I used to be religious. I immaturely believed my beliefs were what led to my salvation. If organized in just the right ways, I would somehow “know” God. In Christianese, I would “be saved.” Of course, this begs the question: “saved from what?” If it is salvation from a monster god—one that abhors us as if we were some loathsome insect —I’m not sure what a damn bit of good my “correct beliefs” were going to do for me.
But I digress . . .
The problem for me was that the beliefs that were somehow going to lead to “heaven” changed like the blowing wind. I was “saved” as early as five but really, what does that mean? No five year-old can understand what they are saying when they sycophantically ask Jesus to “come into their heart (as if he isn’t already there!).” It is all just a mimetic response: a deliberate imitation of, more often than not, their parents. And my “decision” to follow Jesus was because the alternative was a divine Abu Ghraib. Nothing says “free choice” like the threat of torture! I couldn’t wrap my head or my heart around any of this and it spiritually killed me.
I thought of just how wretched I was. There was a Bible verse and subsequent fundamentalist interpretation to “clearly” denounce just about everything I did. If I cussed, James 3:9–12! Laugh at a dirty joke and its right to Ephesians 4:29. Oh, and I won’t fail to mention just what sort of thoughts my teenage years were responsible for. Although God smote Onan for reasons other than simply “spilling his seed,” regardless, I never imagined he was all too pleased with how I chose to spend a good many hours as a teenager. If anyone was a sinner it was me! My law-based religion reminded me constantly.
So, like I said, I spiritually died. “Don’t do this and don’t do that” was like dying from a million paper cuts. I became another victim of “death by religion.”
Sadly, victims are still being produced today. I see it all over the place. Correct beliefs about Jesus often seem more important than loving like Jesus. Let me rephrase. Correct beliefs about Christianity often seem more important than loving like Jesus. Too often, even Jesus plays second fiddle to the religion that was created in his name. Talk about an irony of ironies!
And speaking of irony, as Jesus never created scapegoats, just look at who is “in” and who is “out” according to mainstream, religious Christianity.
Muslims? Definitely out!
“Liberal” Christians? They don’t even exist according to some.
Universalists? Don’t even get me started!
Hindus? See “Muslims.”
All other faith traditions? Obviously out!
And just to make sure the world knows who is “in” and who is “out,” some religious zealots make signs and stand on street corners, intimidatingly stand outside Mosques with guns in hand, label others as “satanists,” “false prophets,” and “cultish,” and tell just about everyone who doesn’t square with their subjective understanding of “Christian” that they are on the “road to perdition.”
It sickens me.I grieve for both those trapped in the snare we call religion and those abused by it. I believe Jesus does too. He came to free us from placing our belief in sacred violence so it must pain him to think such abuse is done in his name.
We must begin to say “enough!” We cannot continue to stand for doctrines and dogmas that rely on an “in” crowd and an “out” crowd. Those types of beliefs always lead to persecution, to victimization, to violence. And none of that is compatible with following Jesus. It must stop!
Jesus came to heal and comfort those the religious authorities kicked to the fringes of society. He didn’t come to validate “us vs. them” thinking. He didn’t come to validate sacrificial religion, a temple system, or a god who needs something in order to give something. He came to teach us that the divine is even in the “least of these.”
“Liberal” Christians? Yes they exist and yes they are included.
Universalists? I would hope so!
Hindus? See “Muslims.”
All other faith traditions? Like I said: included!
Every 500 years, Christianity goes through a major change. It has been 500 years since the Protestant Reformation so it is that time again, this time for a reformation from Christianity to following Jesus. And that means the real Jesus. That means the Jesus who stood in the face of the Roman Empire and refused to fight fire with fire. That means a messiah who refused to live up to the violent expectations of such a title. That means a Jesus who refused to create victims, who refused to create scapegoats, and who refused to do anything but the will of his Father he affectionately called “Abba.” That Jesus!
I pray for the day when Christians convert to Jesus en masse. In order for that to happen, Christianity must be shorn of its religious aspects—holiness codes, sacrificial hermeneutics, law-based doctrines, and the like. Until then, I will continue to lament over those who face the wrath of religion. Unlike the yoke of Jesus, which is easy, religion’s is more than hard and its burden great indeed. That path leads to destruction but the path paved in love leads to life. Let us choose love. Let us choose Jesus . . . but I repeat myself.
 See Calvinist Jonathan Edwards’ sermon entitled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”