“I believe in relationship, not religion.” This phrase is thrown around a lot—especially on a Christian campus. While I used to believe quite strongly in this statement, I’ve begun to reconsider. After all, do we have the correct definition of religion?
According to good ol’ Merriam Webster, religion is “a cause, principle or system of beliefs held to by faith.”
Maybe religion isn’t what we thought it is, is it?
Recently in conversation, a fellow student and I discussed religion vs. relationship. He explained that by not buying into religion, we were missing out on so much. Religion is our set of beliefs, a “backbone” if you will for what our faith stands on. He used a great analogy to explain his point.
“Suppose you made a sandwich, but only had limited ingredients,” he said. “Thus, the sandwich only consisted of bread and ketchup. Yes, technically it’s a ‘sandwich,’ since something is in the middle of that bread. There’s no meat, or substance holding it together. You’re truly missing out! And let’s be honest, who really wants to eat a ketchup sandwich?”
So I got to thinking, why do we use that phrase, ‘relationship, not religion’? I think it’s because the idea of a rigid, legalistic set of beliefs and rituals is so unattractive. We’ve all witnessed churches or people groups that are very judgmental and stiff.
But is that religion or just a hypocritical version of Christianity?
I began to conjure up my own analogy for this point. (Yes, I’m one of those dorky illustration folks. Hang with me.) I began to imagine faith without religion in camping terms. Having a relationship without religion is like attempting to put up a tent without the support poles. Yes, you can sit under a limp tarp, but are you really using a tent? Furthermore, are you truly embracing the true experience and beauty of camping?
The tent analogy was actually affirmed yesterday, as I read an article for my World Cinema class. Talking about the idea of exile vs. diaspora, the article spoke about the word “tent” in scripture:
“Today and historically the tent is an enormously charged site for making meanings and relationships. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the patriarchs who became strangers in a strange land, all dwelt in tents. The tabernacle bearing the Ark of the Covenant was clearly a kind of tent, a mobile abode for God’s presence.” (Hamid Naficy, Home, Exile, Homeland: Film, Media, and the Politics of Place)
Maybe we need to reconsider the way we view our Christian walk. Maybe it’s not either religion or relationship—maybe it’s both.
I don’t know about you, but I sure love embracing Creation and life under a tent. A tarp could do, but who wants to just get by?
Abby Segers is a junior communication arts major.