“The more I study religions, the more I am convinced that man never worshiped anything but himself.” – Richard Francis Burton
It’s quite a telling statement.
How many of us have had a conversation in today’s society with someone who wasn’t a Christian because of the inconsistencies they saw in those who claim to be? If you haven’t ever had one of these conversations, I would challenge you to find one. There is nothing more revealing about your own faith, then having to answer the questions of those who don’t believe you. So let’s take a look at this quote. First we must know who Richard Burton was, and then we need to define religion itself. So bear with me.
Richard Francis Burton lived from 1821-1890. He was a unique man in his love for languages and cultures, specifically the Hindus in India and the Muslims of the Middle East. Though not the first European to embark on a pilgrimage to Mecca, we certainly know more about his than any other because of the detailed journal he kept. During his journeys in the Middle East, one of his most-lasting achievements was the translation of One Thousand and One Nights into English, which would later come to be known as The Arabian Nights (the abridged version of the same collection of stories). He would eventually marry a Catholic woman from a good family. Having experienced the rise of the Anglican church and Protestant denominations of England in the early to mid-1800s, one might make the case that few have had the life-long experience to back up the quote Burton made of religion.
And this is where the road begins to divide. According to Dictionary.com, religion is firstly defined as:
a “set of beliefs” about the “cause, nature, and purpose of the universe” and the associated”devotional and ritual observances”
You see, there is one word almost always linked to religion, which may just be religion’s greatest undoing for those who choose not to believe in anything…
So let me just clarify how I feel about the situation. In my very humble, undocumented opinion…
RITUAL = RELIGION
Now before you throw the book of James at me, remember that there are only two other places in the entire New Testament the same Greek word from James is used. In Acts 26, Paul used it to define his “religion” as a Pharisee. The other is Colossians 2:18, where the same Paul is warning the church in Colossia to not be deceived into “worshiping angels.” In both cases, he is using the word religion to define ceremonious or ritualistic behavior. Of course today we just call it “traditional.”
Please understand me. I’m not throwing our Christian traditions under the bus. But traditions are just that, and if they never were your traditions before, than why would they be now? There must be some other impetus, some other driving force of change that leads the undecided to a tipping point. So this is my formula:
Until GOD = LOVE to us, then GOD = RELATIONSHIP will never happen. Without GOD = RELATIONSHIP, then GOD = CHANGE never occurs. Without GOD = CHANGE, then GOD = DIFFERENT is lost. And without GOD = DIFFERENT, then GOD = BETTER is undefined to those around us. The GOD = BETTER is what leads to GOD = LOVE in our sphere of influence. Instead they are left with GOD = RULES.
And rules suck. Everyone knows that.
So yes, Mr. Burton, where religion is defined as ritual, I’m inclined to believe your statement echoing to our present from the past. But, because I have experienced a personal relationship with my God, I believe I’m worshiping something greater than myself. The more I look for Him around me, the more I find Him in everything. This is what makes the difference to me.