What Kinds of Beliefs Count? (Part One)

“Keep your religion out of the market place!” “Humpf, well, that’s just your religious belief.” “Not everyone is religious and believes like you do.” “Keep the secular and the religious separate.”

    As a Christian and a pastor of a church, I tend to hear these comments often. And I presume that many other Christians do too. But what are the assumptions that stand behind statements like these? There are, I think, at least three. Understanding these assumptions will help the Christian in taking every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Christians now, more than ever, should learn to think as the Bible teaches us to think. It's going to take a few blog posts to unpack these three assumptions:

1.  Religious belief is more akin to feeling than fact

2.  My beliefs are not religious

3.  Religion should be personal and private 

  1. Religious belief is more akin to feeling than fact

    Now, maybe this one stings more for me than most. I’ve spent years studying various commentaries and theology books. My vocation as a pastor sets the Christian religion as the basis of what I do every day. If religion contains no real knowledge, then what in the world was I thinking? Were those theology books really just journals of feelings in disguise?

    This assumption that religious belief is based on feelings rather than facts appears to be pervasive in our day. This has not always been the case. There has been a shift in the past couple hundred years. The reason for the shift is not due to the invention of the i-phone or some other technological advancement. It is all about belief. 

    In his belief system, a man named Kant divided the realm of religion from the realm of experience, and never the two shall meet. He believed that the realm of religion was inaccessible by way of reason. Faith, divorced from reason, was the only way to reach it. So, within the last hundred and fifty years, faith has become synonymous with deeply held feelings. Kant's thinking has lived on, in part, through everyday people functioning as if “the secular realm” is the only domain of reason. This realm is free of religious dogma. It is neutral and based only on concrete experiences in the "real world." In reality, though, the secular realm doesn’t exist. It is a fairytale. Every human being has a worldview. And every worldview is “religious." How so? Let me briefly explain.

    What makes a worldview religious? Must it hold to a belief in a personal god(s)? Well, there are forms of Buddhism that don’t embrace the existence of a god. Are Buddhists not religious? There are forms of hinduism and deism that don’t profess a god with personal characteristics. What about the religious status of these worldviews? Well, you may say, "religious worldviews believe in spiritual, non physical realities." Yes, many do, but, there are plenty of "non-religious" worldviews that believe in non-physical realities too. For instance, the greek philosopher Plato and his rationalist followers believed in a non-physical reality called the realm of the forms. So then, what actually does distinguish religious worldviews from non-religious ones? And if there is no way to distinguish the two, what binds them together?


    One thinker named Roy Clouser, in a book entitled “The Myth of Religious Neutrality,” claims that every worldview is religious, because every worldview believes in a “divinity” of some kind. He defines "divinity" as that which is unconditionally and non-dependently real. Put simply, it is that crucial element of one's worldview on which the rest depends. Clouser argues that every worldview contains an element like this. 

    Let's consider polytheists as an example (I'd point you to Clouser's book for more examples). One may think that the worldview of polytheists, like followers of the greek gods and goddesses, would contain multiple "divinities." Actually, this is not true for the greeks. The greek gods were not "divinities" according to Clouser's definition. The existence of these gods were not "unconditional," considering that they all had stories detailing their origins. They were certainly not "non-dependent," since they were sustained by eating the sacrifices of their worshippers. To eat is to be dependent after all. The greek gods were more like super-humans than a non-dependent "divinity." For the followers of these greek gods, fate was the only divinity that matches Clouser's definition. Fate was the eternal force that governed and sustained the universe, even the gods. Clouser's claim is that every worldview, not just this one, contains a divinity. 

    If Clouser is right, there's no substantial difference between a "secular" worldview and a worldview derived from a traditional religion. This idea would immediately undercut the assumption that certain worldviews are  inherently "more akin to feeling than fact," simply because they are derived from traditional religions. 

 I'll further illustrate what I mean in the next blog post when we tackle the second assumption: My beliefs are not religious.

Pastor Scott