Life’s Too Short To Pretend You’re Not Religious opens with a provoking list. The author, David Dark, outlines the people his book “goes out to” — a list which every conceivable person falls into. The book is for those who will read it — and though Dark is a professing Christian, the scope was broader than Christianity alone. The book is not about wooing new believers, but about changing the connotations associated with the term “religion” to stimulate conversation and connection among people of diverse backgrounds. It is meant to alter the way that all people view religion — especially those who are hostile to simply the idea alone — so it will not be a semantic stumbling block, but they will begin to view it as an intrinsic part of their story that shapes who they are and what they do.
From the start, Dark opens the discussion to all people. He addresses the reaction of nonreligious people to the word “religion”: they label. When people hear the word “religion,” their emotional baggage automatically rises to the surface, leading to judgment. Dark recognizes the necessity of identifying the labeling problem within the introduction: “When I label people, I no longer have to deal with them thoughtfully… they have been taken care of” (Dark 13).
Dark also weaves several central Christian principles into the book: the need for community, the relational aspect of religion, and how it’s for everyone. Dark acknowledges the importance of community, not only within the context of Christianity but also in humanity as a whole. He spends an entire chapter imploring people to recognize the importance that community has in our life. He captures this in the phrase “chother,” a shortening of “each other.” Our chother — our family, our community — is the iron that sharpens iron.
Dark offers a thorough motivation of community as a basic human need, acknowledging that community is a universal necessity, not only for people of faith but for all of humanity. In the words of Dark “everyone needs at least one or two people asking them to tell them specifically how they’re doing in this unfolding tale” (Dark 114). Indeed, this key principle of Christianity is for everyone. Dark recognizes a deep desire for meaning within us and that “the idea that any of us can have our meaning alone…is a death-dealing delusion” (Dark 139).
My primary critique is of the idea that we can be religious about anything. Dark says you can be religious about “your obsession with Game of Thrones” or “your determination to hold onto that plastic bottle till you’ve found a recycling receptacle” (Dark 22). Dark goes to significant lengths to level religious playing field in an attempt to bridge the gap between those who think they’re religious and those who think (or even assert strongly) that they are not. This move is problematic because it cheapens the concept of “religion” itself. Dark defines religion as “the what, the to whom, and the how of our everyday lives” (Dark 115). He defines it this way so that the idea of “being religious” is no longer something that people can separate from themselves. In this way, he strives to make religion a less polarizing topic. However, in doing this, he devalues the very notion of religion in some sense. Religion has historically been held to be sacred because of its relationality — it uniquely describes the tradition of how people relate with God. Dark allows religion to be replaced by a fake replica of relationship with whatever it is that people invest their time in, no matter how trivial. By construing “religion” as something so casual and commonplace, he undermines its relational principle.
People often associate rules with religion, perhaps because they were taught to have that relationship they must follow the rules and jump through the religious hoops. But at its core, religion should always be used to describe a relationship between two beings. In my case, it is me and a triune God. In others, it may be someone and Allah or some unnamed god. But in each case, it is a living human with another perceived being — not with an object. To use religion to describe a relationship with an inanimate object lessens the significance of religion as a relationship with another being.
I disagreed with Dark’s loose definition of what can be considered a “religion” because it can desensitize people to the word itself. If we hope to draw people into a more comfortable place with Christianity, we must not attempt to convince them they’re already religious. This risks minimizing the notion of religion entirely. We must shift the discussion away from religion and towards the relationship. Relationship is where the gravity and sacredness of religion lies. That is why the Gospel is all about cultivating a relationship with God and knowing Jesus. Forgetting about relationship cheapens religion and misses the point of the Gospel.