Knowing is Not Believing
What is the difference between studying religion and practicing religion? Is there any essential difference? Perhaps most importantly, can one study religion without practicing religion, and vice versa? Within the framework of Christianity, this paper attempts to answer these questions with the assertion that there is a profound difference between studying Christianity and practicing Christianity, and that knowledge about Christ and Christianity does not necessarily equal belief in Christ and the teachings of Christianity.
In addition, this paper will explore the unique ramifications implicit within the comprehensive sphere of Christianity regarding knowledge and the utilization of knowledge in the form of faith. Defining the Differences In order to understand the essential differences between studying religion and practicing religion, we must first define what each term means within the context of the Christian religion.
Scholarly study of Christianity includes biblical translation, biblical interpretation, and the theological and practical implications for the practice of Christianity based on accurate and reliable translation and interpretation of the Bible, as well as intense scrutiny of the writings of historical theologians and religious scholars, and other non-biblical doctrinal writings. However, as the primary document of faith for one of the world’s most prolific religions, the Bible must be treated as an historical document with some measure of validity, regardless of its implications for humanity (Craigie, 1980).
It cannot be dismissed as a fairytale, yet belief in what the Bible teaches regarding the origins of the world, the nature of God, morality and law, and the future of the world is not a prerequisite to theological research. One does not have to believe that the Bible is true in order to study it, any more than we must believe that the works of Homer are true to study them. Conclusively, the study of Christianity can be a complex endeavor that does not require the scholar to engage in Christian traditions, believe in Christian teachings, or follow Christian doctrine of morality.
However, such biblical or religious knowledge is not limited to scholars or “experts,” but can be obtained by the commonest of men. Thus, the study of religion does not require either complete objectivity or faith in what is being studied. Nevertheless, it is important to note that it is primarily this act of studying the Bible and Christian doctrine that leads most individuals to what we would call the practice of Christianity, meaning that what we may call “conversion” to Christianity most often occurs after one has obtained knowledge of the basic foundational tenets of the religion, and then decided that they are true (Craigie, 1980).
This critical decision is the first act of practicing religion, particularly with regards to Christianity, as the entire religious structure is based almost completely on faith. This faith may be defined simply as belief in Jesus Christ, for the Bible itself claims in the popular verse John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (NIV). ”
Of course, the religious practice of Christianity does not end there, as there are certain other foundational beliefs that one must accept and doctrines that one must adhere to in order to be considered a Christian, but once this first step toward complete faith in Christianity has been taken, a person has moved completely away from scholarly objectivity and into the realm of religious practice (Dawson, 1998). In short, there is no middle ground – it is an all or nothing, black and white kind of situation.
Thus, for our purposes, practicing religion in the context of Christianity is a matter of faith and belief primarily in Christ, and that the Bible is more than an historical document, but is in fact, the Word of God. Questions of Exclusivity Now that we have clearly delineated the differences between studying religion and practicing religion, we must ask ourselves if they are mutually exclusive activities. The short answer to that question is “no.
” If the Bible is the Word of God and what it says is true, as one must believe in order to be called a Christian, then being ignorant of what is preached and taught within its pages is an act of disobedience, if not outright defiance, toward God. Note, however, that within this paper we are dealing only with the general, basic foundations of the Christian faith, and will not attempt to address the many and varied arguments for the interpretation of particular verses that have resulted in the denominational split of Christian churches (i.
e. , Methodism, Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, etc. ). One can hardly consider themselves a practicing Christian if they are knowingly and willingly engaging in disobedience to God. Thus, the study of religion is an essential component to the practice of religion, and as such it may be inferred that practicing religion is the “bigger” and more complex of the two. Additionally, since religious study is almost a requirement of religious practice, then the practice of religion is not exclusive from the study of religion (Folkers, 2001).
The same is not true of religious study, though, even in Christianity. The study of religion, being a “smaller” component of religious practice, can be taken away from that and can stand alone, exclusive of the faith or belief that is the hallmark of practicing Christianity, despite the affect that encounters with religious doctrine may have on the scholar’s value system. It is important to remember that one can accept values without accepting the proposed justification behind those values.
However, there are serious questions that must be raised about whether or not one can fully understand or comprehend the true nature of Christianity if they do not believe in it. Religion, it may be argued, should be classified as a spiritual experience, particularly in the case of Christianity, as according to the Bible, faith is the vehicle of grace and the Old Testament law was fulfilled in Christ – meaning that nobody can simply “follow the rules” and get into heaven, you must engage your heart, or spirit, in Christ and the teachings of Christ in order to be a Christian.
If one must engage their heart, or spirit, to practice Christianity, then there must be a certain aspect of this religion that cannot be studied, at least not in the traditional way in which we define scholastic research, and if the entire religion cannot be fully studied without engaging in the practice of that specific religion, then scholarly knowledge is incomplete (Folkers, 2001). For the sake of argument, incomplete knowledge is not worth having, and thus there is no point in studying religion unless one already practices it, or at least is willing to be open to the beliefs and faith necessary to be called a practicing Christian.
There is something unique about Christianity, however – the notion of free will. According to this belief, one can have all of the knowledge needed to make that step toward practicing religion and a complete understanding – meaning that one believes in Christ and has accepted His grace, and still choose to reject Christ. It is this idea that makes the study and practice of religion, with regards to Christianity, so difficult to separate. As much as humans like to believe that we possess objectivity, this is not entirely true, especially in matters of religion.
If one is studying the Bible, the foundation of the Christian religion, one must have a reaction to the information that is being presented – either you believe it is true, by which you move into the realm of practicing religion, or you believe it is false, by which you have essentially rejected God, and in so doing have in a small way called faith into action and moved into the realm of practicing religion, if only for a single act which you move out of just as quickly, since one cannot reject something as false that has no possibility of being true (Shakov, 2007).
For example, we do not reject fairy tales as being false because we know they are simply the imaginings of another human being, and therefore do not have even the possibility of being true. This choice to either accept or reject the doctrines of Christianity leads us to conclude – all Christian beliefs about free will aside – that there are fundamental differences in the study of religion and the practice of religion. Within the framework of Christianity, in particular, there is the additional theory of universal application, which cannot be avoided or dismissed. Most other religions take a more exclusive approach to rejection.
For example, if you reject Buddhism or Hinduism as false, there is no consequence, no equivalent of the Christian hell for unbelievers. Those religions deal only with the benefits or punishments of those who actively practice them, which makes it somewhat easier, perhaps, to differentiate between pure study and practice. Christianity, on the other hand, claims that the doctrines of the Christian faith, as found in the Bible, and the consequences of either obeying or disobeying those doctrines apply to all people, whether they believe that the Bible and Christianity are true or not.
Therefore, unlike with certain other religions, the study of Christianity cannot be entirely objective, as even one who rejects the entire idea as false will undoubtedly have some kind of emotional reaction to hell. Which brings us back to the original question merely in a new form – if the study of religion is not truly objective, could it not then be considered practicing religion, and is there really any difference between the study of religion and the practice of religion?
Can one have knowledge without belief? Again, we must conclude that religious study and religious practice are not the same thing, as emotional response does not imply true, heart-felt belief in the doctrines being studied, which belief may be considered the fundamental element of the religious practice of Christianity. Conclusion It is perhaps the sole province of religion to be so difficult to clearly define and separate when it comes to the question of study and practice.
Discordance between emotional response and maintaining objectivity during religious study force us to admit that although the study of religion and the practice of religion are different things, they are not so easily separated. The very nature of religion implies a set of values and ideals, and a moral code of conduct. Not only ideas, but behaviors are embedded in the practice of religion, as the embodiment of what we believe, especially in Christianity. However, it is possible to have an emotional response, and even to accept certain values or beliefs, without fully accepting the religion proposing such values or beliefs.
As much as it is possible to have knowledge of religion without actually practicing religion and experiencing the spiritual side of religion, people can effectively study religion. The practice of religion, though, implies an engagement of the heart, or spirit, and a serious commitment to religious ideals and teachings. Additionally, although religious study is an essential part of the practice of religion, and the two intertwine almost inseparably, they are fundamentally and characteristically different. Summarily, knowing is NOT believing. References Craigie, P. C. (1980).
The role and relevance of biblical research. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 18: 19-31. Dawson, L. (1998). Conversion to Christianity: Historical and anthropological perspective on a great transformation. Journal of Comparative Sociology, 39(4): 404-407. Folkers, H. (2001). Knowledge and faith. Translated from Neue Zeitschrift fur Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie, 43(2): 208-235. Retrieved on May 2, 2009 from EBSCOHost. Shakov, M. (2007). Religious knowledge, objective knowledge of religion, and science. Russian Studies in Philosophy, 45(3): 35-59.Sample Essay of EduBirdie.com