The title of this blog, not to mention the nearly four years’ worth of posts within it, should make this clear: I despise religion.
Please understand when I say this that before I go pointing fingers at anyone, I realize that four other fingers are pointing back at me. Before I go on this rant (if that’s what it ends up being), I want to make it clear that I’m not coming from the standpoint of someone who is totally free of religion, passing judgment on those who are not. There are very few Christians who do not have some sort of religion embedded in them, and with all my personal struggles to be free of it, I still see remnants of it in myself on occasion. I see religion as a sort of disease that afflicts us all, one in which healing is mainly gradual, as layers of it are removed from our minds. At least, that’s how it’s been for me.
So I do–I hate religion. It disgusts me for what it does to people, especially Christians. It disgusts me to see how it clouds our minds and makes us act so UN-Christlike at times, all the while convincing us that we are being “good” Christians in the process. I do not hate religious people–although sometimes I sure would like to shake ‘em–but I do hate seeing religion in them. I think the reason I don’t hate religious people is that I understand them so well. Having had so much of the filter of religion removed from my own mind, I now cringe at how many stupid things I have done in my past, how I dealt with people, when religion was dominating my thinking. I just wish sometimes I could shake people out of their lethargy and show them how stupid they sound when their religion is showing–because I know how I must have sounded.
The word “religion” is a confusing word for some; many actually equate it with Christianity itself, along with other religions. So let me clarify what I mean by “religion.” I see religion as more than simple belief–I see it as a system of belief and practice, one that ultimately becomes an end unto itself, rather than a means to an end. Most of the church’s religious practices actually started out as well-intended efforts, an attempt to draw closer to God and to Christlikeness. Eventually, they became their own distraction, a substitute for the very things they were intended to produce in our lives. It’s a subtle difference, and a diabolical one–and in my opinion, it’s one of Satan’s most clever tactics to undermine the effectiveness of the church in the world. If you can’t kill ‘em all–make them religious.
Religion, then (to me at least) is anything that becomes a substitute for true relationship with the one true God. And Christianity isn’t the only faith that suffers from it. By the time Jesus arrived on earth, for example, the Hebrew faith had become so religious that many of the Jews could not see that Jesus was fulfilling their own Scriptures. Jesus clashed numerous times with the religious spiritual leaders over their elevation of religious practice over the spirit behind their own Law. Ultimately, their excuse for putting Him to death was that He had violated their religion.
So how does this play out? Here are some of the specific reasons why religion disgusts me:
1. Religion creates faith without works. Religion causes us to exalt theory and doctrine above practice and common sense. Religion, for example, is what caused the Jewish leaders to be angry with Jesus for healing people on the Sabbath Day. Religion is what causes us to become offended with someone’s foul mouth rather than have compassion on the pain behind their foul mouth. Religion is what makes someone debate in their own soul whether they should help a brother, when the need is staring them right in the face. (Has nobody read James 2? Faith without works is dead.)
2. Religion, ironically, also creates works without faith. Religion gives us a system of do’s and don’ts by which we can measure our own spirituality (or at least, it gives us a false sense of it). Religion has the unique ability to develop “good” people who have little or no relationship with God, because it is much easier to follow a religion than it is to cultivate a relationship. (Eventually, the sin nature takes over, and “good” people start showing their true colors.)
3. Religion builds a false sense of pride. Because religion gives us something by which to measure ourselves, when we are “measuring up”, we can develop a false assurance of our own spirituality. From there, religion tends to cause us to become arrogant and judgmental towards others who are not “measuring up” as well as we are, or who have not received the same level of “revelation” as we have.
4. Religion appoints us as its defenders. One author I read who was writing about this topic made the very insightful observation that religious people tend to get very angry, especially at dissenters. I’m not sure why this is, but I can definitely see it. Religious people don’t just agreeably disagree; they get pissed off. It’s like when we are religious about our beliefs, we feel obligated to defend them. I’m not talking about mere righteous indignation (even Jesus got angry at times, even to the point of overturning the money-changers’ tables). I’m talking about becoming almost inexplicably furious. Religion breeds anger. This is why some of the most hateful people in the world are also the most religious. It is also why so many of the world’s atrocities have been committed in the name of religion. (I’ve actually used this aspect of religion as a litmus test in my own life–if a dissenting viewpoint makes me unreasonably angry, I am likely being religious about it, and I need to deal with that.)
There are other things I could point out about this, but suffice it to say that I see religion as being the antithesis of what God intended for us–both in how we relate to Him, and in how we relate to others on this planet. Religion is a substitute for the real thing, and is therefore a thief of what is real. My own quest to be rid of it has caused many religious people (especially religious leaders) to be quite angry with me at times. But the more I find religion leaving my life, quite frankly, the freer I become to pursue Christ in a real way, and to embrace my life more fully.
And isn’t that why Jesus came? To give us life, and to give us freedom?
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” –Jn. 10:10
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” –Gal. 5:1