What Religion?
Off The Wall, April 9, 2010

One of the great joys of doing this column is to dig into peoples’ minds and discover if they respond “as I think they will” as opposed to “as they should.”

With that said, one of my many pet peeves I’ve accumulated over the years is to hear or read persons failing to distinguish the difference between denomination and religion. One tabloid advertised a DVD as a “…a six-part series offering insights in the striking similarities and vast differences among the world’s major religions: Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Catholicism, and Buddhism.” Give me a break!

So as has been the practice over the years, I put out a questionnaire throughout the world to see if this was just a “me thing,” or how others responded to this topic. Here was the question. “What religion are you? Somehow I had a gut feeling people’s answers.

Now, I don’t know about other religions, whether they are broken down, such as ours. For instance, we have denominations such as Methodist, Baptist, and Roman Catholics.

That’s the catch. It is my opinion, the majority of churchgoers do not know the difference between what is meant by denomination and the word, religion.

Just for the sake of clarity, let me spell out the definitions of both. Denomination is “A long established subgroup that has been in existence for many years.” Religion is defined as “Any system of faith and worship.” Also, “A belief binding the spiritual nature of man to a supernatural being.” As followers of Christ, we are subsequently called Christians.

This brings me to the survey.

I asked participants to please put an “X” next to either: “I am Catholic, Protestant, Christian, not religious, atheist, and to comment.

Fifty-seven percent of the Catholic returns believed their religion was Catholic, not Christian. Nineteen percent strongly admitted their religion was Protestant, and 24%, Christian.

In addition, I had one ambiguous response that I concluded did not fit into either category. A middle-aged woman from Chicago, IL, who I’ll identify as Marilyn, told me, “I can’t put an “X” next to “I am a Christian. However, that would be my response.”

Nellie, from Naples, NE, revealed, “I was never taught in Catholic school that I belonged to the Christian religion, only Catholic religion!”

This comes from a gentleman in the military who is protecting our country by serving in the army. Billie told me, “I am a Christian, but Baptist is my religion, Paul.” Hmm…

Annabelle from Baton Rouge, LA, go to the head of the class! “We are all Christians, our god is the same – we all believe in the Trinity – we need to stick together to ‘fight’ the Muslims if it becomes necessary…” When asked, she remarked as to denomination, she remarked, “I am a Presbyterian.”

I always look forward to the commentary of Cindy Lou who emails me from nearby Greensburg. I imagine she is one of those persons I could sit and talk to for hours analytically, and I’d wager to guess, there’d be no end to our conversation. In her email, she pointed out, “I probably should declare I am a Catholic Christian or a Christian of the Catholic persuasion, to emphasize the important Element of believing Unity.”

That brings us to a third word – persuasion, or a settled belief.

If anyone should ask, my religion is Christian. I was persuaded by the Holy Spirit to leave a Protestant church and join a denomination of my religion, the Catholic Church, where I am a member with strong conviction today.

I just don’t get it. Christians have been in existence for well over 2,000 years, and yet, people tell me their denomination is their religion and that’s that. Do I sense a failure in the educative system of the churches to spell out such basic teachings? When I was told by Nellie, she never was taught about Christianity in her school, only Catholicism, why do I cringe?

If one is going to take his faith seriously and is a follower of Christ, realize that he is a Christian first, and then relinquish his denomination. Any other way is ludicrous!

- Paul J. Volkmann
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