I teach English as a second language to international students at a local university here in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. The vast majority of my students are Saudis. They are Arab Muslims. Today we talked a little bit about racism because some of them have sadly experienced it in this city. We agreed that a racist is someone who believes his or her race, because of certain qualities, is superior to others.

While we were talking about this (me a Christian in a room full of Muslims) I thought of the word religiocism. Could there be such a thing? Are there people who believe that their religion, because of certain qualities, is superior to others?

One could argue that racism is based on something one has not chosen but is assigned. I did not choose to be Caucasian. My students did not choose to be Arab. Although one could also argue that the certain qualities of his or her race can be chosen. But one could also argue that I did not choose to be a Christian, just as my students certainly did not choose to be Muslim, even though we could happily choose to accept our assigned identities.

So the question is: How does one happily choose to accept his or her racial identity without believing it is superior to others? Also: How does one happily choose to accept his or her religious identity without believing it is superior to others?

For I would argue that just as racism increasingly threatens to erode and destroy human relations, so does religiocism.

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  • More and more, when I listen to “Christian” music, I hear religiocism. Lots of messages that contain rejoicing because we worship the one true God, we are the children of God (and you’re not), we believe in the trinity, etc.

    On the surface the songs sound like simple delighting in being a Christian, but there’s an undertone; and implication that those who agree with this belief are superior.

    I was part of Celebrate Recovery for a while (Christian 12 step) and I decided early on that it was a bad idea. A person wasn’t truly welcome there, unless they agreed with the doctrine presented along with the 12 steps. Anyone could come, but I sure wouldn’t feel comfortable there if I had any doubts or questions about Jesus. That doesn’t feel like love.

  • Johnfom

    While all people are created equal, not all ideas, philosophies or cultures are equal. Memes are not equivalent to genes.

    If my religion has a valid truth claim where another hasn’t, or an objectively better way of being, then it IS superior in that aspect and should be believed to be such. In that aspect other religions ARE inferior.

    If I then discriminate against holders of a different belief system because of an unrelated trait (Muslims pray differently therefore they must be abusers) and/or in a generalized way (all Muslims are terrorists) thats illogical (an inferiority?) and should rightly be eschewed.

  • Q: Are there people who believe that their religion, because of certain qualities, is superior to others?
    A: Yes, ALL people who subscribe to a certain faith believe that their faith is superior to others or they would not believe it in the first place.
    Try THIS question on for size…
    Q: Are there people who believe that because of the religion they follow, that they are superior to others?
    A: Yes, for a very good example, visit Saudi Arabia.

  • or America. or where i live. or anywhere. agreed.

  • Right, it’s not about whether one belief is better than another.
    It’s whether you believe yourself superior because of what you believe. (clearly, if one is deciding upon a belief, one will choose the one they think is best)

    Respect always. Be open to the possibility that not everything you believe is right, or the only way.

    Trust God with making the decisions about who’s right or wrong, or whatever.

  • Johnfom

    Oh ok. If the question is ‘Are their people who believe THEY, because of certain qualities of their religion, are superior to others?’ then the answer is ‘Unfortunately yes, and they are wrong.’

    If however the question is ‘Are there people who believe that their religion, because of certain qualities, is superior to others?’ then the answer is ‘Yes, and rightly so!’

  • I only bring up Saudi because it stands out amongst all the other countries I have worked in or visited as being the worst possible place for a Christian or Jew to be.
    I think it’s important to be honest about this and understand that this is not just a matter of degree, but of kind.

  • Some places are worse than others, no doubt. It must be extremely difficult in some areas where your race and religion are fused. The insularity of some people is quite astounding. To the point where I conclude it is not their fault. They know no other reality.

  • I was raised both Christian and Muslim, being born of a Catholic mother and a Muslim father.
    While I did receive horrible treatment at the hands of Catholics because I was a half-breed, I saw more hatred on a regular basis coming out of the mosque.
    In regards to some people not knowing any better, I’ll only go with that to a small degree.
    The 9/11 bombers lived in the U.S. and western Europe for many years. They knew another reality, but they stuck with their cult of hatred. It was a choice. In today’s day and age, I see cultural isolation as being less and less of an excuse for being a jerk.

  • oh of course i didn’t mean to say that all ignorance is innocent. some ignorance is self-inflicted stupidity.

  • “…some ignorance is self-inflicted stupidity.”
    Yeah, I’ve been guilty of that on more than one occasion…

  • Tomdebomb

    Problem is as a Christian Child In the western world you are free to leave your religion as many do but are Muslims so free in Saudi Arabia.

  • @Tomdebomb,
    I knew quite a few non-practicing Muslims in Saudi who still self-identified (culturally) as Muslim.
    I once told a Muslim man here in the U.S. that I was a former Muslim and he immediately started babbling, “No! Once a Muslim, always a Muslim!”
    This is the same thing I’ve heard from other Muslims around the world. Let them come for me. I’d enjoy the practice.
    Yes, if you were to openly become an apostate in many Muslim countries you could be killed, as the Quran and the Hadith both clearly call for death in such cases.

  • Peter

    Hi David, I understand what you are trying to say (arrogant Christians can be counter-productive to the Kingdom). However, I think you might have stretched the limits on your theology. First, I take exception to your statement, “I did not choose to be a Christian.” Well, by definition that IS how one becomes a Christian, making a personal decision to accept and follow Christ. It is a faith based journey. While according to Islam, one automatically becomes a Muslim by birth right. You don’t have to accept anything or come to any “agreement” with God. Whether you pray five times a day or never think about God, the laws of Islam still make you a Muslim. Quite a bit different than the journey for Christians. Islam, in its original design incorporates more than the faith based journey, and, by definition, doesn’t require it. Your understanding that Christianity and Islam are just two different journeys to God is absolutely incorrect. You need to understand these basic principles and shouldn’t confuse them, if you are trying to present them as pillars of support for your argument. In addition, to be a Christian, one believes that Christ is the only route to God. IF we follow your argument, we can’t believe this to be true. Why even evangelize? Let’s just be kind to everyone.(I agree with being kind to everyone!) You are falling into the trap of many politically correct, left leaning Christians that somehow feel ashamed of something that is unwavering. As Paul wrote in Romans 1: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation.” The problem is you can’t “water down” spiritual truths, simply to appease others.

  • @Peter,
    Except for converts, few people truly “choose” their religion. Most are indoctrinated in it from the day they are born.
    By the way, there is actually a rite of passage by which one becomes a Muslim. They simply repeat (in front of witnesses) “There is no God but one and Mohammed is His Prophet.”
    I know, that’s how I did it.

  • Peter: thanks for your comment. Actually, your definition of how one becomes a Christian is your opinion. There are many Christians… I have met them… who never chose it and don’t think about it. You might believe they aren’t “true” Christians, but they would disagree.

    I believe some choice was involved in my “becoming” a Christian when I was 16. However, I was baptized as an infant and grew up in a Christian home in a predominantly Christian culture. So I would be naive not to question how much objectivity and freedom was involved in my choice. Like many people I know, they feel like they were set up. Perhaps.

    I also wonder how politically correct it is for me to question these things.

  • Peter

    Hi David, I understand what you are saying and I too was raised in a Christian family and to add validity to your point, wonder if I would have been a seeker who would have converted to Christianity if I were not raised in a Christian family. ( As I said above, I think you make a valid point here.) However, all of the what ifs are just what ifs. I believe that a sovereign and loving God controls these things and arranges them for our best. I do believe there are followers, true Christians (definition of being saved and having a relationship with Christ) who have been so since such an early age that they can’t remember when they first realized that relationship. In their minds they essentially have been born into it. However, the reality of a faith driven life (let me give C. S. Lewis credit for this as a footnote) is a day to day re-establishment of that relationship, even if I cannot point to when in my life it first began. Not that my salvation is “on the line” everyday, but my intellectual control and desire to follow Jesus is. Also, not that my opinion is important, but I do believe those people you mention above are “true” Christians, they just don’t realize that their obedience to stay in the faith is a “choice”, even though they made not consciously recognize it.

  • Peter

    Hi TGM, When you say “except for converts, few people truly ‘choose’ their religion,” isn’t that like saying “Red is the best color, as every single person picked it without fail, except those that picked a different color.”

  • Peter: Yes. That’s what I mean by I can choose to embrace my identity. I think there is choice to be a Christian. I agree. But I think we also must admit that that choice is stacked in the west. So our daily choice to embrace it must be serious and intelligent. yes?

  • No Peter, it isn’t like that at all.

  • Peter

    Of course! That is my point. If we are talking about being a cultural Christian, then it is a lifestyle we may never have chosen, but that is different than being a “believer.” If we are “believers” than we are directed by the Great Commission. I know it may shock TGM that he is not the only person who has lived and worked in the Middle East and other Muslim areas. I have also, as a diplomat, businessman and “missionary.”. Anyone who is not identifiable as a Jew or Muslim is called a “Christian.” It is ignorance of this term’s meaning and their own misuse that leads many of these people to believe they have been mistreated by “Christians.” on further thought, perhaps Christians have made the same incorrect assumptions in identifying Muslim?

  • Peter

    I will re-state my bottom line: As a Christian I do believe I have found the truth, no matter how I came upon it. As a caring human being and in obedience to the Great Commission, I am not ashamed to share that better way with others. I agree that it should only be done in a spirit of humility that I have been blessed with this knowledge. However, I do not think it is appropriate to say another religion is equal in benefit, simply not to offend someone. That would be like a doctor who doesn’t want to help his patient, because he doesn’t want to offend his patient by telling him he is not well! “Medicism” perhaps!

  • “I know it may shock TGM that he is not the only person who has lived and worked in the Middle East and other Muslim areas.”
    When you can’t make a reasonable argument, you start in with the passive-aggressive snipes.
    How very Christian. πŸ™‚

  • Peter

    Hi TGM, I certainly did not mean to offend you. I think I was responding to your comment correcting me on my understanding of Islam. Please accept my apology for the offense. That did not come out as I intended and thank you for bringing it to my attention. I should have proof read that better for my wording. I have enjoyed your contributions and you are correct to call me on this. Once again I ask you to accept my apology.

  • We’re good, all forgiven.
    Thanks, Peter.

  • Peter

    Thank you TGM! I have HAVE enjoyed your insights!

  • “How does one happily choose to accept his or her racial identity without believing it is superior to others? Also: How does one happily choose to accept his or her religious identity without believing it is superior to others?” (NP)

    I live by the idea ‘everyone is equal’ and coming from a culture (ie: First Nations) where this concept is well known – it’s not hard to respect someone else for being different. Also being First Nations is unique in Canada in the sense that we were victims (and are still victims) of bigotry – we find it much easier to walk in the shows of those oppressed this way.

    As for religion, I reject the Christian version that see’s their belief system as the ‘only way’. Once you pass that barrier of ‘elitism’ then it gets a lot easier to be accepting.

  • @Societyvs,
    I was happy and excited to read your comment.
    As a half breed (European and Arab) and raised in two different religions at the same time, I got it from both groups. I didn’t belong to either and was rejected by both.
    When growing up, I read about what happened to the indigenous peoples of the Americas and it always saddened me. I never interacted with any on a regular basis until I met my ex-wife’s husband, but I always felt a small connection with them in the sense that they must sometimes feel like strangers in their own land. Perhaps I’m just projecting, but that is how I always felt.

  • Peter

    Hi Societyvs. I’m sorry and I hate to burst your bubble, but contrary to your preamble above, you are not tolerant. I’m not trying to be offensive or mean, but you need to be honest with yourself. Your comment that because Christians believe that Christianity is the “only way” makes them elitists, shows your prejudice. If I believe that if I step off the roof of a 30 story building I’m going to die, does that make me an elitist? Simply having that belief does not make me an elitist. The term “elitism” simply means “perceived superiority over another.” Isn’t you who is not accepting, judging and labeling Christians, because they may believe something you don’t. That seems like “religiocism” to me.

  • “Choose this day whom you will serve…” “whoever is willing…” and other such choice-statements set Christianity apart from other religions. Even a “cultural Christian” faces this choice sooner or later.

    I believe the way for one “to happily choose to accept his or her racial identity without believing it is superior to others,” is found in Christ. In Christ our racial, ethical, cultural, national, even religious identities are trumped by our heavenly citizenship.

    My father was a pastor who often invited believers from other countries to speak to his congregation. Initially, I was always mesmerized by the exotic descriptions of everything from worry beads (India?) to rice-stuffed dog (Philippines), as we sat at lunch together after service. What amazed me even more was the change in atmosphere that inevitably occurred as our guest and my parents would turn their thoughts to God’s Word, and His goodness. As different as our visiter’s looks, dress and stories made them seem, the common ground of our love for Christ, and God’s Word would drown out the differences. By the time we said our farewells, I felt as though family was leaving us!

    We are all God’s creation, but common humanity will not cure racism or religiocism. We are made one in Christ.

  • Peter

    Thanks John!

  • @Peter,
    As a libertarian, I fall somewhere in the middle of this debate. I understand your point, but I think what Societyvs is referring to are the (very likely) ramifications of holding certain ideas to be better than others. Humans, being what they are, are rarely content to keep their beliefs to themselves, especially when they are convinced of their own superiority.
    That being said, there was a time when the word “discrimination” was not a dirty word. There is nothing inherently wrong with being able to discriminate -or discern the difference- between something that is (for example) healthy or not healthy in your diet. That is a good type of discrimination. I also believe that all cultures are not equal. Some celebrate death or the enslavement of women. I say, to hell with the endless whining about the value of “diversity” when discussing such cultures. They have no place in a civilized world and should go the way of the dinosaurs. I’m sure you would agree with me on that point. Multiculturalism can be a good thing, but only if not taken to it’s ridiculous extreme. But I digress…
    The real issue is when people act out in ways that are destructive, controlling, unhealthy and immoral against others because they feel that they have all the answers and that they are right…because their god, special book or their fuhrer told them so. Oftentimes, such a strong degree of certainty in one’s own “rightness” will cause that person to behave in ways that are indeed, discriminatory.
    Mankind’s history is filled with the horrors of death, torture and seemingly endless misery caused by those who were certain that their way was the right way. The only way. The Israelites, Christians, Muslims, Nazis and Stalinists are all good examples of what happens when we let certainty in our beliefs run amuck. Such a certainty breeds contempt for others and their viewpoints. Of that there is no doubt.

  • Peter

    Some very interesting and good points TGM! I think if someone is truly a changed creature in Christ, a Christian, then they should be expressing their beliefs in humility and love. I think this is what all of this is striving for.

  • @Peter.
    …”I think if someone is truly a changed creature in Christ, a Christian, then they should be expressing their beliefs in humility and love….”
    And so if they aren’t then that means they aren’t “true” or “real” Christians?

  • @TGM,
    Pardon me for jumping into this conversation between you and Peter. This business of deciding whether someone is a true or real Christian is a touchy subject. If we’re doing Christianity by the book, Jesus said, “Do not judge,” “Pray for your enemies,” and such. However, he also set forth some guidelines for within the church, for dealing with our own. Matthew 18:15-17 gives a flow chart, so to speak, about how to handle your brother who has sinned against you. I suppose this could apply to one who is not, in ones opinion, expressing their beliefs in humility and love.

    The final step in this process, assuming the person in question refuses to listen during various opportunities, is, “let him be to you as a pagan, or a tax collector.” To me, this seems to resolve the idea of being judgmental, because it allows for discipline within the Christian community, without passing a final verdict. “We’re not saying you’re not a real Christian, but we are in the position of having to treat you as though you aren’t a real Christian.” The intended effect is to win the brother or sister back to the community of believers.

    O.K. here I go getting judgemental: What I’ve unfortunately seen in church is the exact opposite. Someone’s “brother” sins against him, and he goes to everyone in the church except the offending brother. All these steps are skipped, and the offending brother too often finds himself offended, shunned without even knowing why. I’m blessed to be involved in a church that actually attempts to apply Matthew 18 to situations. I’ve seen the offending party respond in repentance when they experience someone willing to confront in love in a one-on-one setting. Often Matthew chapter 18 doesn’t make it past verse 15, when the one showing the fault handles the situation correctly, speaking the truth in love. The brother is won back without further action.

    Amazingly, this stuff in the Book actually works, when people work it!

  • Hi John,
    Please no apologies necessary. I enjoy your contribution.
    The question I put forth to Peter was more of a rhetorical one, but I did expect him (or someone) to attempt an answer as it is indeed a provocative question.
    I’m familiar with the process you describe as I was a member of the Churches of Christ for many years after leaving Islam and the Catholic Church.
    I’m not sure why anyone would need a book to tell them how to resolve conflict within a group. The ways presented in Matthew seem to be common sense (more or less) and based on common human experience. I see nothing special or inspired in these guidelines, regardless of their effectiveness. In other words, because they work doesn’t mean they came from a deity. People can be rather smart, you know. πŸ™‚
    At any rate, we have trailed off topic and my questions still remains…if someone acts out in a negative way against others because of his conviction and faith, is he no longer a Christian? Peter seems to indicate the answer is “yes”, but of course, to do so clearly is to embrace the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. I’m sure you will agree that this is where we are headed with this line of reasoning.
    To get back to the point of this post…there still does not seem to be a general consensus. Peter seems to have basically taken the position that bad things can happen in the name of Christianity, but that it’s the other guys, the ones who haven’t “got it right” that have been doing so for all these centuries. As I just pointed out, that is a deeply flawed argument and it serves only to sidestep the important questions posed by this post.
    I will stick to my premise that Christianity (or any other religion, credo or political belief) does not inoculate humans from doing harm to others, and in fact is a source of great pain, suffering and death in this world.
    These evils are visited upon this world by those who are certain that their way is the only way and are willing to do anything to further their cause.
    History has shown time and again – without fail- that those convinced of their own righteousness are driven to convince others of the same by any means necessary.
    Whatever “good” may be written in the Bible does not matter if it is used to evil ends, and the Bible has been used for evil for most of it’s existence. This is not conjecture, this is undisputed fact.
    Any group or person that is incapable of seeing and understanding that their beliefs may be open to interpretation or falsification are inherently a danger to civilized society as they have effectively ruled out meaningful dialogue with those having opposing points of view.

  • TGM,
    You raise some interesting points. I agree that theoretically people can be quite intelligent. But people often fail to practically apply “common sense,” when they’re in the moment. Just watch the daily news! We need direction. Even those who claim to have rejected religious morality still borrow from those traditions while compiling what they consider to be their own.

    You’re right that religious people have committed crimes against humanity, as have irreligious people. This doesn’t prove religion true or false, other than supporting the religious claim (or the common sense observation) that people are inherently violent. Christianity and its followers are also responsible for great good in the world, directly related to their faith in Jesus Christ. Compare the treatment of women, children and the issue of slavery in cultures that have been influenced by Christianity with those that have not. We can argue all day over whether Paul the Apostle should have condemned slavery – although he did encourage slaves to gain their freedom if they could and also condemned slave traders – but the text and spirit of the New Testament is opposed to the whole concept of “the strong eat the weak.”

    “God (the strongest of the strong) so loved the world (the weakest of the weak) that he gave his Only Son…” That changes people’s entire outlook on the matter. I can’t say those who commit violence are not “true” Christians, because I believe Christianity is based on faith. I don’t know what someone really believes or doesn’t believe in their inmost self. That’s why Jesus said to treat them as pagans if they act like pagans, rather than actually determining them to be pagans. The wheat and the weeds are growing together, and it’s ultimately not up to me to separate them for judgement, but I am supposed to practically deal with those who aren’t acting the way Jesus said his followers should act.

    Although I believe that Christianity has been an overwhelmingly positive influence on the world, this is not about whether it has brought more good than bad. It’s about whether it’s true or not. The evidence has convinced me that it’s true. Although I do believe that it’s believers have brought much more improvements than harm.

    “Whatever ‘good’ may be written in the Bible does not matter if it is used to evil ends…”
    Are you saying that anything used for evil negates any possible good it may have had? So, the fact that baseball bats are designed to hit baseballs does not matter since they’ve been used for violence?!


  • @John,
    “Are you saying that anything used for evil negates any possible good it may have had? So, the fact that baseball bats are designed to hit baseballs does not matter since they’ve been used for violence?!”
    That’s not what I meant, but that is certainly what I said…thanks for calling me out on that. You definitely have a valid point there.
    In regards to the remainder of your comment, the facts simply do not support your assertions. I could write all afternoon in response, but it would serve no purpose and it would be extremely boring.
    I’d like to focus on those areas in which we agree rather than let this degenerate into an atheism vs theism debate. I’m the one who led the discussion in that direction, so mea culpa…my bad.

  • No apology necessary! I’m sure we could both write pages on the reasons we hold these ideas of ours. It’s likely that atheism versus theism will color many of our other beliefs and direct our discussion. I wish you the best.

  • Peter

    Hi TGM and John. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts! Thanks!

  • @ Peter,
    Roger that sir, likewise!

  • Richard

    I just read quite a bit of Peter’s and TGM’s dialogue — I like the way you guys had a civil conversation. Sometimes these internet chats can be nasty because there is no chance you will actually meet face to face.
    Nice hearing your insights.

  • Thanks Richard.
    I’m often quick on the trigger and I tend to swat flies with a sledgehammer, so I’m glad to see that my efforts to be more civil are noticed and appreciated by others. πŸ™‚