22 June 2022

Bad religion.

As I’ve said before, a lot of Evangelicals have it in their heads “religion” is a bad thing. They scoff, “I don’t have a religion; I have a relationship.” But in my experience, if they aren’t religiously working on that relationship (and I do mean that in the sense of “consistent and conscientious regularity,” which is exactly what religion is about) it’s gonna be a really sucky relationship.

Y’see, to their minds “religion” means an absence of that relationship. It means they’re performing all the rituals and acts of devotion: They’re going to church, reading bible, saying rote prayers, doing sacraments, going on pilgrimages, hanging crosses on the wall, putting Jesus fish on their cars, and all their Spotify playlists are non-stop Christian music. But they don’t know Jesus. They never honestly talk with Jesus. They don’t read the Sermon on the Mount and follow it. As soon as they set foot outside the church building, they go back to being the same pagans as everyone else.

Properly, that’s called dead religion. Yes it’s a religion. But a proper religion has a living relationship at the center of it—and the living relationship is the whole point of our religious activities. We’re not just doing this stuff to fit in, or look good, or feel righteous, or win votes for Congress: We’re doing it to get better at following Jesus! And just as faith without works is dead faith, works without faith are dead works. Dead religion.

Dead religion is a common form of bad religion, but it’s not the most common form. That’d be irreligion, in which there’s no religion: No good works. No self-discipline, no habits nor practices, no priorities, no self-sacrifice, no fruit of the Spirit. Yet illogically, despite this utter lack of effort on our part, irreligious Christians still expect to spontaneously grow as Christians. Oh, we’ll grow all right—grow wrong. Grow less Christian.

Legalism and cults.

When people think of bad religion, usually what they’re thinking of are bad churches—groups that teach some twisted form of Christianity that’ll lead us astray. Heretics, obviously. Churches which claim Jesus isn’t God, or claim we’re not saved unless we work our way into worthiness. Usually they’re legalistic. Usually they’re cultish.

Sometimes they’re not—but they’re not Fundamentalist enough for certain Christians. I grew up in a Fundie church, and knew various Fundies who insisted Roman Catholics aren’t Christian. Why’d they say this? Because when they were little kids they were dragged to a Catholic church, and never met Jesus there… and refused to accept the idea maybe their experience was inadequate… or isn’t the norm. I’ve since met devout Catholics who are way closer to Jesus than these Fundies. (’Cause fruit.)

Sometimes Fundamentalism isn’t even the issue. I’m part of an Arminian discussion group, and we regularly get newbies who think Calvinists are heretics. The leaders of the group regularly have to correct the newbies: Calvinists are not heretics; we just think they’re wrong about God’s sovereignty and how atonement works. People can be mighty quick to throw the H-word around—to some, it’s a heresy if they simply don’t like it. They don’t always realize they don’t get to define heresy.

Likewise cults. Properly a cult is a fruitless, legalistic, totalitarian church. It might actually have orthodox beliefs, but because they’ve chosen to basically enslave their members to the leadership’s will, and use fear and intimidation to make them conform and behave: Total cult.

And cults are very bad religion. They’re antithetical to a loving relationship with Jesus: He’s kinda impossible to love when you’re terrified of what might happen when you don’t love him the way your church insists you must love him. If you worry he’ll send you to hell for getting the slightest thing wrong—if you put up with horrifying behavior from your leaders who use that fear of hell to manipulate you—frankly, those churches oughta be shut down and its leaders jailed. I realize in the United States we have freedom of religion, and I’m all for that; but slavery ain’t religion, no matter how much it disguises itself as that. Bust ’em for slavery.

Hypocrisy and Christianism.

The other bad religions are those which resemble Christianity, but aren’t really. There’s no growing relationship with Jesus, no development of the Spirit’s fruit, at the center of it. It’s about looking devout when you’re not really, about following the crowd instead of Jesus, or about promoting Christian nationalism instead of spreading God’s kingdom.

Faking one’s Christianity means we don’t have the real thing! It’s a false gospel, a false kingdom, a false relationship; it’s a whole other religion. When Paul wrote how those who teach an alternate gospel are cursed, Ga 1.8-9 it’s not so much him telling his readers to curse the people who promote fake Christianity: Their own actions put ’em squarely outside God’s kingdom. They’ve damned themselves. We’re just calling a spade a spade.

Jesus looks nothing like the White Jesus of Christian nationalism. That “Jesus” isn’t the king of every nation; he builds border walls. Isn’t offering salvation and grace to everyone; he has no grace, and only saves those who conform, i.e. do good works and believe the right things. Doesn’t tell us to love our neighbors; instead, the nationalists love guns. Doesn’t tell us we can’t love both God and Mammon; they do love both, because they imagine God uses Mammon to reward them. Whatever “fruit” they claim to have, is just vice with Christian labels. Which is way easier than actual fruit.

As for hypocrites: They’re in actual churches, and know what they actually have to do to follow Jesus. They’re pretending they totally do follow Jesus. In private they’re total pagans; or they have a home life and work life and church life, and they fight tooth and nail to keep these lives separate so they can behave one way in one place, and another way in another. In other words, no integrity at all. No consistency. Lies to cover up all the inconsistency. Hypocrisy. It’s not a false religion; it’s just a false Christian play-acting within a real one.

All these things gotta go if we truly want to follow Jesus. He has way better things in mind for us.