Dear Religion,

This is a guest post from Matt Distefano.

Matthew J. Distefano is the author of All Set Free and From the Blood of Abel. He is a regular contributor for the Unfundamentalist Christians blog on Patheos.

 

Dear Religion,

You entered my life at such an early age that I cannot recall. Your doctrines, your orthodoxies, your “correct beliefs,” forced upon me before I even knew how to think. And as such, you were always a given. Everything you said was a given in fact. No. Questions. Allowed. Every jot and tittle of how the world worked, crammed into my curious, impressionable mind. And you did this with glee, didn’t you? You were so certain of yourself, so emphatic that whatever you said went. What you had was “truth.” Scratch that. What you had was “Truth.”

One of these so-called “truths” was that some were bound for heaven and some for hell. It was simple: if you gave your heart to Jesus you’ll spend eternity in bliss. But if you failed to do so his Father would throw you into a lake of fire to burn in agony forever and ever. A divine Auschwitz, if you will. Somehow this was a loving act. Somehow this Father was supposed to be a loving father, love itself in fact (1 John 4:8). Somehow he was supposed to be better than my own father who, for the majority of my childhood and entirety of my adulthood, cast me off like the “filthy rag” I’ve been told I am (Isaiah 64:6).

Do you recall the torment this caused me? Do you recall the night terrors that forced me to run throughout my house in a stupor, eerily yelling terrible admonitions at the top of my lungs? Do you recall the many times you forced me to carry the corpse of my hell-bound agnostic grandfather through the killing fields of the Armageddon that was playing out in my fragile mind? Do you recall how I had to run in terror from the hellish creatures you sent to me in those many dreams? Do you recall the demon of sleep paralysis that held me down while everyone else around me seemed to be deep in peaceful slumber? Do you recall these things?

And I don’t know if this was even the worst of it. You also had me convinced that the Rapture was coming, and coming soon, in fact. Every tragic world event was proof! Worse yet, you had me convinced that I wasn’t going to be among the lucky few who got to be “caught up” in the air with Jesus. Why? Because somehow I wouldn’t make the cut: surely I had blasphemed the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32), called my little brother things much worse than “fool” (Matthew 5:22), looked at countless women lustfully (Matthew 5:28), and on and on. So in spite of asking Jesus into my heart on multiple occasions, I figured I’d be left behind, which meant that the events of the book of the Revelation were literally going to come down hard upon me and all the other heathens I spent time with.

I could only tolerate this for so long. The overwhelming anxiety over my future demise was debilitating. And more than that, the death of every loved one—every friend who blew their brains out, or who took too much Tylenol, every deceased family member who hadn’t “given their heart to Jesus” before taking their final breath—stung like a hell too great to bear.

So I walked away from you. And, in truth, how could I be blamed? Do you really expect everyone under your oppressive death grip to develop Stockholm syndrome of the worst kind? You may fool some, but not all. Let me be clear though, you won’t fool anyone forever. Jesus taught me that: “When I am lifted up from the earth, (I) will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). Ironic, isn’t it? That the Jesus you tried to mutate into some Rambo-like, tattooed prize-fighter who is coming back for blood and vengeance would be the very man who saved me from your clutches. That’s gotta really stick in your craw.

Worse yet for you, there is a movement taking place as we speak: people are waking up to the very  thing I have awoken to—that we are all one and that Christ Jesus is Lord over ALL. Not just some. Not just the Christians: the Baptists, the Episcopalians, the Catholics, the Methodists, the Lutherans, the Calvinists, the Arminians, and all those who are not any of those things, but also all those who don’t currently know the Father, Son, or Spirit, all those who even currently spit in Jesus’ face, sell him out for 30 pieces of silver, deny him in front of others, and go to their grave doing so. All of us!

Because of this beautiful reality, my goal now is to help liberate others from your clutches, and I’m doing it by preaching the gospel of Christ Jesus, or, in other words, the gospel of peace for all humanity (Ephesians 6:15). This is the Gospel about what has been done, not what needs to be done . . . or else! You see, there is no “or else” in the Gospel, because there is no darkness in the Father (1 John 1:5). And even though you have done your best to say that there is, there isn’t. One day, we’ll all know this. That will be a good day indeed!

I bid you adieu. I look forward to the day where you have been reduced to the dustbin of history.

Matthew J. Distefano

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