Religion made faith easy and safe. It gave me a set of understandable measure markers, expectations, and boundaries so I could easily tell if I was doing good, or doing badly.
Religion put things in my control. It laid out the parameters for a desired result, and told me I could obtain that desired result if I met the requirements (i.e., prayed enough, read my Bible enough, said the right things, did enough good deeds, or what-have-you). It took the guesswork out of trusting God.
Religion put me on the fast track of spirituality. It was the perfect way to serve God at a distance, because it based my success on right beliefs and religious activities, as opposed to forming relationship with a righteous God or having to face the death of my sinful nature. It gave me ways to manage and mask my guilt without having to undergo a change in my character, or deal with the more messy process of dying and being resurrected with Christ. It served as a short cut to spirituality.
Religion gave me a way to win almost every argument. The Bible is an interesting book because if you put your mind to it, you can make it say almost anything you want it to say, especially when you lift a line or two out of its original context. This is very helpful when you want to prove your point to somebody, and it’s helpful when you are choosing a particular brand of theology that appeals to you. Approaching the Bible through religion helped me find substantive proof for the things I already believed, because there is plenty of Scripture to back up almost any doctrinal, political or moral viewpoint. And because the Bible is so big, I could pretty much ignore the passages that made me feel uncomfortable–because I could make several other Scriptures contradict the ones I didn’t like.
Religion helped me figure God out. Because the Bible is so easily manipulated, it is fairly easy to create a picture of God from it that makes sense to you–or better yet, you can go to a preacher, pastor, or priest, and have them do this for you, rather than study the Bible for yourself. In this way, religion essentially “tamed” God for me, so I could be confident in what I knew about Him. And religion never challenged me to use the Bible for its original intent, to dig deeper, to learn the heart of the One who inspired what is written on its pages, or to form a real relationship with Him. Religion turned God from a Person into data and philosophy for me–much easier to deal with.
Religion built up my self-esteem when I performed well. When I held the helm of my faith firmly, when my doctrine was in order, when I was doing the right things consistently, mixed with the right amount of zeal, I could hold my head up above others were not doing as well as I. I could feel better about myself because religion showed me how superior I was to others.
Religion gave me a hiding place–at least for awhile. When my world was rocked because God showed up in a way that contradicted my beliefs, or when reality began to shoot holes in my theology, or when my ugly sin nature showed up to remind me that my labors were in vain…I could retreat into the denial and the ignorant bliss of my belief system, and tell myself it was all really okay. For awhile…
And then…religion failed me.