Any criticism of Christianity as a religion, must be preceded by a preamble that it have two components: the “religious” and the “personal” (personal experience). We must say that the “religious” component for centuries been influenced by political, social and cultural factors. Therefore, in it can be significant differences from the Divine original source.

Studying the historical path of Christianity, many theologians have tried to isolate its “personal” component and critically consider the “religious” one. As a result, the output beyond the religious system of some essential part of Christianity in theology is widely spread thesis “Christianity is not a religion,” “Christianity  —  the end of religion,” or “Christianity  —  is the trial of religion.”

For example, the Greek Orthodox theologian Christos Giannaras in the book “Against Religion”[1] said that Christianity — is not a religion (and occurred in the history the transformation of Christianity into a religion is a distortion of its essence). The same idea was expressed by fr. Alexander Schmemann (it is clearly expressed in the books “For the Life of the World” and in “Diaries”).

German Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer formulated the concept of “religionless Christianity.” He believed that “to be a Christian does not mean to be religious in some sense... and the means to be Human” (to realize the human vocation).

An influential Protestant theologian Karl Barth has also denied that Christianity is a religion. In his thesis “Christ  —  the end of religion” by religion is meant any attempt to reach God “from below”. Ontological chasm between God and a man can overcome only God, and precisely in this sense the event of Christ (as action of God). Through the Incarnation God overcomes this abyss (in Christ God does for the people something that they are fundamentally incapable), because all human efforts are not enough. Similar ideas were close and to Thomas Merton[2] — an influential American Catholic theologian, poet and Trappist monk. He was very impressed by the “Ethics” of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and by books of Fr. Alexander Schmemann.

During the XX century, many theologians discussed that “Christianity —  is not a religion,” “Christianity —  the end of religion,”  “Christianity —  is the trial of religion” and other theses with the same meaning. There is nothing new in this fact. The same ideas can had the prophets of the Old Testament. The Old Testament righteous (Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and others) did not belong to any religion. Moses spoke as a messenger of God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exod. 3:15), and not as a representative of any religion. The first affair of Moses was a struggle with the Egyptian religion, the isolation of the Jews from any influence of religious cults of other nations. For the same purpose served and all the laws of Moses and his precepts about the liturgical rites, and so on and etc. Externally, it was very similar to the cults of other nations, but the purpose was different. The fire can be stopped with help of an oncoming fire. The best (and sometimes the only) means of combating with forest fires,  —  is ignition on the opposite side[3]. Moses established religious rules in order to the Jews as soon as possible moved away from the Egyptian paganism. Over 400 years of life in Egypt they are firmly assimilate the local religious paradigms. If Moses had acted in any other way, for example, would be talk about non- religious relationships with God following the example of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then no one would understood him. But when was established the New Testament, the apostles abolished the entire complex religious ritualism of the Mosaic law as unnecessary (Acts 15:19-20), that is “have extinguished artificial edge of fire”. However, people in the Old Testament and in the New Testament history often inclined to magic and pagan rites.

The fight against religion in the Old Testament sometimes was very harsh (  “inhumane” , as we say today) form, but this was due to the exigencies of the situation. During the plague or cholera do not always act humanely, and at that time, it seems, the situation was even worse. In fact, even with stringent measures, 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel nevertheless separated and became half-pagans, and the rest of the house of David, two tribes (of Judah and Benjamin) are often inclined in idolatry (Acts. 7: 43, 51-53).

Common conceptions of religion often does not fit into the biblical narrative. On the one hand, the Bible shows that God opposes religion. Deities of any religion will not reject prayers, feasts, sacrifices, burn incense and other religious rituals in their honor. And through the prophet Isaiah proclaimed to the inhabitants of Jerusalem completely different: “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:11–17).

No deity of any religion will not plan destruction of its only temple (even by hands of gentiles). Temple of Jerusalem was the center and heart of the entire religious life of the Jews. Despite this, God twice gave to Gentiles to destroy it. God is not worried so much about the destruction of the temple, as about the hypocrisy of his servants. We can not find it in paganism.

On the other hand, the Bible shows that the religion opposes to God: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37. Luk. 13:34). All the hatred and all the anger, which only can people, focused in solving the Jewish religious leaders to crucify God incarnate. This is evidenced by parable of the wicked husbandmen (Mrk. 12:1–12. Luk. 20:9–19) and many more such places in the Bible.

It may be added that in any religion, deity does not say to people: “You are My friends” (John 15:14). But in the Bible it is the main idea, and the main priorities in it are “purity of heart” (Ps. 50:12) and a sincere love of God and neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40), and not at all religious rituals. Cain and Abel were brothers and did the same (in the religious sense) sacrifice. However, the relation of God to one and another was the opposite. “The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father… But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John. 4:21, 23–24),  —  this is no longer a religious worship, but something more. The basic question which God asks man (all mankind): “Do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17). And where love, there is liberty (and from religion).

It is also important to note another aspect of non-religious Christianity, correctly noted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Christian task  —  to be a real man, that is to realize God's plan for man to find and realize his true “I”. It often becomes possible only if a man do not look at opinions of others, to cultural, social and even religious stereotypes. The Bible calls a man to be himself, rather than playing a false role[4] (though honorable), imposed by social or religious paradigms.

For example, King David at entering the ark of the Lord in Jerusalem danced before the Lord with all his might, as a boy, as a commoner. His wife, Michal, noticed that it was “a violation of protocol,” humiliation royal status. But David said to her: “It was before the Lord, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel: therefore will I play before the Lord. And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour” (2 Sam. 6:21–22). Also, Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich, climbed up into a sycamore tree, as a boy, to see Jesus (Luk. 19:2–4). Head of the tax administration is a fairly high rank, and even in that epoch such behavior would cause derision by people. But Zacchaeus, as King David, did not think about this, because all his attention been drawn to the Lord.

Some people, being entirely turned to God, do not look back even on religious stereotypes. Religious people do not understand this and therefore expelled them from their society. St. Augustine of Hippo wrote about this: “Divine Providence often lets to expel from the Christian community even good people, because of some extremely violent disturbances of carnal people... Them secretly prepares a crown the Father, Who sees in secret. Such people are rare, however, and no shortage of examples; them even more than you might think”[5].

And of course, a baby in the womb can have no religion. The greatest of all the prophets, John the Baptist, in the womb of Elisabeth joyfully leaped and salutated the Virgin Mary, who was pregnant at the time (Luk. 1:41, 44). Naturally, about any religion at that moment he did not think. In the Christian tradition describes many cases where infants express their feelings to God. Therefore, we can speak about completely religionless and even preverbal communication with God. For example, the evangelical call to “be converted, and become as little children” (Matt. 18:3; 19:14) just about this. Formulas of theologians “Christianity  — the end of religion” and “Christianity  —  is the trial of religion” for children will be completely incomprehensible. If we determine Christianity as love for God, it will be clear to everyone.

The above implies that in the modern universal meaning the term “religion” is very unsuccessful because of its abstractness. Therefore, in some cases it is incorrect to attribute Christianity to religion.

 

  1. Historical parallels between formation of state and religion

Attempts of theologians to separate Christianity from religion are often accompanied by terminological blurred. This is due to the fact that the modern term “religion” has a very wide range of meanings[6]. For a better understanding of the phenomenon of religion it is possible to give some metaphorical parallels of religion with art, science or state institutions. We consider here briefly the last parallel.

First of all, it is necessary to allocate and always clearly distinguish between two components in the phenomenon of religion. First — it is non-formal personal experience of communion with God (which had Abraham, Moses, David, the apostles and other saints). It is located in the area of qualia and is comparable to the creative inspiration of painters, musicians, poets and scientists.

The second is a “socialization” of experience of personal communion with God and its subsequent formalization by means of formation of sacraments, rites, doctrines, etc. It is with this component often identified religion. In this sense, the religious system and structure in Christianity exist, but it is possible regarded critically to it (and opportunities for criticism in Christianity more than in any other religion). Religious structure in Christianity began to form due to the appearance of the first collective prayers to Jesus, common meals, hymns, meetings of disciples etc.

The experience of communion with God can be “socialized” into two ways. The first  —  through transformation of this experience by the person actually survived it to those, who are still only seeks for this experience. In this case, are utilized qualia, feelings (of love) and emotions. The second way —  through teaching, that is by purely intellectual process. This is already the scope of the law, not of the Grace[7], and in this case about the experience only reported, but its transmission does not occur.

Both ways are coexisting  parallel   and in the Church of the Old Testament and in the New Testament. They coexist  now as well. But at different epochs and in different social groups their relationship and priorities changed. The second way (the intellectual teaching, formation of religious doctrines and institutions) has many parallels with the processes taking place at state institutions.

Firstly, the governmental and religious authorities are closely interrelated. So it was in Old Testament Israel, in the Byzantine Empire, in England after the Henry VIII, in the Russian Empire, in the state of Vatican City and theocratic states of other religions. Even the atheistic USSR under Stalin was arranged like the Church of the former Russian Empire. Before XVIII-XIX century, European society and its social institutions have been inextricably linked with the Church.

Secondly, the behavior and the character of activity, both public and religious leaders are also very similar and correlated with social paradigms of each particular epoch.

 

[1] Christos Yannaras. Against Religion / translated by Norman Russell. — Brookline, Massachusets: Holy Cross Orthodox Press 2013. —  217 p. —  ISBN-10: 1935317407; ISBN-13: 978-1935317401. Book Original: Χρῆστος Γιανναρᾶς. Ἐνάντια στὴ θρησκεία. —  Αθήνα: Ἴκαρος 2006, 2007. — 332 σ. —  ISBN 978–960–8399–41–9.

[2] Thomas Merton (1915–1968), known in monasticism as Fr. Louis.

[3] True, this technique is far from being safer, more rational method  —  is annealing of artificial fire edge.

[4] “No one knows the depths of his own heart. Many considered themselves to be Christians without being really such; Some also thought that they were atheists, and they were not. Filipescou has denied the existence of God. But the fact that he denied, in reality had no relationship to the eternal being, to the reality of love and justice. It was only his own primitive conception” (Richard Wurmbrand. Christ in the Communist Prisons. [Electronic book], 78-79).

[5] Translation from: Augustini Hipponensis episcopi. De vera religione. PL 34, cap. VI, 11, 128. —  Paris, 1845.

[6] See ch. Such an unsuccessful term “religion”/ Konstantin Volkodav. Evolution: the dark side of the Greatest Show on Earth. Vol. 1. - Serpukhov, 2016. — 416 p. — (Fontes Historiarum). Эволюция: тёмная сторона самого грандиозного шоу на Земле. В 2-х т. Т. 1 / К. Г. Волкодав. — Серпухов: Наследие Православного Востока, 2016. —  416 с. —  (Fontes Historiarum).— ISBN 978–5–9905423–6–5.

[7] See “Word on Law and Grace” by Metropolitan Hilarion of Kiev (1051-1054).

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