Chapter 1: What Do We Mean by 'Religion'?
By Guillermo Moreno
Dec. 12, 2021
Religion and Different Kinds of Religions
Before addressing the nitty gritty details of the SSPX objections, we must first come to terms with terms; we need to make sure that we mean the same things when we use specific words. The title of this work, Theocratic Propaganda, alludes to two concepts that we need to make sure that we agree on their meanings: ‘religion’ and ‘government.’
Let’s start with ‘religion.’ What do we all mean when we say the word ‘religion’? Dictionary.com provides two definitions that are useful as will be explained:
1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects...
Why are these two definitions adequate? Because someone’s belief system is described as one among the renowned (or the lesser known) religions which unites that person with others who share that same system of beliefs regarding the divine, including in liturgical practices, asceticism, and moral codes. When we say ‘religion,’ we mean the system of beliefs that a group of people adhere to regarding the divine.
The reason why we might hesitate to use this definition is because devout Christians would rather not put Christianity on par with the false religions; we would rather not see Christianity as merely one among many, as if it were equal to the others. Regardless, we must acknowledge the fact that some people adhere to this system of beliefs, and not that one, or any of the other ones. Some people’s belief in one set and not the others is what we mean by ‘religion.’ Hence, some people are Muslim, others are Buddhist, others are Hindu, others are Christian, etc.
This study will not address the details regarding the differences between the different sects within religions (especially the non-Christian religions) such as the differences between the Sunnis and the Shiites, the sthavira and the sanghika, etc. Nonetheless, it would be fruitful to examine the non-Christian religions. The reason why is because it gives us a chance to learn about our neighbor, whom we should love despite our differences (c.f. Luke 10:25-37). In our present study, our differences are regarding our systems of beliefs regarding the divine.
How do we know what others believe? I have heard that, in juxtaposition of knowing what Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc. believe, we can and should ask ourselves what do Catholics believe? To answer this, we can and should examine the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. Here are some points from the Creeds that I would like to highlight to contrast Catholicism with other religions:
1. One God…
2. One Lord, Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son…
3. The Holy Catholic Church
The non-Christian religions do not believe in one God (even monotheistic religions, if any before Judaism and Christianity, do not believe in the same God that we do). Jean Daniélou, S.J., provides a handy term for these religions, the cosmic religions, which express “a knowledge of God through his manifestation in the cosmos, in the world, and in nature.”
But how could they have a “knowledge of God” if they did not receive the revelation as the Jews did, according to God’s economy of salvation? How could they have known the real God? For this, we turn to St. Paul’s beautiful treatise on God’s revelation of Himself in the natural world (and humanity’s culpability for rejecting Him):
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. (Romans 1:18-25)
I can attest to sensing God’s presence as a milestone in my own faith journey. I was at the beach with my family one day when I was around ten. Rather than running into the water, as I normally would, I stood on the beach and stared at the horizon. So I’m told that China is on the other side, I thought to myself, but I don’t see it. If it’s there, then shouldn’t I be able to see it? So I squinted to see as far as I could possibly see, and I still couldn’t see China.
What I did see was the infiniteness of the ocean and of the sky, and how they both just kept going on and on, with no apparent end. The vastness of the ocean and the sky and the beauty of it all sparked something in me, and I thought, God exists. All of this can’t just be a coincidence, and this couldn’t have come from nowhere. God created this! I distinctly remember this because I am certain that I was also surprised at the fact that I was thinking about God at the beach, whereas God is almost always addressed in a Church context. But then and there, I found myself contemplating God on my own for the first time, amidst his creation.
Briefly, this reminds me of a question that Youtuber Dave Rubin asked one of his believer guests on his show, addressing a hypothetical situation in which believers left to their own continent, and non-believers left to another, then would the non-believing society be able to flourish without religion (and would the believing society flourish without atheism)? My own response to this hypothetical situation would be that someone among the non-believers, perhaps a generation later, would stand at the beach and look unto the horizon, or gaze at a starry night sky, or somehow admire and be inspired by creation and would ask themselves, Is this it? Is there more? Where did all of this come from? Heck, where did we come from? Why are we here? And from there, God’s invisible nature would be evident to humanity, as St. Paul expresses in his letter to the Romans.
The cosmic religions did not not know God as the Jews and Christians do. They knew of Him to the degree that natural reason allowed, and their perceptions of God became distorted, of course, due to sin. But what we share with them is our humanity, being made in the image and likeness of God, and having our natural reason to know that God Is, as well as having our desire for the divine. I’ve heard it said that religion is man’s response to God. In other words, it is man’s reaction to the drive for the divine, namely in worship and to worship in unity with others. That worship in unity according to particular sets of beliefs is what makes some people Buddhists, others Hindus, others Shinto, etc.
While Daniélou’s concept of cosmic religions is useful, a critique that I have is his use of the term biblical religions which includes Judaism and Islam. He also provides the concept of Christian religions, which include Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism. In this study, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam will be addressed separately due to their common origin in the Abrahamic faith but also in light of their substantial differences in their beliefs and how their beliefs are practiced.
What Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share in common, besides monotheism, is the fact that their faith is not contingent on creation as the cosmic religions are. We have the same sense for the divine, and can acknowledge God’s creation as such because we’re human, but our doctrines are based on what has been revealed to man objectively to God’s Chosen People; the Jews are where these religions stem from. From there, we can address these religions according to their doctrines, their worldviews, and their relationships with people of other religions.
Judaism differs from Christianity and Islam because it is a religion for an ethnic group. The Jews are God’s Chosen People. There is no imperative to convert others into this religion due to its exclusivity stemming from the House of Jacob. Furthermore, they were given a Promised Land, which is Israel, and it is through them that the Messiah will come to lead them to the New Promised Land. Jews live according to the tradition handed on from the time of Abraham (Jacob’s grandfather) until shortly after the time of the Maccabees, due to Israel’s political history of the struggle to maintain the Promised Land.
Christianity differs from Judaism because it’s not exclusive to an ethnic group. God’s Chosen People has been revealed in Christ to be the Church, His Body, which Christ calls all nations to be baptized into (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Cor. 12:12-13,27; Eph. 4:4-6, 15-16). Christians, too, have a Promised Land, which is the Parousia, our new life in the Resurrection, in which we partake in through the Mass. We have the imperative to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and to invite others into our new life in Christ through the Church.
Islam is like Christianity insofar as it is not exclusive to an ethnic group; it is open to all people. However, it is unlike Christianity because of its coercive nature in spreading its faith; non-Muslims are converted to Islam either by choice or by force. Non-Muslims are converted by choice in the sense that they choose to become Muslim because they believe what Islam says, or they convert by force in the sense that they endure persecution ranging from second-class citizenship by taxation up to the death penalty.
In this way, Islam displays a practice in religion that is unique due to its political engagements. By this, I mean two senses: first, physical coercion to enforce laws, as a government would resort to in cases when its citizens do not follow its laws. Second, Islam’s “missionary objective” to convert, which, judging by the fact that Islam has no territorial or ethnic bounds, logically means to spread Islam worldwide by force, due necessarily to it’s political nature, which is intertwined with a religious worldview. Here, we have the greatest religious population that does adhere, at some level depending on the various Muslim sects, to theocracy. By this, we mean a government whose objective is a religious one by legislative or juridical means. This implies physical coercion when citizens (or in this case, believers and infidels) do not obey the laws that govern the society.
Why is all of this important? Because we get a glimpse of what we mean by ‘religion,’ and how it is practiced by the different believers. What is believed and how it is put into practice is necessary to know. What is also necessary, for intellectual honesty, is an analysis of the different religions and research to discern which one is the right one, since they all say different things and therefore cannot all be right. This brings about epistemological questions. How do we know what we know about the different religions?
Considering that we have different systems, but systems nonetheless, we will take a deeper look at the experience of religion between ourselves and other religions through the fact that as humans we have reason, and we’ll also examine the areas of our knowledge where reason alone could take no one; we’ll look at revelation and its relationship to faith. Both are necessary for right religion; to rightly act upon the drive for the divine.
At this point, I hope that we can agree on the following: the definition of ‘religion,’ and the fact that the experience of religion is innate to humanity; the fact that someone can sense and respond to God due to our ability to know God through our reason and make the act of faith through our free will. With this in mind, we will proceed with a study of natural law.
 For our intents and purposes, as we shall see, there will be room for regarding Protestantism and Catholicism as different religions because of the different sets of beliefs, despite their faith in Jesus as God, salvation through him, etc. This is due to differences in doctrines. While we agree on being baptized into the Body of Christ, some disagreements including on the Immaculate Conception and Christ’s true presence in the Eucharist are inherent to Catholicism and thus, significant enough to distinguish between belief systems; we have Christians who believe some things and not others.
 EWTN Global Catholic Television Network, accessed December 10, 2021. URL: <https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/devotions/apostles-creed-385>.
 “What We Believe,” The Nicene Creed, accessed December 10, 2021. URL: <https://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe>.
 Jean Daniélou, S.J. et al. Introduction to the Great Religions, translated by Albert J. La Mothe, Jr. (Notre Dame, Indiana: Fides Publishers Inc., 1964), p. 10.
 Scott Hahn, Letter and Spirit: From Written Text to Living Word in the Liturgy (Image, 2005). p. 16-19.
 The question regarding this scenario is addressed more or less this way. I have yet to find the YouTube video and rewatch it to fact-check the accurate wording of the question.
 C.f. Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper (Image, 2016). p. 24.
 For summaries of Israel’s history between the Davidic Kingdom and the birth of Christ, see John Bergsma, Bible Basics for Catholics: A New Picture of Salvation History (Ave Maria Press, 2015). p. 106-108, 124-125.
 Much more on this in a later segment of this study.
 For a question and answer analysis of Islam, see Daniel Ali and Robert Spencer, Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics, 2003.
 Later in this study, we’ll come back to how a theocracy entails governmental force to enforce its laws, and in terms of gaining converts, it could mean a worldwide attempt for political domination if the religion’s objective has no bounds to who should convert and if it has no bounds to where it should spread.
 As we will explore, and as Daniélou explains in Introduction to the Great Religions (pgs. 18-19, 23-24), revelation and faith uniquely apply to Christianity.
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