Avoiding “religion”

If you have been following some of my previous posts, I have been working on a short series on religion and the spiritual life. So far, I have concluded that to live a thriving spiritual life, “religion” has to go. In an amatureish attempt to explain the spiritual life allegorically, I concluded that it is simply living in a fiery romantic relationship with God. Attempting to live a spiritual life other than this way is like putting your spouse in a glass case and visiting once a week, being entralled by his/her beauty, saying some nice things to them, and then walking away, never even listening to hear if they are speaking back to you and ignoring the tears running down their cheeks as they watch you walk away.

The problem with living the spiritual life in the world we find ourselves in is that by being human, we are by nature drawn to understand and relate to God not in a love relationship, but through the system of religion. Even for those of us who hate religion and are drawn towards God and enter into a relationship with Him, we are still sucked unconsciously by our culture into their mindset, and are thus drawn away from the intimacy and slowly put God back into the glass case.

So what does this religious system look like? What are the signs that we will see if we are slipping back into it? I have tried to come up with a list of common signs and how to avoid them.

The basic rule of thumb is think of God as a perfect loving father in one sense, or as a perfect loving spouse in another. This will make sense later.

1. Legalism

This disasterous mindset basically says that God stops loving you if you sin. Lighter variations are that God gets angry with you, sulks, refuses to talk to you, gives you the silent treatment, etc. if you sin. If you think this is how God behaves towards you when you screw up, then you will start thinking along the following lines: Depending on my actions, my eternal destiny is on the line by the choices I make. Doing something really bad is a guantareed 1st class ticket to Hell, while doing something really good is a 1st class ticket to heaven. A lighter variation goes like this: all the little good and bad things in between are all put on a scale each and every day that determines God’s temperment towards me at that moment. However, in either case, when my life is over, all the good and bad things will be put on a scale, and whichever way it sways determines not only God’s opinion of me forever, but my eternal destiny to boot.

Reality:

  • When in a love relationship with God, he loves you on your worst days the same as on your best ones, just like a perfect father would his little boy or girl. We aren’t perfect, nor were we ever designed to be, but we are trying the best we can to get by with imperfect understanding and imperfect willpower.
  • Our eternal destiny has nothing whatsoever to do with our behavior but rather our conscious choice to be in a relationship with God. If we choose to be with God, with God we will be – with a body and a spirit, or with only a spirit when our bodies are gone. If we choose not to be with God, God will sadly honor that choice.
  • There is absolutely nothing we can do to make God love us more after we screw up. By committing ourselves to a love relationship with him, we have enabled him take our brokenness upon himself and to pay its price on our behalf in exchange for our eternal love and relationship with Him, not unlike a husband’s failings will inevitably hurt his wife, but though her love, she endures the pain in exchange for the love and intimacy their relationship brings. To try to add to what He’s already done is an insult to his completed forgiveness for everything we have done wrong or will ever do wrong.
  • When we sin, apologize, and then recieve the forgiveness. Whatever you do, do NOT prolong seperation from intimacy with God. To drift away from God because of shame or guilt is not noble, but spiritually suicidal.

2. Treating God Like Studying Russia

God is not something to be studied, like history or geography, but is a person to be experienced and to be in a relationship with. Sure it’s extremely important to try to find out more about what He’s like — but not at the expense of intimacy. If your spouse desires to be intimate with you, do you walk away and pick up a biography on them and read it instead? Studying about God to learn facts about him is like treating Him like an intellectual hobby like boating or surfing. Without the relationship, God is just a neat thing in a glass case – something to be admired but never touched intimately. He is put in a small compartment of leisurely diversions in life almost like people who engage in casual sex, never letting it consume and fill their lives, but just something to selfishly play with and toss away when they have had their fill.

3. Letting someone else mediate between you and God

This God thing is really complex. Let’s designate some guys in charge, and let them do all the hard thinking and understanding for us, and we can come to them to interceed with God on our behalf if life gets tough. Another way of thinking about this is: I’m just a normal guy. Thinking about God is a job for pastors/ priests. If anything happens in my life that I need God’s help, I’ll just call them up. But that God stuff is for those guys. It’s their job. They’ll tell me what to think. Most religions encourage a blind faith in what their leaders say. Any questioning is considered dissession. Blind unquestioning faith is seen as noble.
Reality:

  • You must learn HOW to think, not WHAT to think. What are you going to do when you come to a situation in life where you were never instructed with what to do or think? Wouldn’t it be better to know HOW to think rather than what to think in such cases?
  • Relationships are not experienced by proxy. I can’t live vicariously through someone else’s marriage and expect to have fufilling intimacy, so why would God work any differently? The only way I’m going to be blessed by having friends of faith is by the possibility that I myself might find intimacy with God myself eventually through their example, not because magical fairy dust drops off them and onto me and somehow by association I become holy. Going to a good church makes me no more a christian than walking into another man’s house makes his wife my wife.
  • If I need God, I go to God myself. It’s OK to get council from other friends of God (other believers of the same faith), to find out more about Him, but why not first and foremost get the skinny from the horse’s mouth? Who knows better about God than God Himself? If I am confused by my wife’s behavior, don’t I ask her or do I consult an expert in wife behavior? At best both, but at least, just ask my wife. Will not God answer you?
  • I don’t accept other people’s opinions and instructions on how to be in a relationship with my wife blindly without thinking… EVER. Much more importantly, why the hell would I blindly let other human beings tell me how to be in a relationship with God? Are you kidding me? In the case of either being in a relationship with God or my wife, I’m going to value THEIR opinions of my relationship with them more than some 3rd party. If some 3rd party does give me wise advice, I’m going to examine it first. All ideas are guilty until proven innocent because being in a relationship means being responsible, and being responsible means testing all advice. Why leave intimacy open to injury by untested advice?
  • If I want to be more intimate with my wife or God, what do I do? Wait for every Sunday morning to roll around and let someone else remind me and push me to be intimate with them? Nope. Do it every day on my own initiative. Anything else means there is no love in me for them or a relationship, and I’m just beating a dead horse.
  • If I give someone charge over my spiritual life without lifting an intellectual finger to understand myself, I am giving them free reign to control my spiritual well being, for good or for evil – I am a pawn in their hands, a mindless drone that relies on them for nourishment – I am crushed at their displeasure and am thrilled at their approval. Why would I ever put myself in this situation under any human being? If it is God I want, forgot the mediator. Go straight to the source of spiritual life – a relationship with God.

4. Church is a sacred place. Not going is sin. Going to church is essential to the spiritual life

Church is a sacred place. It is where God lives. Not going is not being with God.

Reality:

  • Church is a place in space and time where people who ALREADY know and have a love relationship with God go to hang out to share their life and thoughts with each other and talk about God.
  • Church is not a building, it is just a place where people go to talk and hang out. Anything more is religious tradition, which is worthless. With this defination, regular attenders to spiritual weblogs constitute a church.
  • Church is not the only place that God lives. God lives with me just like my wife lives with me. Church is not any more holy than the ground around me or my house or my car or wherever I am is holy.
  • Not going to a church building means nothing. Not spending time with other believers, however, is very lonely – we weren’t ment to live this life alone — isn’t it more fun to walk aside others on this spiritual journey – to laugh and cry and share our hearts with one another of like minds?
  • The thriving spiritual life is not found in church, it is found in living life in a relationship with God every day in all areas of your life. Church is just where you go to hang out with fellow believers and share what is ALREADY going on in your life. Spiritual life does not start there, nor is its fount there. It is just a hang out for other believers.
  • Church is nothing more than a club with some people in charge, but only of overseeing maintainance and organization details if the club is too big. Some people here are wiser than others, and are good to talk to if you can trust them.
  • Sometimes, but not necessarily, some people here are in charge of making sure you have a person to talk to if you need spiritual advice – they are full time servants in the club.
  • If the regular attenders of a church decide to create a building, there is not one spiritual block in it, it is just wood, brick, and a roof over everyone’s head. A school, house, town hall, or restaurant will do just as well. The only reason a building is good is because people can stay warm and not get rained on when hanging out.
  • Anything more than what I mentioned here that is considered sin or wrong if not done is religion and should be thrown out.

Well, this is all I can think of for now. Maybe I’ll check back later and add more to this list.

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