False Religion, True Religion series
Vladimir Putin has been raining down destruction and death on the country of Ukraine, demolishing entire major cities because he wants to own it. He quoted the Bible: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends,” from John 15:13
Perhaps Putin was talking about the sacrifices the Ukrainian people are making for their friends.
The conqueror often wraps himself in the flag of greater ideals to make his greed and evil look legitimate, as the world weeps at the suffering.
Russian attack of peasant village of Yakovlivka in Kharkiv
Image by Mvs.gov.ua on Wikimedia Commons
People love to justify their behavior. There’s a joke about a person who went to confession and asked the priest for penance for a sin he was about to commit. Except it wasn’t a joke in the Middle Ages, people of wealth actually did this. Pay for the sin and then go do it.
Propensity for violence
Christians have always had a propensity for violence. They are so certain of their truth that they can justify any behavior. Not that Christianity approved, but often turned its head. See no evil.
The conquerors of many lands lusted for the wealth of those nations, considered the indigenous people to be less than human and certainly not the faithful of Christianity, so thought nothing of killing them and taking their gold. “In 1519, Hernán Cortes captured Emperor Montezuma and sacked the mighty Aztec Empire, making off with thousands of pounds of gold and silver and making rich men of the conquistadors who were with him.
In 1533, Francisco Pizarro discovered the Inca Empire in the Andes of South America.” – The Legend of El Dorado: The Mysterious Lost City of Gold. ThoughtCo.
When Protestants broke off from Catholicism in Europe, it sparked endless conflicts and loss of life, including the 30 Years War. “The Thirty Years’ War was a 17th-century religious conflict fought primarily in central Europe. It remains one of the longest and most brutal wars in human history, with more than 8 million casualties resulting from military battles as well as from the famine and disease caused by the conflict.” – Thirty Years’ War by HISTORY.COM EDITORS
Similar conflicts within European countries were between Christians and other religious groups. Many people fled to the Americas to avoid such conflicts in the future. Alas, people behaved the same in the US. They believed the Native Americans were heathens who could be killed with impunity, so that people could have land free of others.
Today’s violent world
Certainly terrorists from other countries, and terrorists from within the US who don’t like the government or police, or others, are the same. They see others as subhuman or acceptable collateral damage.
Violent thinking doesn’t stop there. Some in the US are so certain their particular view of religion is the only right one that they believe everyone besides them are going straight to Hell. They refuse to help them or even associate with them.
Jesus said no
In Jesus time, many Jews felt it was illegal to associate with people they felt were unacceptable. This included lepers, “sinners,” tax collectors, Samaritans who didn’t believe quite the same as them, Roman soldiers, and non-Jews. Who did Jesus associate with? All of those people. Who did he not associate with? The people who thought they were without fault: the Pharisees. They argued endlessly with him to justify themselves, but Jesus had no part of it.
One Way to God, many paths
Jesus said, “I am (represent) the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” Jesus was a Jew and the Jews considered the first five books of the Bible to show the way to live. Jesus actually changed very little of that, just added perspective. Where the Jews had found 613 Laws in the Bible that they followed, Jesus simply said that his burden is light: Love one another – the most important thing.
Jesus went on to say in John 14 (paraphrased), He who has seen Me has seen the Father. the Father is in Me. Believe because of the works themselves. He who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do.
Jesus showed us the way. He showed us this is a true way to live (more about this in a coming article.) He said this is life giving.
Jesus marveled at the faith he saw in people who were not Jews. The Apostle Paul noted that many have the law in their hearts, which is what the prophets of Israel and Jesus said would happen. It did. We don’t have to tell anyone what is lawful or not. It’s in their hearts. The Kingdom of God is open to all who ask for forgiveness.
When Religion Becomes Evil
Charles Kimball, in his book When Religion Becomes Evil, says that, “A substantial number of Christians … embrace some form of exclusivism that says, ‘My understanding and experience of Jesus is the only way to God.”
“The lived reality of Christianity throughout history is not appreciably different from what one finds in other major religions. A strong case can be made that, in fact, that the history of Christianity contains considerably more violence and destruction than that of most other major religions. Arrogant confidence in one’s own tradition coupled with condescending dismissal of others ironically reinforces, by example, the argument that religion is the problem.”
Religion is the same all over
In my research, and others’, into the development of major religions up through the time of Jesus, the same things are inevitably found: One Supreme God (with other manifestations), emphasis on forgiveness, mercy, justice (social), and love. Even in ancient Sumer in 3000 BCE society, priests, and kings struggled over making society just.
Even Buddhism, which leaves it up to the individual whether or not to recognize God, has these same qualities. The Buddha told his son to practice love. (Buddhism grew out of ancient Hindu religions, but the practices are not necessarily spiritual, such as meditation.)
Why are Christians so eager to send everyone who isn’t exactly like them to Hell? I’ve been in churches who felt that their understanding was the only way, and they refused to associate with or help anyone outside of their little circle.
Sending the world to Hell is a form of mental and emotional violence. It is a major issue that younger generations can’t overcome, and as a result won’t go to any church. Many people have been rejecting this idea for well over a century, if not more. It drove me from the church as a youth.
Why are some people so satisfied with sending all others to Hell? Do they like empathy? Is it just a way of justifying not helping others and not acting out of love for others, and rejecting others, no different from the conquistadors of earlier ages? Take their treasure, treat them less than human, and justify it? Some treat their pets better than people. In their eyes the things God asks of us take second place to what they want.
The Elect in Hell
Ancient Jews justified separating themselves from others because they were “the elect,” that is those chosen by God. But what were they chosen by God for? To be an example.
Today’s Christians, following the teachings of the Apostle Paul, also call themselves The Elect. But what are they chosen for? To be examples of God’s love as shown to us by Jesus. More is expected of them.
What we’re seeing today and through the centuries is some people see this not as a position of serving others as Jesus did, but as a position of privilege. They are above others and can take from others and treat them like dirt.
I just talked to my grandchildren about the Hell some Christians substitute for the Good News. It’s one of the things driving them from religion, and rightly so. Hell is not the Good News.
Jesus was a Jew and spoke almost entirely to Jews. They believed that if they sinned by hurting another person, they had to go to that person ASAP and make it right and ask their forgiveness. Sins against God were only dealt with one day a year on the Day of Atonement. Those who refused to do so, turning away from others and from God, were the ones who could expect Hell. They put themselves there.
The Jewish religion, from the first five books of the Bible, has no concept of Hell. They didn’t think people lived beyond this life (no immortality). Probably thoughts about this concept came in through the Exile in Babylon, through traders and migrants, and in the last 300 years before Jesus’ time through Alexander the Great, the Greek Emperor who conquered their land. He spread Greek religion, culture, and language through all lands that he conquered. The Greeks had a well-developed concept of the afterlife.
When Jesus entered the picture he had to speak to these things for which they had no official teaching. He gave them very graphic images, saying that Hell is like being thrown in the garbage, or being thrown into outer darkness, or into a lake of fire. In these things he described the outcome that people chose for themselves and force on themselves. It isn’t something God does, it’s something they do.
What Jesus alluded to is that when people live a lifetime of harming others, especially for personal gain, then their conscience burns and they are separated from others and from God. Later writers like Dante in Dante’s Inferno, apparently found it soul satisfying to think of others as being tortured for the harm they did to others. But that isn’t Biblical at all.
Jesus didn’t condemn anyone during his ministry. He came the closest with those who had positions of leading and teaching others, many of whom he considered snakes and hypocrites and wouldn’t associate with. I have to wonder about today’s Christians who think they are so right they can’t possibly be wrong, and hold God’s forgiveness and place in the Kingdom exclusively for themselves, while essentially hating others and thinking violent thoughts about them. What does this say about them and their final place?
They need to understand what they represent – God’s love for all of God’s creation – and that God only respects doing his work, not knowing about it.
Take Home points
False religion is when religion becomes evil and the love of God is nowhere present. Quoting the Bible to justify harming others is false religion. We are only to love others.
Our answer is God. God’s answer is us. Together we make the world better.
I will use some book references for this series, which I recommended reading:
- Tabernacle of Hate by Kerry Nobles – true story of a group that isolated for peaceful living but ended up in cults that advocated violence.
- C Street by Jeff Sharlet – a true cult that thought Jesus was wrong, and influences politicians around the world
- When Religion Becomes Evil by Charles Kimball (5 warning signs)
What Is Meant by Truth? (Worship in Spirit and in Truth)