What is a religion? It is a collection of beliefs about how people should act. Those beliefs may include assertions about the true nature of life or the universe, but when you distill all those other-wordly tenets down to the point where they impact an adherent’s actual behavior, that’s where the religion begins to matter. A religion that doesn’t have any dedicated followers quickly becomes irrelevant.
There is a fundamental religious dividing line developed over many years and much painful experience. It is the line that separates personal choice from group coercion. I should be free to create and follow the religion I choose. If you look closely enough, you will see that most people, even those that belong to the same Church, often have/follow very different religions. I often find the difference in belief so great with many in my own Church that most religious communication drives us further apart, rather than closer together.
When you believe you possess eternal truth, and you care about others, it is natural to engage in missionary efforts. As long as you invite in love and patience, you don’t cross the line of coercion. If you resort to trickery or force, you have crossed the line and your efforts, religious or otherwise, become immoral. The founding fathers understood the danger of religious coercion and the tendency to co-mingle religious and governmental power to secure greater obedience from the masses. Thus the first amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.
Political discussions often evoke visceral reactions because they are essentially religious in nature. Politics is all about forcing others to do (or not do) certain things. What belief is more invasive in my neighbor’s life: my belief that Jesus is the Savior of the world, or that he should be heavily taxed and a portion should be given to me to make us more equal financially? What’s more heavy handed, sending missionaries throughout the world to teach a message of love and care, or forcing Catholic hospitals to kill unborn fetuses? Is it surprising that at the core of President Obama’s successful run for the presidency was the central message of “Hope”? It’s time we recognize all moral codes as religions. Any time I want to control the behavior of somebody else, my desire is fundamentally religious in nature.
Even if I were the most ardent atheist, I should still be loathe to concede that God has no place in a public policy discussion. Our country was founded on the back of a single document; the Declaration of Independence. In it Jefferson cites man’s inalienable rights–rights every single one of us derives directly from God that cannot be taken or assumed by another–as the basis for our separation from Great Britain. When we derive our rights from God, no government can rightfully take them away from us. When a people unwittingly gives up that direct line of sovereignty from the heavens (regardless of their religious proclivity or orientation), they have to accept the rights their government grants them. If an person loves liberty, regardless of their religious conviction or lack thereof, they should fight to preserve the direct claim of rights from God.
Just because a belief system isn’t associated with a particular sect, body of believers, or canonized scripture, doesn’t make it any less religious than one that does. Beware those that would compel others to comply with their worldview and associated belief system.