Today of all days, what are we to make of the Guardian’s insistence that the biggest belief group in the UK are ‘Christian but not religious’?
If you’re nodding in agreement with that label, here’s some bad news for you: I’m afraid you are in fact probably quite religious. Based on a figure I just made up of over 80% of this blog’s readers believing in at least one god, that makes a whopping four-fifths of you very religious indeed. Sorry about that. It can’t be helped.
It’s easy, though, to see why many should describe themselves as Christian-but-not-religious. Religion, after all, hasn’t had the best press during the past few millennia. On an international level, Wars have been fought, individuals have been killed, massacres undertaken, bombs planted, and destruction done in the name of religion. On an interpersonal level, too, being religious isn’t the trendiest of occupations. Fairly or not, those who are ‘religious’ have the stereotype of being dour, stern individuals, swift to judge and slow to bless, who seldom smile and who seem to live their lives in anticipation of something worse to come. Christians, on the other hand, are seen as dour, stern individuals, who… well, maybe that’s a poor comparison. But there are many people who, slightly confusingly, seem to see ‘being religious’ as a step up from being Christian, as if attending church services on a semi-regular basis somehow demanded more commitment from an individual than adherence to a bloke who told some of his followers to give up everything they owned and follow Him. It’s an attitude that brings to mind Keith Donnelly’s quip about being a Jehovah’s Bystander – they wanted him to be a witness, but he didn’t want to get that involved.
It’s not just the waverers who would rather not be religious, of course. If you’ve ever uttered, in the course of a heated religious debate, ‘Oh, I’m not religious. I’m a Christian’ (which, I’m guessing, probably makes you an evangelical of some sort), then hang your head in shame. Sorry, people, you are religious. And how. Baffling your audience with utterances like that doesn’t alter the fact that, if you’re trying to argue someone into a religious belief, you might just have to shrug your shoulders and admit to the r-word yourself.
So what do we do? Maybe we shouldn’t hide from religion any more. Maybe, in the same way that the likes of Joel Edwards and Jim Wallis want to reclaim the word ‘evangelical’, we should try the same with ‘religious’. Maybe we should poke our heads above the parapet and occasionally admit not just to our faith, but to our religion, to our regular belief practices and devotions. There are many shining examples of good, of comfort, of reassurance and of truth in this world, and many of those carry a religious label with them. The 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, coming up next year, may just be a time to rescue the r-word from waverers and swindlers.
So here’s my confession this Christmas: I’m Rhys, and I’m religious. And chances are, if you’ve sung a carol and meant it, if you’ve prayed and felt the words lifting higher than the ceiling, if you’ve listened to the story about a revolutionary child being born over two thousand years ago and thought it something more than words, then you, my friend, are religious too.
It’s futile to fight it, so you might as well accept it.