“Less religion, more God”

On my drive home yesterday, I was listening to Minnesota Public Radio (The Current, actually) when an ad came on for a church called Jacob’s Well. It annoyed me, not because they don’t have a right to buy air time, but because it was so stupid. Their advertising pitch was something like “Less religion, more God”, which is a fairly common trope in the blinkered religious community. They like to deny that they’re a religion — they’re about a “personal relationship with god” or some such tripe. Remember Bill O’Reilly claiming that you didn’t need to believe in Jesus to celebrate Easter, or that Christianity was a philosophy, not a religion? Yeah, religion has such a bad reputation that even its most fervent believers don’t want to be tarred with the label.

Anyway, it was a good message to hear, because I was tired and I find that getting pissed off is a good way to keep awake, and I was also thinking about it. And I realized that from my perspective they have it completely backwards, making their church even less attractive to me. I have fewer objections to the religion thing than I do to the god thing.

Part of the objection these people have to “religion” is the doctrinal component, and the ritual component. But I can sympathize with those, even if I have no personal interest in them: some people like having concrete rules to live by, and some people are completely enthralled with ritual and pageantry and display. And that’s OK! People are pattern-seeking animals, some more so than others, and that part of religion where people get together in communities and do repetitive things together, like church or dancing or football, seem like very human behaviors. I don’t think an atheist goal should be discouraging such activities…although secularizing them or making them consciously traditional (rather than pretending they’re rational) would be a good idea.

But also note that irony of the Jacob’s Well site. Look it over: it is plainly such a very narrow view of faith, demanding an uncritical belief in the divinity of Jesus, that it’s silly for them to be arguing that it exemplifies less religion. It’s glaringly religious. Exchanging the church organ for a band with electric guitars is a shift in superficial form, not substance. A clown wearing different makeup is still a clown.

The “god” part is the bad part. This church is claiming to have a deeper understanding of an ineffable, uncommunicative, invisible super-being. That is nonsense. I am far more dismissive of people who say they understand the desires of a supernatural creature than I do those who say they find comfort going to church every Sunday morning.

That’s the part I explicitly and adamantly oppose, where a priest claims to have supernatural knowledge of a divine being, who always turns out to be a mostly conventional version of the cosmic boogeyman of the culture’s religious tradition. They’re lying. They’re making optimistic stuff up about their beliefs, or worse, making up horrible crap (like Hell) to terrify their congregations into obedience.

I suppose, though, that the slogan “Less religion, less god” isn’t quite as effective at drawing in a generous moneyed audience. That’s one of the problems atheism faces.


  1. says

    “people get together in communities and do repetitive things together, like church or dancing or football”

    Football (if it’s real football, rather than ‘Merc’n Football) in not at all repetitive :-)
    And if football doesn’t get a tax break, why should church-going, as merely another form of entertainment, get one?

  2. UnknownEric is GrumpyCat in human form says

    Exchanging the church organ for a band with electric guitars

    I wondered what happened to Stryper!

  3. glodson says

    I understand doing something out of tradition. My daughter and I colored eggs this past weekend. It has something to do with that whole zombie thing. I know this. We did it anyways, and my wife baked a cake with my little girl.

    For the same reason. My wife decided to eat fish on Friday for Lent as well. Just something she’s always done.

    Know what we didn’t do? Go to church. Know what we didn’t talk about? White Jesus.

    Some of the trappings are familiar. Some of it can be comforting. Some of it is just fun to do, like the eggs or having an excuse to have a bigass family dinner. The parts we jettisoned, the god crap, was not missed.

    Hell, getting to sleep in on Easter sunday, and not be bored by 2000 year old torture porn improved Easter.

  4. Sastra says

    I find it frustrating that virtually ALL the religions do this and yet claim that this makes them distinct and different from each other. “Those other people make God into their own image … but I am different. Yes. I let God be God. I accept God on His/Her/Its own terms!” Often followed by the implication that “therefore you atheists ought to admire us.” Because religion is MAN’S way and they are following GOD’S way. Unlike those fake churches and false religions, you see.

    Before you told us that this was a conservative church I assumed it was a liberal one. What “less religion and more God” translates into on their terms is slightly different. What they don’t like about “religion” is that it proselytizes. So they’re saying that they don’t go around trying to convert people: instead, they live according to God (i.e. like humanists) and let God speak to people through their actions. It’s nice on some levels … not so nice on others.

  5. Akira MacKenzie says

    The term “religion” comes with the image of dull, blind worshippers who cowtow before idols and chant mantras they don’t understand. Christians know this is a negative perception so they desperately try portray their faith that is something that came to them through careful contemplation and is something new, edgy, and controversia–dispite the fact they are the majority religion that does its own share of sheepish bleating and braying at the government-approved megachurch of their choice. They’re like conservatives who insist they are the rebels who are bucking convention against an allegedly left-wing establishment.

    As for “community…” Ugh! The idea voluntarily getting together with a large group of people just for the sake of being together makes my skin crawl. Then again, I’m a bipolar recluse who is prone to anxiety attacks and verbal/physical fits, so maybe I’m not the best person to consult on the matter.

  6. says

    The whole idea of any church or organized religion is fundamentally illogical, if you think about it. If somebody wants to have a “personal relationship with God,” then presumably they can go ahead and have one – it’s a personal relationship, right? What do they need these clowns for?

    More generally, the omnipotent, omniscient lord and creator of the universe can do whatever he she or it wants to do, and communicate with people however he she or it wants to, without having to hire a priest to tell everybody else what the deal is. So, the whole thing is transparently a scam no matter what your stance toward theism.

  7. anteprepro says

    I’m actually of the opposite opinion (though I’m sure it is functionally the same): Religion is bad, god is fine. I don’t care if they believe in nonsense. I don’t care if they think they have a deep understanding of reality or magic. It is the religious dogma that they push on others that is the problem. It is the group dynamics, the constant drummings to go to church, dress up nice, smile and pray, and give the pastor some good money that annoys me. It is the sects and schisms, the ethnic divisions, the churches that only differ by a fraction of ideology looking at each with scorn, the discrimination, and the drive to settle these differences with violence that frustrates and terrifies me. Insofar as religions can become a political force, a cultural force, religions are far worse than a simple, unstructured, personal, individual belief in superstitious bullshit. God without religion is just an active imagination. Religion without god is just plain authoritarianism. We have enough authoritarianism from politics alone, we don’t need atheistic traditionalism and tribalism cluttering up the place further, thank you very much.

  8. hexidecima says

    “religion” is a term shat upon by the theists that have come before the ones we have to deal with now. Our current ones don’t want to admit that their beliefs are still just as ignorent and mean as those their ancestors had so now they have to pretend that they aren’t those awful “religious” people who supported all sorts of primitive stupidity.

  9. Sastra says

    One reason people try to distance “God” from religion, churches, creeds, etc is in order to establish that the existence of God is a fact. There’s no real dispute about it (well, yes, atheists … but they’re all a bunch of cranks so they don’t count.) We all know in our hearts that God is real.

    From conservatives, this will translate into an argument that separation of church and state thus says nothing about whether or how often the government can “acknowledge” God and appeal to Him and pray to Him and thank Him. Which God? The real one. From liberals, this will translate into an argument for the Diversity Smorgasbord, where nobody argues or disagrees with how other people ‘choose’ to find God in their own way.

    And from both sides, it translates into “atheists are all a bunch of cranks so they don’t count.”

  10. thumper1990 says

    I’ve always thought of it the other way round. I’m sort of OK with a delusional individual who believes in God… I think they’re daft, and I reserve the right to take the piss when they say something stupid, but that’s it. It’s the Religion I have a problem with. The actual organisation; the priests, the dogma, the institutionalised bigotry, the establishment of the Church itself.

    I have a problem with Belief, because it’s stupid and gullible and without it all the above could not exist. But I have a much bigger problem with Religion, because it’s religion that causes the evil. It’s the religion that teaches the homophobia and the misogyny and the bigotry; those things don’t come with belief. They’re taught to believers, the problem is that if they weren’t believers, they wouldn’t accept it. At least, I like to think they wouldn’t, though a certain cadre of the self-proclaimed Godless are sort of shaking that belief right now.

  11. Sastra says

    anteprepro #9 wrote:

    I don’t care if they believe in nonsense. I don’t care if they think they have a deep understanding of reality or magic. It is the religious dogma that they push on others that is the problem.

    Yes and no. “Pushing” religion is bad, but I think the real problem comes from how they arrive at their beliefs … and the implications which fall out of that for the culture, the world — and for atheists.

    When people believe in “implausible things for epistemically dubious reasons” and promote this enthusiastically as great wisdom, critical insight, and a sign of humility, then they undermine the rational basis for how we come together and solve problems in the world. If they assiduously avoid skeptics when they advocate for irrationality this doesn’t necessarily make it better. I think it makes it worse.

    Sure, on a person-by-person basis I may not care if my Aunt Edna thinks she has a psychic connection to her poodle or my next-door-neighbor thinks God helped them find their dentures. But a society which doesn’t just overlook this sort of thing as signs of lingering superstition but which supports it as high marks of character and identity is in trouble. Where do you draw the line on extremism when the entire point is to acknowledge spiritual truths which can’t be demonstrated or defended in the world? How do you find common ground with people who “just know things” through special ways of knowing which trump mere science? How do they find common ground with us?

    So I do care if “people” believe in nonsense. Almost invariably these same “people” will think there is something fundamentally wrong with anyone who doesn’t believe in nonsense (the right nonsense, of course, discerned through ESP apparently.) Aside from a scientific commitment to the value of human progress and truth-seeking, there is the uncomfortable realization that the more important people think the supernatural is, then the more weak, silly, wicked, or shallow are the atheists. I’m not going to “live and let live” on those terms.

  12. anteprepro says

    I was actually contemplating it further, and Sastra led me further down this path.

    It boils down to these two problems:
    -Irrationality as method
    -In-group vs. out-group dynamics.

    If god without religion or religion without god has one or both of these qualities, it is still a negative force in the world. I think it is possible for both of them to have these qualities, so I guess I can’t really say that religion or god (religious belief) is clearly the worse or better of the two.

  13. ah58 says

    There’s a local church that has this on their sign “No Religion, Just Jesus”. I was curious how they could actually do that so I checked them out on the web.


    This is what I found:

    Statement of Faith

    Our purpose is to live the word of God and proclaim it by:

    Exalting the Lord Jesus Christ in worship
    Evangelizing the unsaved
    To unite out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation Rev 5:9
    Establishing Christians in intimacy with Jesus, in His Lordship and in personal holiness
    Equiping the saints for effective ministry
    Starting new churches and sending out missionairies

    Covenant Of Faith and Doctrine

    God is bigger and better and closer than we can imagine
    The Bible is God’s perfect guidebook for living
    Jesus is God showing Himself to us
    Through His Holy Spirit, God lives in and through us now
    Nothing in creation just happened; God made it all
    Grace is the only way to have a relationship with God
    Faith is the only way to have a relationship with God
    Evil exists because of sin; God can bring good even out of evil events and God promises victory over evil to those who choose Him
    Heaven and hell are real places. Death is a beginning, not the end.
    The church is to serve people as Jesus served people
    Jesus is coming again!

    The Blended Church accepts and adheres to the Scriptures as the revealed Will of God and adopts these statements of fundamental truths and doctrines.

    I’m at a loss to see how the above isn’t religion, and fundamentalist religion at that. They obviously have a much different definition of religion than I do.

  14. anteprepro says

    I’m at a loss to see how the above isn’t religion, and fundamentalist religion at that. They obviously have a much different definition of religion than I do.

    Their definition of religion is whatever is convenient for them at the moment. They define themselves out of religion, evoking images of strict hierarchies and ritualism, when they want to be Hip and Cool. But come across an atheist, and suddenly they use a definition of religion broad enough that anything and everything would fit under it. Words mean whatever they want them to mean at any given moment. It’s the most consistent religious doctrine out there, but I’ll be damned if they ever dare to put that one on paper.

  15. robro says

    I’m at a loss to see how the above isn’t religion, and fundamentalist religion at that. They obviously have a much different definition of religion than I do.

    Obviously this is mostly just marketing BS. They’ve heard (probably on Fox) that religion is unpopular right now, so they’re just being clever by saying they’re not a religion. That said, protestant fundamentalist churches grew out of the free church movement which was anti-Rome, anti-church, anti-cleric, and anti-religion in the sense of ritual practices, idols & icons, and so forth. For example, while the eucharist is a daily affair in Catholic churches, the Lord’s Supper, as they called it, is preformed only occasionally in the fundamentalist Protestant churches I’ve been around.

    Ironically, this is rooted in the free church tradition that individuals must determine their own salvation with its focus of belief and conviction rather than ritual practice. Thus there opposition to infant baptism. Of course, they completely ignore this in practical reality. If you don’t believe like them, you’re wrong and just going to Hell.

    Interestingly, based on various things I’ve read recently, this conflict between formal, ritualistic religion and the more informal sort may go right back to the Jewish origins of Christianity. In fact, this debate may have been going on throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. Among the many sects in Palestine during that time, there were clearly those that promoted temple ritual as the right “way” and those that eschewed that for a more abstract and intellectual practice centered around what was to become the synagogue/church/mosque. Here both formally trained and ad hoc teachers, perhaps not unlike the Jesus character, could teach and preach “the way” through personal belief and sacrifice rather than sacrificing goats.

  16. Margaret says

    And here I thought the problem with religions is they don’t have enough gods: they currently have 0 and really want to have one or more.