April 18, 2009 by

Shortcuts, Buffer Zones and No-Brainers


Categories: Meanderings (look it up), religion

Douglas Weaver made a comment on my last post on labels that got me thinking. Here’s a snippet of what he said:

“I think it goes back to that tendency toward religion that resides within us all. The carnal nature is hopelessly religious – always seeking a new method or form that will get us closer to God.”

I think he’s right, and I wonder what it is about humans that makes us so religious. Even people who are atheists, or people who claim no faith at all, quite often hold to their non-religion “religiously.” Why is that? Why is religion such a strong default posture for us?

First, I think we have to narrow down what “religion” is, because it is a widely-used term that’s often misunderstood. For my purposes here…religion is basically any practice or belief that we lean upon to draw us closer to God or make us more “spiritual”, in place of true relationship with God. Taken this way…you can see that just about anything, even good things, can become religious. In many cases, religiosity is less about what we do and more about why we’re doing it. For many Christians, the snare of religion occurs when the form and structure of our faith becomes more important than the substance of it–when we confuse method for principle.

That being established–I can think of basically three reasons why we humans tend to be religious in some way…

1. We love no-brainers. As much brain capacity that we have that we don’t really use…we still like to use it as little as possible. We love to figure something out that “works” and then do it over and over without having to think about it anymore. And we looove to try and figure God out. Once we think we’ve got it pegged that this is how the God thing is done…we like to set it in motion and let it run. This is one of the pitfalls of theology, if you think about it–not that theology or doctrine are bad, but when we use these things to box God in and presume to have Him figured out…our theology becomes our religion at that point. And once we are satisfied with our belief system or our preferred method of practice, we don’t need to press in any deeper. Our goal at that point simply becomes to guard and defend that which we “know that we know” against people that would challenge it.

2. We love shortcuts. If we are left to our own fallen nature, we will usually take the path of least resistance. If there is a fast-track to spiritual maturity, to the supernatural, or whatever–we want to take it. Relationship with God takes a level of effort, uncertainty, accountability and vulnerability that most of us don’t really like. Religion tends to be a lot more cut-and-dried, and places us in control of our spirituality, which makes things a lot easier for us. In reality, a simple relationship with God is more of a “shortcut” than the complexities of religion; but it’s almost like the difference between ascending a mountain by walking a winding road or by climbing directly up the face of the cliff. Religion is the easier, winding road, so it feels like a shortcut.

3. We love buffer zones. There’s something in us that I believe does want to be close to God; but that’s a dangerous proposition, and we know it. So if there is a way to feel close to Him without actually becoming vulnerable, we tend to gravitate that way. Religion provides that buffer zone, where we can serve Him at a distance by serving our religion–serving our church, serving our beliefs and practices–and still feel like we’re hitting the mark spiritually.

If you think about it, all three of these point to the same basic dilemma. Being close to God is encoded, if you will, into our original DNA; but our fallen sinful nature simply can’t get that close without dying. There’s this tug-of-war in us that wants to walk with God in the garden, but feels the urge to hide from Him when He shows up. Religion provides a substitute for the real thing; we can (at least for awhile) feel close to God without actually getting close to Him. We want God, but we want Him on our terms. And even after we come to Christ, we often still struggle with the impulse to create shortcuts, no-brainers and buffer zones–to make it feel easier, safer.

Crazy, isn’t it? Is it any wonder that Jesus said none of us can even come to Him unless the Holy Spirit is first drawing us?

Have you any thoughts about this? In what areas of your own life do you still see yourself defaulting to religion? Anyone want to share?

Anyone? 🙂

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

2 Responses to Shortcuts, Buffer Zones and No-Brainers

  1. Rich


    “Getting closer to God” wow, isn’t it fascinating that the realities that are ours IN Christ never register with us unless He makes what is already ours known to us, as I like to say, “It’s a revelation, not a seminar”.
    If it is true, “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit” then is it possible without that reality invading us, we are very much like someone trying with all the best effort they posses to gain entrance into a room they already are in?
    Without the reality of that foundation of being one with God our Father, how can anyone ever attempt to be, get closer to God?

    Regarding what makes us so inclined to be ‘religious’ I want to recommend some thoughts from a wonderful friend and brother Bill Landon, in his book, “The Devil You Don’t Know”. You can locate it through iUniverse.

  2. Douglas Weaver

    Great thoughts Jeff. I especially appreciate:
    1) “We love to figure something out that “works” and then do it over and over without having to think about it anymore.”

    First there is the arrogance on our part to suggest the we have arrived at what “works”. Second, how often we commit Peter’s error on the Mount of Transfiguration – having experienced something of God’s presence we immediately want to build a tent: then a house, then a city, then a movement.

    2) “Religion provides a substitute for the real thing; we can (at least for awhile) feel close to God without actually getting close to Him.”

    So, so true. We walk in Christ by faith, not feeling. As Paul said, ” the life I now live I live by faith…” Oh how many traps the enemy sets for those who walk with God on the basis of feeling.

    My only point of difference is that religion I don’t see religion as a “shortcut” since it can never actually get you to the destination – which is Christ.

    Lastly, Rich’s reference to Landon’s book reminded my of another classic along these lies: C. S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce.”

    Thanks again for your thoughts!

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