Is religion a necessary evil, or a petri dish for cultural clumsiness?
You like jokes?
A Jesuit, a Dominican, and a Franciscan were walking along an old road, debating the greatness of their orders.
Suddenly, an apparition of the Holy Family appeared in front of them, with Jesus in a manger and Mary and Joseph praying over him.
The Franciscan fell on his face, overcome with awe at the sight of God born in such poverty. The Dominican fell to his knees, adoring the beautiful reflection of the Trinity and the Holy Family.
The Jesuit walked up to Joseph, put his arm around his shoulder, and said; “so, have you thought about where to send him to school?”
Well, I thought it was funny.
What’s the point of religion in 2020 and beyond?
Frankly, that depends on whom you direct the question.
Some may claim it a necessary organizing structure for mitigating societal ills. A method for directing our moral instinct.
Others may arrive at the conclusion that it’s a useless derivative of fairy tale telling control freaks who wish to dominate your existence with petty rules.
I’m somewhere in the middle.
Though, if push came to shove, I would likely lean more towards the conclusions come to by agnostics and non-believers, than to that of fellow Christians.
And that’s sad.
But before you discount this opinion as heretical, hear me out.
Religion as I define it, is a set of rules put in place to be pursued as to achieve some specific end.
In fact, you could apply this word to anything that maintains some sort of structure, especially those elevated to such a position where they evade common sense.
Not because such structures are inherently illogical, but, because if the knowledge was common everyone would know; rendering such rules superfluous.
So yes, theistic traditions are religions.
But, so are capitalism, or sports.
Even higher education has become religious to a degree (pun intended).
Don’t believe me?
Try and allow Ben Shapiro onto a college campus and see what happens.
My theory is that religion is not a concept reserved for temple dwellers, but is in fact the standard mode of being in our present day.
In short, we need rules to survive.
*And to keep from killing each other.
Nearly every action we take from the moment we rise to the second we fall asleep is governed by a set of rules that pervade the reality in which we choose to exist, and determine subsequent actions.
I’m not talking about hidden biases deriving from religious exposure, I am referring to a collective tendency to consciously relinquish our personal desires in order to follow some pathway to ‘success’ set by another person.
Because, that’s all religion really is.
To God. To money. To power.
Just a path.
But, made by a person… like you.
In a sense, to follow a religion explicitly is to take someone else’s word for it. To give up searching for yourself, and take whatever the crowd gives you.
So whichever faith system you choose, be it a church or a football team, recognize that you are simply following a set of man made rules.
Is what it is.
What’s funny, is that God doesn’t do rules.
Not anymore at least.
God does grace.
Religion, therefore, is an outdated pattern that parallels a paradigm of overreliance.
What I’m suggesting, is a new way to live.
Because… rules are fake.
What’s real, is your eternal soul.
Recognize that if you continue down the beaten path, following man man guidelines — you’ll only end up where everyone else has gone.
Spirituality on the other hand, is a completely different mode of being.
It doesn’t depend on a book, nor does it hinge on outside opinions.
Spirituality is the self directed pursuit of ultimate truth.
As in, you make your own rules.
Sounds awesome, right?
Well it is, but unfortunately – it’s not quite so simple.
Turns out, a lot of folks have an aversion to Truth, and so it seems we still need a bit help in terms of figuring out the right path to take.
A quick question for you, before we proceed.
What’s the difference between a cult and a religion?
Or is there one?
Joe Rogan in a stand up routine once said;
“In a cult, bulls**t is created by one person who knows its bulls**t, in religion… that person is dead.”
Does he have a point?
Because these days, the line between cult and religion seems largely arbitrary.
One clear example of this is the Catholic Church, which in my estimation has all the makings of a classically conditioned sect; only, since a billion people seem to agree with the notion that old guys in robes hold the keys to eternal life, we let it slide.
As a Christian, I recognize I’m skating on thin ice here.
But honestly… I don’t care.
I just call it how I see it.
History of Catholicism.
I’m a big believer in context, so let’s start from the beginning.
The original name used to denote the early church was ekklesia katholicos; which means ‘Universal Church’. Ignatius, a disciple of John, was the one who brought this term into the realm of Christian thought.
Today, the word ‘Catholic’ is more likely to imply a suspension of critical thought than of anything universal.
In addition, the term ‘Ecclesia’, which comes from a Greek idea referencing the political assembly of citizens where everyone has a say, has now morphed into our current concept of church where political power is concentrated within a few select leaderships.
In those days, the power was with the people.
This is clearly no longer the case, as now all of it has been consolidated amongst a few bishops, pastors and deacons.
Even in ‘regular’ non-Catholic churches, our idea of ekklesia has lost is original flavor. Now we see church as a club where some “professional” Christian who preaches at everyone else in the congregation.
Nowhere in the New Testament is this common practice, yet it’s how we’ve decided to proceed in this 21st century.
Not as a united body of imperfect people continually engaging with one another as we strive to become perfected in Christ.
Instead, we’ve acquiesced to a consumer culture of metrics-based success that tells us we need to prioritize butts in cushioned seats over hearts in love with Jesus Christ.
Words are important, as they contain within their syllables the engrained ethos of a people at a specific point in time. In my view, both “Catholic” and “Church” in today’s iterations constitute cases of verbal appropriation.
Call it what you want, semantic drift seems to be a more popular phrase.
Either way, it ain’t what it used to be.
All I know is that whatever Ignatius meant when he penned terms immortalized in The Apostle’s Creed, no longer reflect what I see manifesting in our world today.
But don’t just take my word for it.
Here’s what it says on Wikipedia.
“The Catholic Church was a continuation of the early Christian community established by the Disciples of Jesus. The Church considers its bishops to be the successors to Jesus’s apostles and the Church’s leader, the Bishop of Rome (also known as the Pope) to be the sole successor to Saint Peter, who ministered in Rome in the first century AD, after his appointment by Jesus as head of the church. By the end of the 2nd century, bishops began congregating in regional synods to resolve doctrinal and policy issues. By the 3rd century, the bishop of Rome began to act as a court of appeals for problems that other bishops could not resolve…”
Let’s stop here.
See any problems?
“…Court of appeals…”
But this is my blog.
And, when I read my bible, it talks about ALL of God’s people being “co-heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:17).
Not a select few.
And I definitely don’t see any scripture referencing the role of appellate courts…
But, maybe I’m missing something.
Phrases indicative of hierarchical structures are based in secular modes of governance. They anchor on the ideas of management & administration.
But, here’s the thing.
Jesus was pretty explicit in his mission.
That mission, was to free people from their “managers”, and allow them to proceed through life with a kind of sovereignty that can only come from God.
Not from Pharisees or Sadducees.
Christ was far more concerned with the formation something akin to a decentralized organization focused on transformation, than with empowering a top down religious aristocracy overly occupied with strict obedience.
The central tenant of the faith from its inception was one based on freedom from worldly structures…
Not the adoption of them.
This is what amazes me about our churches today.
And not in a good way.
We seem keen on adopting a worldly way of survival, then only afterwards trying to fit Jesus into our ready-made stratagems.
We partner social growth strategies with marketing schemes, and call it holy.
But is that what Jesus wanted?
But, this is all an aside.
Lets’ continue our history lesson.
Fast forward to the days of Emperor Constantine. A masterful statesman who successfully aided in the spread of Christian ideals throughout the Roman Empire.
His strategy feigned altruistic motives, but please be clear — Constantine was a politician motivated by personal legacy, and not spiritual nirvana.
Sure, he legalized Christianity, allowing it to flourish under the banner of Roman law.
But that’s the problem.
It was under the banner of Roman Law.
Constantine (whose himself didn’t adopt a Christian worldview until on his death bed, supposedly) understood something very important.
Christianity was no religion, and Jesus Christ was a revolutionary.
If these followers of his were right, then their God was the only way to Truth…
This meant that most of the worlds power centers as constructed would cease to exist. Nation states are based on law and order. The only way to keep that, is to claim superiority.
If they could no longer make that claim legitimately, all the power in the system would return to the people.
Which is awesome for the people, not so much for the managers.
The only way to keep this growing contingency of crazy Christ followers in line, was to appease them with favorable laws.
This made Christianity popular. But it also set the stage for many who cared more about gaining influence than following Jesus.
Besides, popularity was never the goal.
Paul was one such crazy cat, and he ended up penning much of the New Testament.
He was also imprisoned, beaten, and generally disliked by most of his contemporaries. But upon closer examination, it was through this struggle that his faith was made formidable.
What Constantine was able to successfully do, was less obvious, but more nefarious.
He removed suffering.
But in doing so, he also diluted potency and lowered the cost of belief.
He managed to tame an ever-expanding church, making its followers less likely to revolt, and paradoxically, more likely to implode.
Bear in mind that the early church was known for meeting in small homes and sharing meals in intimate settings.
The new version, call it ‘Church 2.0’, was known for its opulent traditions and high art.
Thus our beloved ekklesia was transformed from a living organism that inhabited the hearts of people and threatened the power structures of its day, to a dead set of rules and regulations that were housed in inanimate building structures.
Building only accessible only to those in authority, and largely subservient to Roman law.
How did this happen?
First, we got sidelined by glamour.
Symbolism is powerful, and Constantine knew this.
He played the role of magnanimous leader quite well; and recognized the potential value in things like the famed sculptures and beautiful architecture.
This seems all good, until you note in these grand gestures lie little or no trace to the humble beginnings through which the original church was established.
In short, we became distracted by the things of this world.
And it’s hard not to be.
I mean — have you seen these buildings?
I could imagine it difficult not to feel a sense of awe upon entering such a palace, especially thousands of years ago.
Yet, these structures — just like today’s religions — are man made.
It seems to me that Rome wasn’t really “Christianized” as much as Christianity was “Romanized”.
Second, we no longer trusted ourselves, and instead deferred to authority.
The Bible in this time period was still in flux.
As a young text of immense power, it was subject to many varying interpretations as people who all claimed to have access to Truth would put their own spin on things.
Maybe you’ve heard of books such as The Gospel of Thomas or the third letter to the Corinthians. Extrabiblical texts that didn’t quite make it into our modern day Bibles, yet remained in wide circulation among Christ followers.
Both then, and now.
This proved to be a problem that wasn’t so easily solved.
The Council of Nicaea was our human attempt at forming an agreed upon set of books that would be included in what we now know as The Canonical Bible.
It should be noted that Constantine (who at the time was not a Christian) formed the head of this meeting and called together the relevant leaders who would debate and eventually settle on the inspired scriptures in their current form.
Again, this is all well and good, but takes the focus off what was important.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, leading to the birth of a new type of human.
The Bible is a great reference point.
In fact it is THE reference point, but ultimately — as you become a “new creature” capable of discerning right from wrong, The Law inhabits your very soul.
It’s becomes stamped in your minds and in your heart. (Heb 10:16)
This means, you are officially free from rules and regulations.
As a matter of fact, you become the rules and regulations.
There is no more need for condemnation, as we become conduits of light and life…
we become The Church.
That some good news.
But, it came to be hampered by an overly litigious society bent on conserving power for itself. So, we reverted to a paradigm of ‘professional Christianity’ that glorifies temporal leaders instead of edifying The Eternal One.
Paul did more for the church than any man who has ever lived (save Jesus). Yet, at no point in his ministry did he accept glory for himself.
To be sure, he actually rebuked those who venerated him, as well as other “merely human teachers.” (1 Cor 3:4)
So how have we come to the conclusion that some guy in Italy was to become elevated above everyone else?
Show me where in scripture it states we remain stuck in old ways of doing things.
It’s as if we haven’t increased in understanding since the days of Moses.
It’s time to grow up out of a Ten Commandment’s type of faith.
Maybe, instead of being influenced by a culture of commercialism and greed — we should begin to do the influencing.
We, the people.
We, the church.
Rules are easy, they require no thought.
Only that you accept another’s conclusions and follow accordingly.
But we are not robots made to follow algorithms… we are human beings created to follow God.
Obedience is not a goal in and of itself. Rather, it’s a byproduct of grace.
Not a responsibility.
We love, because He loved us first.
Not, “we love, because you followed the rules”
Really it could all be so simple.
But a lot of folks just don’t get it.
They can’t understand a faith that doesn’t rely on keeping laws.
“Sure, religion isn’t perfect, but we still need rules & regulations.” (false)
“Okay, but people need role models to look up to in order to have clear direction” (false)
…Or (my personal favorite)…
“How are we supposed to reach people if we don’t have a stellar worship team?” (bruh.)
It’s 2020 yall. Wake up.
That’s the answer.
Rules don’t fix us, they only reveal hidden agendas that illuminate the depravity.
Really, they make us act out.
When mom said NOT to do it… what did you immediately feel like doing?
Go and reread Paul’s letters to the early churches. He lays it out nicely.
Here’s an excerpt from Romans 7.
4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
Seems pretty clear to me.
I can concede that The Law (in itself) is good.
But it’s role is not to control us, it’s role is to help us identify sin.
Not that great for prevention, but awesome for awareness.
To be fair, such awareness was necessary in the days of Moses.
God was a foreign concept, and people had no desire to be good.
But now, I believe the opposite is true.
We all know God exists, I don’t care what you say. You know.
And most of us want to be good people.
So what do we do now?
Two solutions I’ve come up with; and I’ll get out of your hair.
First find your gut, then trust your gut.
1. Find your gut
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you
One of the problems I often see is a propensity for us to distrust our own insights and instead rely on the assumptions of others. This is natural when you’re young and dumb.
Yet, what I see happening, is that people stay locked in their youthful ideals and refuse to grow into a state of full understanding.
They prefer living as spiritual infants.
This leaves a large swath of insecure high schoolers posing as adults, rife for being swindled by powerful purveyors of ‘truth’.
The Catholic Church isn’t the only offender, but be sure, it’s had this whole social engineering thing down pat since the calendar switched from BC to AD.
Therefore, the only solution left is to find truth for yourself.
Nobody else can do it for you. Not even your pastor.
All of this is basically to say… I’m tired of religion.
Jesus said to ask, seek, and knock. Not to act like you’ve got it together.
This imagery of a doorway is an important motif. It implies we are already accepted in.
All you need to do, is make the request.
It’s like, if you got an invitation to a party wouldn’t you expect to be let in once you arrived at the door?
Only, you still have to get up, get ready and go.
Otherwise its another night of Netflix and cheese puffs.
2. Trust your gut
Not everyone that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Finding yourself is pretty simple. All you need to do is be silent, and be honest.
Who are you?
The particulars are nice, but the basic idea is that your awareness is proof enough proof of your existence.
We live in a crazy world where everyone seems to have arrived at some answer that they are simultaneously trying to convince you of.
Though, don’t you ever feel like just maybe… they’re also trying to convince themselves?
Therein lies is the absurdity of believing anyone but you.
“The experience of the universe flows though you. No one else is experiencing what you’re experiencing, or what you have experienced, or what you will experience”
Michael Durst Ph.D., Napkin Notes On The Art Of Living
Only YOU know what YOU know about YOUR life.
So, why defer to anyone else on anything about… anything?
Are you really that unsure of yourself?
But, that isn’t a bad thing.
In fact, It’s a sign of honesty.
Congratulations. You’re already on your way to Truth.
Just, don’t stop at unsure.
Graduate to Christ consciousness.
Become the person you know you’re supposed to be.
The thing is, you can’t do it on your own — you don’t understand enough.
This is why religions got popular in the first place.
Nonetheless, you probably shouldn’t do it based on what someone else said — or else you’re setting yourself up to look dumb in the long run.
The only way you find Truth, is by searching for it.
Belief is still important, because faith is the fuel for everything else.
But don’t place your belief in a system, or a human being.
Place it in the Source of everything that exists.
Trust that the one who created you wants what is good for you.
Then you can’t go wrong.
But sure, go to church.
Community is still important.
So post your tweets and pictures.
Attend your conferences.
Listen to wise leaders.
Just understand that if you haven’t made the shift from self-reliance to God-reliance, nothing you do is impressing Him.
God doesn’t care about how eloquent you are.
Or how many people like your Facebook status.
Or how respected you are in the ‘church’.
He cares about one thing only.
God is much more concerned with healing your pain, than in you following rules.
So, be real with Him.
He already knows anyway.
He’s just waiting for you to “be still and know” as well. (Psalm 46:10)
Let down the walls of pretension, hurt, and fear; and then watch Him radically alter your perspective.
“Don’t overcomplicate how simple it is to live a blessed life.
Don’t underestimate how ready God is to give you what you truly desire.”
Just don’t wait too long.
Party is about to start.
Jesus love you, dude.