Searches for God are much more popular than searches for religion, but what does it mean?
A quick Google Trends search will show that interest in religion over God has declined from 2014 up to the present time.
Are people searching more for a higher power or a deity, and not for the structure, organization and community of religion? Google can only give us a single indicator of this reality, however, we get further confirmation from Pew Research Center. According to a 2017 study by Pew, American adults who do not affiliate with a religious group have risen dramatically, while those who believe in a higher power comprise an overwhelming majority of Americans, specifically 90 percent. Also, “About half (48%) of U.S. adults believe God determines what happens to them most or all of the time.” How do we differentiate having a relationship with God versus following religion?
According to Sri Chinmoy there is a difference between human religion and divine religion. “There is a human religion and a divine religion. The human religion is a baseless self-aggrandisement. The human religion is a lifeless confidence. The divine religion is a constant God-proclamation from the very depth of the seeker’s heart. It is in the inmost recesses of his heart that a seeker proclaims God’s Reality, God’s Divinity, God’s Immortality.” Another distinction that I particularly like that Biography Online makes: “The human religion teaches through fear. The divine religion teaches through love and love alone.”
Frank Powell, lead writer for Bayside Christian Church in blog in Birmingham Alabama, enumerates nine reasons why Jesus hates religion. He differentiates between religion and true Christianity, saying that religion incites hate and causes division, while a real relationship with Jesus is all about love. “But Jesus’s life and actions were driven by love. You see, what makes God amazing is not his infinite power. What makes God amazing is he chooses to love relentlessly even though he has infinite power.”
Here are some more quotes about the difference between following a religion and having a relationship with God:
- “[A lot of people] think that Christianity is you doing all the righteous things you hate and avoiding all the wicked things you love in order to go to Heaven. No, that’s a lost man with religion. A Christian is a person whose heart has been changed; they have new affections.” ~ Paul Washer
- “Religion is the possibility of the removal of every ground of confidence except confidence in God alone.” – Karl Barth
- “Most men, indeed, play at religion as they play at games, religion itself being of all games the one most universally played.” – A. W. Tozer
- “Religion is a guy in church thinking about fishing. Relationship is a guy out fishing thinking about God.”
Three quarters of religious nones believe in a higher power, according to Pew Research Center. Those that believe in the God of the Bible generally believe in “an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving deity who determines most or all of what happens in their lives.” Those that believe spiritually in a higher power may be less likely to believe in a God that is benevolent in human affairs. What we cannot certainly confirm is why people are turning more to God than religion. We could speculate that it is because of the declining reputation of different kinds of religion, and how it has been involved in many situations of human suffering.