Occasionally someone accuses me of hating God or Religion. Neither one of these things is true, at least not in the strictest sense of the word hate. I realize that I have benefited from lessons I learned and experiences I had with God and organized religion.
But, starting around 2016, I began to question my faith and the further I went, the more perspective I gained and the more troubling my view of God and the state of religion became. It wasn’t just that “every church has problems,” it was that there were systemic problems in religion and my beliefs about God that were becoming more and more problematic to the way I approach life.
If I wanted to, I could point to a certain time frame between 1980 and the present and the rise of conservative, Evangelical religious machines that were obviously the most toxic. Most of the people I know that are deconstructing their faith emerge out of these traditions. Although these issues are obvious and easy to criticize, they are not the only points to consider.
Just being more woke and accepting doesn’t erase all toxic beliefs about God and all problematic issues with religion. When we gain good perspective, we realize the issues are systemic and they have existed for a long time.
Let’s talk about the bigger ones
1. Toxic views
For me, when I took a step back and allowed myself to ask hard questions, some of my beliefs began to become unraveled. My beliefs about hell, the retributive nature of God, and my feelings about American nationalism were some of the first things to go. As I continued to dove deeper and examined more thoroughly, I began to question the legitimacy of organized religion in the 21st century.
While we were deeply engaged with religion and Christianity, we always found a way to excuse away some of these doubts. But, when I could examine them more honestly, it was easier to let them go. The truth remained, the real stuff emerged, but many of my long held beliefs slipped away.
Looking back on this transformation, I have little to no regrets and I am finding a stability and peace that I never felt before. I don’t hate religion, but I have to honestly reject some of its practices and beliefs to move forward authentically.
2. Organized Religion Doesn’t Heal Us
I need to make some general statements because religion tends to work in general ways. For the most part, religion promises to help us heal our trauma. It attracts wounded people, and it has an intention of helping them but, generally, it doesn’t heal our trauma and sometimes, it causes it or makes it worse.
One of the reasons is spiritual bypassing. Because suffering makes us uncomfortable, we develop phrases and spiritual answers that sound good but don’t address the real issues. Even in small groups, it’s more likely that we will experience bypassing than the deep listening that we need to truly heal.
Another reason we don’t generally find healing in organized religion is because organized religion is an organization. In an organization, the organization always comes first. Most of the money and energy is directed towards staff and buildings and producing the show. Staff is postured towards new and potential members, and members with “issues” are more often considered last and sometimes ignored.
Maybe instead of listening to so many sermons, we should have been listening to each other. We need to make space for each other and for our trauma. Until we do this, we won’t find healing inside of an organization.
3. Religion is Unnecessary
It is a common understanding that people have always had some sort of religion of many different forms. It may be a part of our search for meaning and understanding and community. I’m even willing to consent that maybe we needed it for a time. But my current belief is that we have evolved past it.
The community I receive in the typical religious institution today is not really genuine community. It is a common enemy intimacy and a faux community. There’s no real intimacy for healing except on the rare occasions where we meet and listen to each other.
The services of the church are very easy to find elsewhere. They’re also very inefficiently administered. I can hear a religious lecture at all the hours of the day from any place in the world via my smartphone. I can go to a concert or listen to a concert online just about anytime I want. I can take communion in my home. Can find the best instruction and inspiration and even community outside the walls for free.
There’s really no reason to give 10% of my income for a clergy to supervise my spirituality when New Testament advises that we are all priests and that we don’t need to go to a building to worship.
So, I do not hate worship or God. My understanding of God has definitely changed and my need for organized religion has definitely diminished greatly. I can’t keep doing the things I used to do with my new understanding. I can’t not know it.
In our book, Out Into the Desert, we consider these another factors as we evaluate organize religion in the 21st century and tell some of our stories.
The best I can do for now is move forward with the current understanding I have. I am okay with some uncertainty and I boldly accept the adventure. I’m not angry.
Be where you are,
Be who you are,
Photo by Glenn Siepert