Is Christianity a Religion?

Winter solstice drawing nigh and Fox News’s annual war on the “War on Christmas” having kicked into high gear, in the course of this verbal slugfest with the head of some Atheist organization, Bill O’Reilly fiercly puts forth the notion that Christianity is not a religion, but a philosophy.

O’Reilly insists that while individual Christian churches, such as Roman Catholicism or Methodism, are, in fact, religions, the set of core beliefs from which these churches sprang, namely Christianity, is entirely secular in nature.

Christianity’s precursor, Judaism, on the other hand, at least according to O’Reilly, is a religion, not a philosophy. So Christianity sprang from a religion, but is a philosophy, which, in turn, sired a variety of Christian religions.

In 1870, U.S. Congress declared Christmas to be a federal holiday. Of course, if Christianity were a religion, a holiday celebrating the birth of God’s earthly incarnation would sit poorly with the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Therefore, in order to justify Christmas’s status as a federal holiday, one must take the position that Christianity is something other than a religion, and that Jesus was simply a philosopher, not the Deity in human form.

Call me misguided, but I always thought that the idea of Jesus being God, having descended from Heaven to drive home His message in the flesh, so to speak, was the very cornerstone of Christianity.

And if it is indeed possible to reduce Christianity to a secular philosophy by simply ignoring all talk talk of God it contains, then why wouldn’t it be possible to do that with any belief system commonly considered a religion?

What about Islam? Is it a religion or a philosophy? Do “generic” Muslims merely subscribe to a particular philosophy, whereas Sunnis and Shiites follow a religion?

One would think that generic Islam has a bit of an edge over generic Christianity in terms of qualifying as a philosophy. After all, just as the assumption of Jesus being God forms one of the pillars of Christianity, Muslims recoil at the notion of viewing their primary prophet as a human manifestation of the Deity. By all accounts, Muhammad was human and only human, a mere messenger, not the holy messiah personified.

If you took the Qur’an, discretely swept all references to Allah and the afterlife under the rug, you’d be left with a philosophy, a way of life. You could say that being a Muslim means to give alms to the poor, to abstain from alcohol and pork, to fast during Ramadan, to conduct business transactions and make contracts in a certain manner, and that the five daily prayers are but meditations during which, Feng-shui-style, facing one specified direction merely aids in aligning one’s focus.

Since, similar to the wave/particle duality of light, all religions are religions as well as philosophies, you can easily drop the otherworldly aspects of any religion and, voila, there’s your philosophy.

So if Christmas qualifies as a federal holiday without violating the establishment clause by focusing exclusively on the philosophical aspects of Christianity, why shouldn’t Muslims be able to invoke Islam’s religion/philosophy duality for the purpose of having one of their holidays designated a federal holiday?

  • Richard

    All those things, virgin birth, the divinity of Christ, the resurrection are afterthoughts to the teachings of Jesus, made central to modern Christianity for political reasons by Constantine. They are certainly not cornerstones for many practising Christians. Belief in the resurrection comes closest, though I regard it as symbolic.

    Religion accepts the existence of a divinity whereas philosophy may only discuss the possibility.

    What then is Zen?

    Try Philip Pullman’s The Good Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.

    • Cyberquill

      I’ll to that, as soon as I’m done with Secrets of the Norman Invasion.