“Religiosity” means the traditions that we tend to put in place of genuine relationship to God. “Religion,” though, should not be as much a pejorative as it seems to be for many people today. At heart it just means collective worship of God on shared ideas of who God is. So it implies doctrines, but that’s not a dirty word. In fact, one of the things we harp on in this site is that atheist materialism is every bit as dogmatic in its doctrines as any religious creed.
Many people today avoid religion because they don’t like having doctrine shoved down their throat, and that’s what religion represents to them. But doctrine is just a collection of principles that we hold to be true. People who hold to atheism also have a collection of principles that they hold to be true, and they can be identified and considered. Many who are atheists, or self-described “agnostics,” don’t identify those principles, or attempt to put them into a coherent whole. It’s enough, for them, that they don’t hold to “religion.”
People like to think of themselves as being free and unrestrained by dogma, and to get there, they may delude themselves into thinking that they go against the grain; that they’re individualists; that they are unrestrained by the shackles that bind lesser men. Of course that’s a bunch of hooey. It’s like the cartoon of a whole crowd of people standing together and chanting “I am an individual” in unison.
They’re just as doctrinaire, but their self-delusion prevents them seeing the doctrine they hold to. It’s why we often point to how the new atheists define themselves by what they don’t believe, instead of by what they do. If they would look at what they do believe, they might find that their beliefs are every bit as doctrinaire; every bit as institutional; every bit as “religious;” as those of organized religion.
The danger of religion is that it can shift our attention away from God and onto ourselves. But that’s true about any human endeavor, and religion is a human endeavor. It’s about God, but it’s not of God. That’s not to say that God has nothing to say about how we worship. But he wants our hearts, not our religiosity.
So to avoid that problem, should we stay away from “organized religion” altogether? There may be a danger, after all, of getting too caught up with the religion rather than with God. But if we avoid it altogether, there is a serious danger of ceasing to think about God altogether. He can literally become “out of sight, out of mind.” And so if we leave church we may go out of the frying pan and into the fire. If we don’t mix with others who have kindred beliefs about the great Beyond that has to exist outside the mundane, our thinking becomes debased into the conclusion that the mundane is all there is. Eventually the world becomes, as philosophers like Max Weber and Charles Taylor have said, “dis-enchanted.” There is a leveling of everything. We are less discriminating in our thinking. The lows go, but so do the highs. If our lives are a painting, the colors all run together to a mushy gray.
Christianity and the Bible
The Old Testament teaches about man’s relationship to God — how it was broken by our moral failing — and then it hints at the means of repairing that brokenness. Jesus was the culmination of that teaching. If one doesn’t buy into any of that, but feels there must be a God, then he should seek God in the best way he can. It’s not enough to just reject the claims made about God by Jews and Christians. We don’t invent God. We may malign Him or ignore Him or shake our fist at Him, but we don’t create Him. He created us.
Even without accepting the Bible as true, one can come to the conclusion that, philosophically, there had to be a creator God. And if he gets that far, then he should really go further and weigh the evidence for whether that creator God is something more than a creator who is then passive; and also to consider one’s relationship (and other people’s relationship) to that God. One way to do that is to consider the different ways of thinking about God that religious traditions present.
Christianity derives not just from certain beliefs about God, but also certain beliefs about man. That is, that man is sinful. We know this because we have a moral sense; that there is a “right” and a “wrong.” If we conclude that God is a (or rather, “the”) moral agent, as opposed to merely the Creator, it follows that He is pure. People manifestly are not. What Christianity holds is that people are flawed morally because of their estrangement from God. Because God is the Author of every good thing, that estrangement is painful. We go through life feeling the weight of that estrangement, and desiring reconciliation. God also authored the means of reconciliation, and it is the person of Christ.
God is good; people are bad. That’s Christianity 101. Unfortunately, if we apply modern sensibilities to the Bible and find it off-putting (you dislike the God that you believe is depicted there) then it’s hard to get footing on this starting premise, and this whole line of inquiry gets closed off before it’s begun.
One coming out of the secular cold into the light of written revelation might just conclude that the God in the Bible is a meany, and so Christianity must be false. But that might also just be an inoculation against the truth, resulting from misunderstanding of the text, and failing to appreciate a perspective other than the humanist one that is so pervasive in our culture.