Beyond ‘religion’

By Steve Woodward

After the Palm Sunday service, I thanked one of our pastors for praying for the President. I added, unable to resist, that I wished we knew for whom we are praying.

A fellow church member, scowling, said, “Don’t you know about religion and politics?” To which I should have replied, “Don’t you know I was not speaking to you?”

Instead, I said, “They are intertwined.” That, actually, was the better response.

I pondered what I said over brunch, and decided that I likely never had been more fast on my feet. Even in dress shoes.

In 2021, Christianity in the United States never has been more under assault, and the attacks come from multiple fronts. Religious entities have locked the doors to churches for months on end. Avowed Christians have sheltered in place and derided citizens who push back against Wuhan virus hysteria as businesses die and Americans sink into to depression and paralysis. Churchgoers wear masks into houses of worship even as they profess that God is their rock.

They lower their masks to read from John 12: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

It is worth noting here that in 2020, as the virus pandemic swept across the globe, the Presbyterian Church USA, aka, “the Presbytery”, issued as 20-page document entitled, “Returning to Public Worship: Theological and Practical Considerations”. Across the thousands of words in this document, 7,312 to be precise, God is mentioned only 38 times. Scripture rarely is cited. There is not a single passage in this document that urges Christians to prioritize faith above government tyranny.

I soon became an ex-Presbyterian church member after discovering, in July 2020, that a church in my community was not bowing to virus hysteria and proving it by unlocking the doors for worship on Sundays. Without hesitation I can say that the silver lining during these dark days has been my realization that “religion” is not Christianity. Thank you, Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church, Southern Pines.

C.S. Lewis, the famous author who transitioned from atheist to devout Christian, and wrote about it so as to confound his fellow academics, articulated the difference.

“If ‘religion’ means simply what man says about God, and not what God does about man, then Pantheism almost is religion. And ‘religion’ in that sense has, in the long run, only one really formidable opponent — namely Christianity. (If a Minister of Education professes to value religion and at the same time take steps to suppress Christianity, it does not necessarily follow that he is a hypocrite or even a fool. He may sincerely desire more ‘religion’ and rightly see that the suppression of Christianity is a necessary preliminary to his design).”

The interaction with my fellow worshipper — no intersection of politics and religion, she cried — impressed on me that there is a divide, perhaps previously ignored, between American values and religion.

Many self described Christians, we have discovered, have little use for American principles of liberty when facing a media fueled pandemic hysteria. Despite showing high regard for the “science” behind masks, they show total disregard for the rule of law by turning a blind eye to Black Lives Matter’s violent rioting, or to the failure to protect the southern U.S. border. Other Christians defend abortion, or vote for politicians who openly work to sustain generational dependence on government entitlements.

The Christian spirit aligns readily with rapidly fading — and under assault — ideals rooted in knowing that we derive unalienable rights from our Creator. In the face of a fast deteriorating culture, I would argue that there is no distinction to be made between Christianity paired with ideological conservatism, and “religion” being cozy with the radical Left. Look no further than the Democrats’ so-called Equality Act awaiting a vote in the U.S. Senate after House passage. It is an all out declaration of war on our nation’s Judeo-Christian traditions.

“The Equality Act would become the first major piece of legislation in the history of the United States to exclude protections for religious freedom,” writes David Dockery for Christianity Today.

President Joe Biden was declared by The New York Times as “the most religiously observant commander in chief in a half-century”, to which conservative culture columnist Joe Concha, writing for The Hill, replied, “What exactly is liberal Christianity? That’s a contradiction within itself.” Concha goes on to call out the obvious contradiction between Biden’s faith and his support of taxpayer funded abortion. In fact, Concha notes that Democrat President Jimmy Carter, a self-described born again Baptist, was the last pro-life Democrat president. Carter was an inept president, but he did not sell out his faith to party loyalty. What a concept.

I do not wish to see my church become divided over the issues of our day. Indeed, a church service is first and foremost a gathering for solemn worship and a refuge from worldly concerns. But I do believe that Christians have a duty to adhere to what we believe, making no distinction as to the day of the week. If we make our “religious” hypocrites on the Left uncomfortable, so be it. Christianity for sure, and religion generally, is not intended as a comfort zone.

“I call it ‘religion’ advisedly,” writes C.S. Lewis. “We who defend Christianity find ourselves constantly opposed not by the irreligion of our hearers but by their real religion.”

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