How many times have you heard someone suggest that there would be no religious problems in society if religious people simply kept their religion to themselves? It is a very common observation, and this view is not isolated to atheists. Plenty of people who self-identify as Christians believe they should not “make a big deal” of their faith. Pushed to explain this attitude, they say that everyone has a right to believe whatever he wants and nobody should try to influence that choice. In the USA where there is no state religion and where citizens individually choose to follow any religion or none at all, people more interested in etiquette than principle will advocate this point of view.
The problem with this idea is that adherents of many religions would find it impossible to comply. Buddhism sells itself as a “way of life” rather than a religion, despite the fact that most people consider it one of the world’s major religions. Actually, it would be hard to find a religion whose adherents are free to ignore it unless they are inside a worship space engaged in the unique ritual of the religion. The very nature of religion is to provide meaning and guidance in daily life. There may be a religion somewhere which exists solely in its worship forms, but if so it is obscure.
Secularists particularly promote the idea of separate space and time for religion. Most secular thinkers believe that there are two realms, the sacred and the secular, which must never mix. This notion simply does not square with most religious teaching. Religions are much more about the way people live than they are about the forms of worship. Some religions are extremely specific about the prescribed worship forms and spaces, but they all include teachings about the difference between right and wrong or good and evil, and they all advocate behavior considered to be good and proscribe and punish behavior considered to be evil. When secularists attempt to keep religion out of sight, they are attempting an impossible division.
Christians, in particular, believe that Christian religion is the life of the Christian, action that always takes place in a worship space, because each Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit. It is this concept that the apostle Paul verbalized so eloquently in his call to faithful living. He said, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) Then, he nailed down the argument by saying, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:17) He called on Christians to recognize that they could not act any differently on the streets of Corinth than they might act during worship, because God, in the person of the Holy Spirit went with them everywhere. He may have been thinking how Jesus had promised, “I will be with you to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) That comforting presence was also a constant admonishment to live and act in obedience to the call of Christ.
Secular thinkers believe that religion is what happens in worship spaces, while all other action takes place outside of worship spaces. They have recently begun to appropriate some of the forms of worship in churches as if that form would give them the kind of fellowship Christians have. Atheists in various locations around the country gather on Sunday morning to sing and tell stories to each other and listen to inspiring words. They actually believe they are mimicking whatever it is that creates the strong bonds and supportive service that is characteristic of churches. They think they need to borrow the forms of worship in order to get the benefit, and they believe they can get the benefit without needing God. This misconception grows out of a complete failure to understand what it is to live life in relationship with Christ.
The founders of the USA who wrote the Constitution understood that every person’s life is sacred space. They regarded humans as God’s hands-on creation. They knew that people who choose to live in relationship with their Creator can’t turn that relationship off and on depending on their surroundings. That is why they protected the free exercise of religion rather than defining where religion is allowed. It is important for Christians to be able to verbalize this situation when they are confronted with people who quietly fold their arms and say, “Well all this conflict could be ended right now if everybody just kept his religion to himself.”