Every story needs a villain and the villain I most often employ is religion. Grace is good, but religion is bad. Grace promotes trust in God, but religion is all about trusting self. Grace says, “God helps you,” but religion says, “God helps those who help themselves.”
Some have said that I’m giving religion a bad rap, that religion is not the evil empire I make it out to be. “A lot of good is done in the name of religion.” Others distinguish good religion from bad religion. “Didn’t James write something about pure religion being acceptable to God?” He did, but James hated religion.
Religion means different things to different people, so let’s begin with a definition. According to the OED, the word originally meant to bind as in bind or bound to religious vows, practices, or traditions. Google “etymology of the word religion” and you will see that it comes from a Latin word meaning “to bind.”
At its heart, religion is a form of bondage. To say there are good forms of religion is like saying there are good forms of slavery.
So that you may be certain in your mind, here are ten reasons why religion is bad for you.
1. Religion is based on a lie
At the heart of religion is the belief that we can make ourselves good. It’s the serpent saying, “Do this and you will be like God.” We think Adam and Eve were fools for listening, but we repeat their mistake whenever we look to ourselves as our source of security and joy. Religion is a temple built with human hands.
2. Religion prostitutes the love of God
Religion perpetuates numerous lies about the character of God. “God is mad at you. He’s keeping score. He may reject you.” These lies feed the fiction that God can be bought. “But if you do A, B, and C, you can appease an angry God. If you are faithful and good, he will bless you.” What a villainous distortion of our Father’s unconditional love!
3. Religion alienates you from grace
Religion offers a pathway to God that perversely leads away from him. “Keep these rules, heed these principles, do what you’re told, and you’ll be acceptable to God.” Nope. The highway of religious pride does not go to the throne of grace (Gal 5:4).
4. Religion is idolatry
Forget Baal, Molech, and television. The biggest idol is the one called Self. This idol utters two words again and again. “I will make things right. I will do better. I will never fall away. I will follow Jesus anywhere. I will do great things. I will ascend to the heavens. I will be like the Most High.” Religion runs on will power and speaks the language of Satan (Is 14:12-14).
5. Religion rewrites the Bible
Since religion is false, while God’s Word is true, it has to redefine words like repentance (penance), faith (works), hope (wishful thinking), obedience (rule-keeping), and grace (grease for the gears of self-effort), lest it be exposed for the sham that it is. Christ said following him was meant to be easy, but religion makes it hard. The gospel is meant to be good news, but religion makes it bad.
6. Religion makes you angry
Religious people are the maddest people on earth and understandably so. They are hounded by the dogs of law. They carry unbearable loads. They hear the happy sounds of a divine party, but their pride won’t let them join in. Tell them that they’ve been conned and their investments count for nothing, and they will tear your head off.
7. Religion makes you stupid
Insanity is doing the same thing again and again expecting a different result. For fourteen centuries the Israelites practiced religion in the hope that it would earn them the favor of heaven. That’s 70,000 Sabbath’s to figure out it doesn’t work. Then Jesus came and fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law so that you might be justified by faith in him, and religion still says it all depends on you.
Jesus makes the simple wise, but religion makes you stupid (2 Cor 3:14). Religion will lead you to say things like, “God raised up ISIS to serve his purposes,” and “Divorce your current husband (who loves you) and return to your first one (who abused you).” (I’ve heard both claims in recent weeks.)
8. Religion will kill you
God gave us relationships so that we might enjoy life, but religion prefers rules. Rules suck the life out of your marriage, your family, your church. A blind adherence to principals will cause you to sacrifice friendships and crucify your brothers. Rule-based religion will destroy everything good in your life (2 Cor 3:7).
9. Religion is a cult
Everyone knows cults are bad, right? But did you know that religion shares every characteristic of a cult: authoritarian leadership, indoctrination, exclusivism, isolation, and opposition to independent thinking. Cults recruit people by offering a counterfeit form of acceptance and purpose, which is also how religion operates. Like a cult, religion discourages questions and marginalizes those who fail to toe the line. Organized religion is just a cult on steroids.
10. Religion is dehumanizing
Jesus offers you abundant life here and now, but religion says the life you desire is only available tomorrow. “One day you may become the person you want to be, but right now you are incomplete, inferior, and far from God. You are a sinful, little grub with no value except that which you produce.”
This dehumanizing doctrine of demons is a million miles from the gospel of Jesus. In Christ you are completely holy and righteous, eternally forgiven and accepted forever!
Make no mistake – religion is rotten to the core. Religion is organized crime masquerading as an insurance racket. Like the Mafia, religious institutions may hide behind a storefront of good deeds. Don’t be fooled! Regardless of what it says on the brochure, the purpose of religion is to enslave you. Religion wins and you lose whenever you buy into its propaganda of uncertainty and fear.
Jesus didn’t suffer and die to establish religion. Jesus is the end of religion.