In the churches I've attended all my life, I've often heard Christians claim that while Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and so on are "religions", Christianity is not. While many in the church often seem to agree that some Christians are tied up in "religion", most invariably think they themselves are not. Curious.
Over the years my Faith has grown a great deal. The most amazing thing to me now is how much a lot of popular Christianity is a religion. By religion, I essentially refer to buying into a mindset that subjugates common sense, reason and reality to "faith" in ideas that are not consistent with reason and reality. It seems to me that many Christians have crises of Faith during their lives because they notice this dissonance. There seem to be three ways people who face this deal with it.
1) They suppress it until a later life crises.
2) They give up their Faith.
3) They find ways to rationalize their Faith.
But there are many approaches to rationalise one's Faith. Following Calvin and the Reformed tradition, many Christians would consider subjugating their beliefs to reasoning to be forsaking true "faith". So they adopt the kind of religious mindset I mentioned above, and change their reasoning to fit their Faith. Almost by definition, this approach of people seeking to resolve their faith crises in this way doesn't seem to truly resolve and discrepancies between reality and their Faith. Instead it drowns out those problems by other ideas and reasoning that fit their Faith, and hides them quietly under the carpet of ideas that are really problems because we just don't understand things as they really are. The reason I don't like that approach is that I've seen it make people unwittingly hold on to ideas that really don't help, and in some cases cause harm.
The second way to reconcile one's Faith is to change it to fit common sense, reasoning and reality as best we can. Many Christians would see this as a process of becoming a heretic: a kind of "heretosis". It is heretosis precisely because it questions the accepted religious mindset with the aim of finding a faith that is consistent with our reasoning and experiences of reality. Care is needed, of course, because of course we don't know everything, and so a keen awareness of what's clear and what's uncertain is helpful.
Fortunately for me, I've found other Christians who share my desire for a Faith that makes sense. I think they too share my distaste for "religion", and accept a kind of heretosis in discerning and holding less tightly some of the unhelpful traditions within popular Christian ideology. It seems we share the concept that instead of being "Christians" in a religious fairyland we can be people who follow Jesus in a very real and very down-to-earth way that makes a lot of sense.
An unexpected effect of my dissent from religion, though, is that I've actually come to feel more comfortable discussing Jesus with non-Christians than I do with Christians. I can easily understand why now - to me following Jesus isn't about believing a whole lot of inconsistent and thus unconvincing ideas, but about living in a better way that makes a lot of sense and helping others to also.
So where does that leave me? Various Christians think I am not one, which saddens me for several reasons - both personally, and because it highlights how quick Christians actually are to judge people because of their religious attitude. But I believe one can be a Christian without adopting a religious mindset, perhaps it's even better not to. I say that because many Church services leave me cringing and thinking of things Jesus said about people like the Scribes and Pharisees, perhaps that makes me a little judgmental too - perhaps wrongly, perhaps rightly. Yet I hope for a new kind of Christianity that could be much more like the original than the popular modern version. I suppose I am a bit of a rebel. But then I think of how Jesus' was rejected and even hated by the religious authorities of his day and I see that perhaps I'm not such a rebel after all... and that in my heretosis from the mass-produced modern Christian religion, I might be able to learn more orthodoxy and orthopraxy.