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Home : Essays : 21st Century Religion

21st Century Religion

Alex Penman

What will be the shape of religion and spirituality in the 21st century?? Throughout history differences in religious beliefs have caused a tremendous amount of social turmoil, including persecution, alienation, violence and even war. People of a religion decide that their God is the only God, so the faith of others becomes invalid. This "way of thinking" often leads to the social turmoil mentioned above. Is there a way that this can be avoided in the future?

Some people believe that we will one day see some form of "world religion", but this is unlikely and may even be unhealthy. This is true because the many individuals who inhabit this earth require different ways to express their spirituality. Any attempt to force them all into the same religious mold would never succeed. Instead, where spiritual beliefs are concerned, a general philosophy of acceptance might be far more productive. Also, it should not be assumed that people need religion. Spirituality and philosophy both exist with complete independence from religion and are often more healthy.

Of all the religions that currently exist, those based on the Bible are among the most prominent. A Bible-based religion is a "belief system" or dogma, which is defined by a theology. It is a study of the Bible which reaches specific conclusions about a host of various issues. Some, focus on "believing" in "the name of the Lord." Others, also focus on the "law of Moses," and/or "baptism," and/or the requirement to perform "works," of some kind. They each typically have their own "set of instructions" on how to get into heaven.

The theologies of many Bible-based religions also often contain the belief that they, in some way, have an exclusive on God. "A person must believe in Christ to be saved! We are the ones who believe in Christ, therefore we have an exclusive on grace and forgiveness." The issue that needs to be examined here, is whether or not this belief is supported by the Bible, or is it only supported by these specific interpretations of the Bible. In order to properly answer this question we must first examine the difference between faith and religion.

First, let's ask the question, "are people religious simply because they believe in God?" Hopefully the answer to this question is, "NO!" In fact, if we were to look up the word "religious" in a dictionary, we might only find it if we first looked up the word "religion." This is true because to be religious, by definition, a person must first adopt a religion. However, if a person has not adopted a religion, by definition, they "cannot" be religious.

Yet, many people believe in some form of God without actually adopting any form of religion, so what does this mean?? People can be spiritual and believe in some form of God, without adopting a religion. People can also be philosophical and believe in some form of God, without adopting a religion. All of which leads us to the topic of "faith."

Faith can be used as another word for religion and this is a legitimate definition. However, faith can also be defined as "belief in" anything. If we "believe in" ourselves, we also have faith in ourselves. If we "believe in" a friendship, we then also have faith in that friendship. Whatever we "believe in," we also have "faith in," so we can "believe in" some form of God and have "faith in" that God, without religion ever being an issue.

In the "chicken verses the egg" analysis, as to which one came first, we can easily conclude the faith came before religion. This is true because people must first have faith, otherwise they would never have created religion. So, when a person adopts a religion, they then put as much "faith" in the religion as they put in the Bible or in God. So, in the end, they "believe in" the religion as much anything else.

Bible-based religions have caused significant social turmoil mainly because of their theological claim of having an exclusive on God, and/or that only their faith is valid. Because of this belief, religious people have attempted to invalidate the faith of others, over and over again. However, if a legitimate analysis of the Bible can make a case for "faith without religion," we may be able to educate people to a point where this can end.

The question then is, "does such an analysis or theology exist?" If so, does is validate faith in such a way that religion is not even an issue? Also, have the theologies of virtually all Bible-based religions made a common mistake? One which has caused them to wrongly reach religious conclusions where the Bible is concerned. The answer to all of these questions is, "YES!"

In fact, the Bible and religion have always been associated to the point where many people would likely suggest that we can't have one without the other. And, many people might also suggest that any analysis of the Bible must reach a religious conclusion, of one kind or another. Although these statements may seem fitting they are anything but true. Or, at least, they are only true because people choose to believe them.

The Bible does contain a "law of love" that has been sadly overlooked by the "so called" experts. The significance of this law profoundly effects the meaning of the Bible and, in itself, makes the case for faith without religion. Religious theologies have dismissed this law because without it they can reach and support religious conclusions. It is a mistake, common to them all, which has led to tremendous injustice throughout history.

The "law of Christ" is the "law of love." It is stated several ways in the New Testament, all of which have the exact same meaning. "Love your neighbor as yourself," and "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," are two such examples. When Christ specifically identified "the new law" in the Gospel of John, it was stated as, "love one another."

The Bible makes it quite clear that this law was established as the one standard of salvation for every human being and it is a "law of love," not a law of religion. It also is the standard of judgment used by Christ himself when he describes the judgment of the world in Matthew 25: 31-46. In reference to this law, it is stated in James 2:13 that, "Mercy triumphs over judgment."

A theology based on this "law of love," concludes that all faith is valid, and that "love is all you need", where love is defined as the act of "caring." With an understanding of this theology it can be understood that all philosophies and religions that promote mercy and/or compassion are a part of God's overall plan. This knowledge might just contribute to a more spiritually peaceful society in the 21st Century.

All the very best to you and yours.
Alexander Penman
Author, "Beyond Religion, A Theology for the 21st Century"

Anyone can download a complimentary e-copy of "Beyond Religion" from Mr. Penman's web site.