If you say something long enough and often enough, people will believe you. If you juxtapose two things constantly, people will assume that those things are, in fact, in opposition to one another. Surely not, you say. Surely if you said, “I don’t like food – I just like steak,” your listeners would recognize that you are spouting nonsense. After all, most people beyond the 3rd grade would recognize that if “B” is a subset of “A”, then one cannot like “B” without also liking some part of “A”, namely “B”.
Except, of course, in church. There, you simply redefine “A” however you like. You declare that food is everything but steak. Or drink is everything but iced tea. Or color is everything but blue. Or religion is everything but Christianity.
To do this, of course, you have to ignore James 1:26-27
If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
James plainly says that you are not truly religious if you do not bridle your tongue, visit orphans and widows, and stay untainted by the world. According to James, if you don’t want to be religious, you should gossip and tear people down, ignore the needy in your midst, and be as worldly as possible.
“But I’ve been told that religion is man’s attempt to reach God and Christianity is God’s attempt to reach man.” Where is that definition in the Bible? Where is that definition anywhere in Church history until the 20th century? After all the Greek word used in the New Testament (thrēskos and it’s cognate thrēskeia) means devout or pious.
“But weren’t the Pharisee and Sadducees religious leaders?” Among the religious leaders of the day there were some that belonged to the Pharisee branch of Second Temple Judaism and others who belong to the Sadducee branch and others who belonged to groups that aren’t specifically mentioned in the New Testament. They didn’t oppose Jesus because He was some sort of free-wheeling anti-intellectual hippie who didn’t want religion. They opposed Him because He said they needed to both think and do differently. They didn’t want to give up their incomplete theology for the complete revelation of God in His Messiah. And they were very concerned that if everyone did this, they would lose their political and cultural powerbase. That’s why they they got together with the Herodians.
“Isn’t religion about rules and regulations and Jesus is just about relationship?” All religions and all relationships have rules. That what defines them as relationships. There are things you can do and things you can’t do. Jesus lays down lots of rules in the Gospels, Paul and the other epistle writers lay down rules. The point is not that there are no rules. The point is that these are the rules as they are supposed to be. They are the rules revealed by the Holy Spirit, not rules that are part of self-imposed religion. (Colossians 2:23)
There is true religion and there is false religion. There’s never no religion.
For very good article on how our culture tries to juxtapose spirituality and religion, I recommend The Image of God and Spirituality by Dr. Glenn Sunshine in the Journal of Christian Worldview.