How Religion Controls Us

How Religion Controls Us August 19, 2023
Photo by cottonbro studio:


Have you ever wondered how we got so entangled with religion?
Just think about it, on a typical Sunday morning, a religious family will spend about an hour getting ready, then they will drive to the designated place. They put on their smiley faces when they get there. They sometimes participate in classes, but then sit and listen to one person speak for about an hour after experiencing a mini concert that plays with their emotions. At some point, they will donate as much as 10% of their livelihood to this enterprise, not to mention the time they will spend in weekly activities there.
How did religion gain this much control over us?
Let me make a few suggestions. My reference point is Western Christianity.
1. Worm Theology
I realize that different religions have different doctrines, but most of them suggest that you have a problem that only they can solve. Over the years, religion has found that the most effective marketing tool is fear, and to elevate their solution they have to begin with you feeling like you are not worthy. All of the talk about us being wonderfully created gets buried in the origin story that we are born a wretch. Since many of us entered religion with trauma, it’s easy to market this idea because many of us didn’t feel too good about ourselves and that was why we went to church in the first place.
2. It Doesn’t Heal Us
As I mentioned before, most of us enter religion with some trauma. Religion promises to heal this trauma, and it certainly triggers us, so we experience it. But generally, it does nothing to heal it. Instead, since it is limited in its ability, it uses spiritual bypassing and platitudes and some minimal forms of regulation such as praying together to make us feel like we have been delivered until we experience it again the next time.
3. The God Has a Plan Tactic
In most Christian settings, people refer to the verse in Jeremiah that says that God has a plan for us. In my 20 years of experience as a pastor, when people are told this, they generally have great trouble finding what the actual plan for their life is. It’s one of the things that keeps them coming back to church searching for this elusive plan, leaving them feeling shame and frustration. So, what do you do when you can’t find your plan and purpose? You just let yourself be swept up in the plan and purpose of the organization, which usually turns out to be the plan and purpose of the Pastor/Priest.
4. You Can’t Trust Yourself
Sometimes we have inclinations of our intuition, and we try to express them in religious settings. But, most often this idea is squashed with the theology that we cannot trust ourselves because we are inherently wicked. Spiritual intuition, which is a great thing, does not work well in religious organizations. It absolutely destroys the control that the organization needs to have over us. They can’t have a bunch of people out there thinking for themselves because that is extremely hard to manage. Oddly enough, learning to trust ourselves is what many people say liberated them and helped them to begin to thrive and grow and evolve.
5. Controls Our Money
Only about 10% of the money we give to religious institutions goes to help people. We could donate money directly to a poor or homeless person, but we opt for funneling that through an organization that spends 70% of the money on salaries and buildings. We are promised a blessing for doing that, and some religious people take it to even greater links when they promise prosperity. It props up the idea that the church has a purpose, and we should support that purpose, even though it is often very ineffective at achieving that purpose.
6. Controlling Our Activities
One of the common reasons for not leaving religious organizations is that people feel they have invested so much time in that organization. If they go somewhere else or just stay home, they would have to begin again investing in something new. The reason this works is because when the organization promises something and we’re not getting it, it is common to blame ourselves. The weirdest example of the church taking over our time is the practice of trunk or treat, where instead of being in our real community, we are invited to the faux community to do a different version. The selling point is that this is Christ-centered and even reaches its mark when we’re talking about education.
7. The “Of The World” Language
On any given Sunday, it is common to hear religious leaders rail about the evils of the world. Any activity that is outside the walls of the church is suspect and can be labeled as worldly. But we know from experience that this is not true. Things that are good and beneficial are not just the things that are sanctioned and orchestrated by a clergy. In fact, some of the things that the church ordains are terribly ineffective and some of them cause trauma. I don’t have the space to elaborate on this but start with the things mentioned above.
8. False Attributions
It’s hard to hear this weird language when you’re inside of religion. But, when I listen to a very dedicated Christian talk, it seems so strange to me now. When they are describing a situation or something that happened to them, they don’t just tell the story, they insert commentary that goes something like this. Anything that was good, they attribute to God, and anything bad or not ideal they attribute to their own failure. It’s a very toxic and codependent way to view the universe, and it keeps them going back to church to try to find the answers that seem to elude them.
9. They Indoctrinate Children
Let’s just make this simple. There is a lot of talk about grooming in political circles these days. But the most rampant example of grooming is the indoctrination that takes place inside the walls of the church. They lure children with activities and bouncy houses and loud music and sugar, and then they scare them with hell or convince them they’re a bad person, only to provide their unique solution to the problem they just created in the children’s minds. In my opinion, this is child abuse. Why can’t we wait until their prefrontal cortex is fully developed for them to make decisions about which worldview they will adopt and which spirituality they will pursue? “We will babysit your children if we can indoctrinate them” now seems predatory to me!
I am not totally against religion, but the type of religion I would suggest probably won’t agree with any denominational approach and it will probably lead to a very small intimate community!
Removing ourselves from the environment helps us gain perspective. Someone advised us to take a year off, and when we did, we were able to see the toxicity of organized religion and were able to make some simple changes that provided us with all the spirituality, healing, and growth that we could handle. We never went back, and that’s a good thing. We are not controlled, and we are thriving!
Be where you are,
Be who you are,
Be at peace!
Karl Forehand

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