Religion

Wow. It has been a while. You think when you start a blog you will write every week or maybe even every day but Life has other ideas. You get busy. An angry woman named Sandy storms through your life. You go on a short vacation. And suddenly you turn around and realize you haven’t written anything in the last three weeks. Then you start to feel a pressure about writing and the Muse takes leave of you (my Muse is named Victoria and she HATES pressure of any sort). So here I am having been internet speechless for nearly a month!

Today’s topic is religion, and I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. My background is church ministry and those who heard my sermons for years know that “short and sweet” can be a challenge for me–at least the short part. But I do hope I can be sweet at least.

A recent conversation with a loved one prompted a comment that I “can’t invent my own religion” (at least that is a close summation). That was a thought that I just haven’t been able to let go. It has fermented and fizzed in my brain for several weeks now and whether the result is fine wine or cheap I will let you be the judge of.

My gut response to such a thought is that EVERYONE invents their own religion. Literally. Unless you accept every single thought of some religious teacher then you DO invent your own religion. It may be tucked safely inside the framework of some established faith or it may be a smorgasbord of several belief systems but if you maintain any independent judgment you will invent your own religion to fit your life. Now you may feel “led” by Something Greater in this invention but make no mistake–there are no “pure” Christians or Muslims or Jews or Buddhists or Hindus–we all pick and choose a bit based on factors too numerous for me to mention here. So on one level it seems to me impossible not to invent one’s own religion to some degree.

Now, I do need to explain that at this point I’m using the word “religion” rather loosely. I’m using it as a virtual synonym for “worldview” or “belief system”. Everybody–including atheists–have one. We all make judgments about what is real and of value and what our lives are about. We all decide if we believe in a god or gods or The God or no god at all. We all make decisions about right and wrong, even if those decisions are largely subconscious. In other words, religion in that sense is unavoidable.

But of course, “religion” has a much more specific meaning in general usage. In that sense it means what “brand” do you accept? Do you follow Moses or Jesus or Mohammed or the Buddha or one of a myriad other systems? What rituals do you follow? What knowledge or action is required to be enlightened or saved? Or do you reject them all and believe that we are basically random accumulations of atoms floating in a meaningless universe?

It is at this point I must make what will be a shocking confession to some–I claim no religion, nor do I want to establish one or invent my own. I have a faith in Jesus, but I am coming to see just how irreligious of a figure he was, and my faith in him is often at odds with the institutional religion of “Christianity”. He doesn’t speak about religion and is frequently at odds with people who are religious. He often uses religious people as bad examples not to be followed. And his disdain of what we call religion made him quite unpopular with the religious–especially those who considered themselves leaders among the religious. In the end it got him killed in the physical sense. People don’t like it when you mess with their religion. They will metaphorically kill you or even actually kill you if social mores allow it.

Before anyone’s feathers get too ruffled let me say that I am going to develop these thought further in future posts and please don’t think I personally am judging anyone or denying that many times people who style themselves “religious” do good things and help others. The last thing I want to do is set myself up as a the judge of anyone. In fact, that is exactly what religions tend to do. They tend to supplant God and take it upon themselves to decide who is in and who is out and who is good and who is bad.

Tonight I just want to plant a seed–the idea that Jesus was not religious nor did he come to establish a religion. In fact, he came  to free people from the shackles of what is commonly understood to be religion. He came to help good things grow inside us and wanted his followers to do the same. I think for a while they did. Then unfortunately the simple way of following Jesus became obscured by a new religion established in his name. The Way of the Spirit was supplanted by the way of the letter. The Way of love by the way of ritual. The rest is history, and it is a sad history–persecution, crusade, slavery, genocide–all in the name of God. No wonder the unbelievers often roll their eyes and turn away. We have gotten in the way of Jesus. have gotten in the way of Jesus. At least my religion has. So I renounce it, and pray and hope that it will be replaced by something far better.

Categories: Mind, Spirit | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Religion

  1. “Religion” as you and I would define it is by its very nature of the world. It is, as you say, a system of classifying ourselves. That doesn’t make it inherintly good or evil. But it is what we make of it. As followers of Jesus our call is not to be a religion but to be the church — the living, breathing embodiment of Christ in the world, empowered by his spirit — and to embrace and breathe life into a kingdom not of this world, yet intimately involved in its redemption. Yet, religion is a siren song…it often promises — and frequently delivers — the very good we desire. Despite our best attempts to master it, though, it inevitably devolves into, as you call it, the way of the letter. Wesley spoke of “true religion,” by which he meant love perfected in human beings and human communities. That kind of religion is the only one that defies the seduction of legalism, because it is the very thing that fulfilled the law itself.

  2. Interesting post!…but I would toss out a couple more thoughts from my point of view. The definition of religion is a belief in a supernatural power that created and governs the universe as well as a set of beliefs, rituals, etc., that based on certain teachings of an individual. I see religion more as the frame of a painting that holds the image of the belief – most of religion is a human construct and susceptible to the foibles and frailties of the human condition and mind – as such, I think the frame analogy is apropos…it constrains and limits the belief, restricts personal growth due to a constant adherence to rules/laws (mind you, this is not a bad thing, but by many religions do not encourage the believer to question and stretch beyond the boundary of “the frame” to develop a greater faith). WE must remember that the Old Testament had specific rules specified by God and Jesus gave specific instructions as well that were to be followed – therefore constraints in “religion” are valid but usually corrupted not by the Lawgiver but by the humans who interpret and attempt to enforce. Also, I would add one other item…your statement “The rest is history, and it is a sad history – persecution, crusade, slavery, genocide – all in the name of God” is agreeable to me, yet I am troubled as it does not directly assess the true blame, for I think most unbelievers (atheists especially) focus on God as the problem, but in actuality the atrocities mentioned were conducted by man (a fallible, lost, ignorant, self-serving soul) instead of a loving, Almighty God. Would the statement “The rest is history, and it is a sad history – persecution, crusade, slavery, genocide – all conducted by imperfect and fallen Man in the name of God.” What think ye?

    • Hi lee, I read your response and I wanted to give you an atheist’s perspective on your statement that we think God is the problem. There is a misunderstanding out there that we are truly anti-god, but the truth is we are anti-religion. Religions are a real thing; we can see them, we can go inside churches that assume religious titles, we can even feel their impact in our society. You see, We can’t point to god and say “there he is” or hold him/she/it in our hand say “look here, have a smell,” but we can hold a bible or Koran in our hands and read about the atrocities committed in the name of god.

      I completely agree with your statement that evil such as genocide has been, is, and will be committed via human hands – man is responsible. Although, there is a variable missing in this logic. Joshua and the Israelites, for example, in the Old Testament, killed men, women (pregnant women too = abortion) and children (babies = infanticide), because god told them to. Your position is the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” argument, right? I agree with you; however, I don’t know of any instance where someone said that a gun commanded them to kill – it is always something metaphysical, like god, Satan or demons – and the god they hear from is usually the same one from their religion.

      It is the religion we are against; it is the superstition we are against; it is the mental delusions we are against. I can’t prove god doesn’t exist, not can you prove that he does. However, I can poke many holes in a religion and prove through contradictions and irrationalities that a religion is based on hearsay and is, for lack of a better word, false. People think we are against god, because they think god can only be found in their religion or belief system, and when we attack their belief system, they think we are attacking god.

  3. Thank you both for your comments. I appreciate thoughts offered in a good spirit, and hope my own posts are offered in the right spirit. I certainly don’t claim all the answers. I really claim only one answer–Love, and Love often poses as many questions as it answers.

    Lee, not that long ago I probably would have answered a post like this almost as exactly as you have, and I like your analogy of religion as a framework. I think the problem comes with the almost inevitable human tendency to deify the framework. The Divine gets contained by the words I use to describe things unseen and becomes synonymous in my brain to my own understanding. I have a long way to go here myself.

    I am growing increasingly uncomfortable with the seeing God through the lens of “law giver”. I believe that the behind the scenes lesson of the Old Testament is precisely that such a view of God–and the corollary view of accessing God via law–falls very short of the God’s ultimate nature as Love. Obviously, the Creator sets principles in motion that govern the created, but all true morality I think is related to love–or it isn’t real morality.

    I will agree with you that God gets the blame unjustly for wrong done by those claiming Divine license. I guess that comes with the territory though, and should give anyone claiming any sort of connection to God pause before they speak and do.

    Just my thoughts, and I’m just a man currently swinging a hammer for a living…

  4. Keilah

    Amen. 🙂 I have often found religion to be at odds with faith and in my view you are spot on about Jesus. Many of today’s moral majority would likely feel the same way about him as the religious of his day and seek to discredit or harm him. It makes me sad to see so much hate spewed out in the name of the Lord. But then, I haven’t subscribed to organized religion for a long time, although I try to follow the bottom line that Jesus taught because it resonated with me. Yes, we do choose what we accept as truth. We can only hope that choose correctly.

  5. Keilah

    Oops… that “we” choose correctly.

  6. Jeff – Interesting response again! I see your point regarding framework as it is the various constructs of man (via establishments of “religions” or denominations or “churches”) that have perpetuated man’s inherent immorality and sins. I have always struggled with the issue of divisions within the religious world and how it relates to the Truth of God’s word. Who’s right and who’s wrong? How can one determine what belief is correct? Though logic or faith or a combination of both? Interestingly enough, you and I come from the same “church” background and I have found it fascinating to observe your recent transition. I think you are entirely correct that humans deify the framework they have constructed…it is easier to deify something that is familiar and comfortable – the concept of pure love for fellow man is very uncomfortable to most and is very difficult for most people to abide by – therefore they construct a framework that specifies laws/limitations that gives them the freedom to incorporate their own biases. Your point is well-taken about God as a Law-Giver in the Old Testament. The various rules and laws of the OT were done away with Christ. True morality related to Love? I think I understand your intent here, especially since you preceded it with the comment about the Creator setting principles into motion that govern the created. Laws are required to limit behavior, principles define the behavior without the need for laws. The question, therefore, is how do we as Christians get believers (and unbelievers) alike to live by these principles in society (hopefully to stop the degradation of social standards in today’s society)?

    I must also commend you…I am exceedingly impressed with your innate abilities of concern, compassion, search for deeper Truth, love of God, and understanding of the human condition. I did not see this in you thirty years ago..;-). Your posts give me much to consider and I enjoy these few discussions. I will also say thank you for introducing me to Emerson as I had never read any of his writings. I look forward to your next insight and discussion.

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