “friendship” for the sake of clarity.

        The way I see it, everyone has a formal relationship with God, because He created them. In that respect, everyone has a relationship with God, whether they acknowledge His existence or not. Beyond that, God makes Himself available for a reconciled friendship for those who desire it, but does not force anyone to “upgrade” their relationship to this kind,

        Referring back to your original point about abusive relationships, I don’t think one need be in a friendship-relationship before rules and bounds are established and enforced — any parental relationship, with no consent of the child, has such elements, and is not necessarily abusive. I think the nature of God’s formal relationship with His creation, consensual friendships notwithstanding, is grounds enough for relational boundaries and consequences to exist without warranting the immediate label of abuse.

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      8. Well, I’ve been quite insistent on treating relationships of necessity (like parent-child, or the formal one that you’re asserting happens with God) as different from the relationships that I was referring to in the first post.

        It’s fine that you believe that there’s already one that exists, but that idea has nothing to do with what I was discussing in my original comment.

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      9. It’s okay, Seth. Really I’m insisting on the different terms because the other sort of relationship that you’re discussing is a separate can of worms from a secular point of view.

        I mean, I know how they can closely be related, but there are enough different things about them to really take the conversation off-topic.

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  2. Howdy, Hero! You seem to be saying that, in order for a relationship to be a relationship, it has to conform to the standards of quasi-universal acknowledgment and acceptance. I’m not so sure it does, and I’m interested in why you would impose such a restriction upon relationships. It just doesn’t seem to follow, for all that is required to make a relationship are at least two distinct entities — why should the beliefs and perceptions of a third party be necessary to legitimize something that really has nothing to do with him?

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  3. Good to hear from you again, Seth! In answer to your question it is precisely because religion in a collective sense has not and probably will not ever stop quibbling over which set of God claims is legitimate. Christianity is part of a larger pool of competing and often contradictory divine claims. There is a reason that religion experiences no headway in this overarching debate, it is because it lacks any kind of normative standard of confirmation that can be appealed to as actual evidence. Instead Christianity is left grasping at straws. It must keep going back to previous isolated scenarios that were said to establish God’s reality via Abraham, Moses, David, or Jesus. Then if one is fair, they will add in the claims of competing religious prophets and teachers from that era and beyond at least for equal consideration. After all, a vision is a vision. A miracle is a miracle. A voice from heaven is a voice from heaven. It is fair to say that in light of the competition as well as the fact that Christianity does not provide a line of confirmation as to who is on the other side, that there may not be any kind of actual relationship going on.

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    1. Faith gets plugged in at exactly the point that you start praying and talking to the ceiling does it not? I’m also curious as to whether you claim to be on speaking terms with God? Are you from a charismatic perspective?

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      1. I don’t know what it is, your responses in particular to my comments never show up in my notifications — I happened to see your response just by revisiting this post out of curiosity. Odd…

        Anyway, I hear what you’re saying, but it sounds like your issue has more to do with the veracity of the premises behind religious claims (Christian and otherwise) and less to do with the relational aspect. To rephrase, it sounds like you don’t think of religion as a relationship not because religious experiences are not relational in nature, but because you happen to believe that God does not exist, and one cannot have a relationship with something that does not exist. So, I think your issue here is one that is misplaced — for, as soon as you remove the premise that God does not exist and instead allow for the possibility that He does, then religious experience begins to look very relational indeed, I think. I’ve yet to see any solid case (apart from the assumption that God is a construct) that would lend weight to your conclusion, specifically, about relationships.

        To answer your question — yes, I do claim to hear from God, which also gives me reason to challenge your assertion that religious claims are altogether predicated upon historical accounts — if that’s all there was, then I would never, ever have become a Christian. Whether you acknowledge or believe in God’s existence or not, my experience with the Almighty bears all the qualifying marks of any other relationship I’ve ever had — that He happens to be invisible and immaterial is of no consequence in this particular matter.

        Thanks for your response 🙂

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      2. (I’ll look into my notification settings to see if that may help the issue. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.)

        I am specifically trying to narrow in on just how peculiar the religious claim to a relationship appears to be in contrast to how all relationships between living beings are otherwise known, verified, and experienced in this existence.

        To be fair I know that many Christians do not claim that a relationship with God is supposed to mimic human relationships. However, in another sense Christians such as yourself seem to believe that you experience a type of communion with God that you are aware of in some way, shape, or form, correct?

        How can you know for your own self that you are in fact communing with God and not simply engaging in empty dialogue? Is it important to seek objectivity in this area?

        If it is not, then I must contend that you probably shouldn’t be too picky about who or what you are praying to. There is a vast amount of competition that demands the same attention and devotion from you.

        It is the very nature or scenario of how you claim to be in a relationship to God that ought to bring you to wonder why it must be so? Why must you live in a subjective and veiled manner toward a person that is said to be intimately connected with every facet of your existence?

        I know that invisibility and undetectability is embedded within Biblical doctrine but it really ought to be no surprise that this world is as confused as it appears to be. What you are being asked to do by your religion is to ignore all other lines of human discovery and knowledge. Both religious and secular.

        What are the chances for error in this paradigm? Especially when you are comfortable with a religion that shields God from objective methods of confirmation.

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      3. Hey, that last one came up for me! Don’t know if you did anything different, but if you did it worked 🙂

        You bring up a lot of great points, man — so great that I’m finding my response is getting rather long for a comment response. Do you mind if I post a full response on my blog? I’ll link back to you of course, so you can see when it’s done 🙂

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