Bad Religion
by Lori Heine

Over the centuries, religious faith has had a wonderful influence on many people. On perhaps very nearly as many, however, its effect has been unspeakably bad. The problem with bad religion is that it alienates people from God. Nor does it only have this effect on those who, under its corrosive influence, behave hatefully toward others. It also pushes away from God those who are affected by that hatefulness.

Somewhere deep inside of us, we have a compass. Its needle points the way to God, because it was installed by God at our creation. There is something inherently dishonest not only about behaving hatefully in God’s Name, but also in rejecting faith in God because of the hatefulness of others. Hate can’t separate us from God if we refuse to let it.

Love is never sinful. Bad religion tries to claim that there’s such a thing as the “wrong” kind of love. But good religion knows better. God is Love. When we love, we conform to the likeness of our Creator and fulfill His purpose for us.

Those who claim the Christian faith, but who are bound to bad religion, are reduced to absurdity and gibberish in defending their positions. When a tragedy like the Orlando massacre happens, they make fools of themselves. They’re stuck with the insistence that “radical Islam” is worse. But that totally misses the point. True faith in God, guided by our internal compass, leads not to a race to the bottom but to a climb to the top.

Jesus didn’t tell His followers, “Just be better than those other people over there.” He said, “Be perfect, therefore, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Of course He couldn’t have meant that we could ever achieve perfection to anything approaching the same degree. We will never be God. But the standard given to us by Christ is the one to which we are called.

Our Lord also told us that the standard we use to judge others is the standard that will ultimately be used to judge us. Legalists don’t like that passage, and do their best to ignore it. It makes them tremble. And understandably so. It makes them feel as if they ought to be tougher on themselves.

Though he wasn’t a Christian, that is, apparently, how Omar Mateen judged himself. There is some evidence that he himself might have struggled with a same-sex attraction. His legalistic Islamic father made no secret of the fact that he thought all homosexuals deserved to die. Surely the gunman knew that when he walked into the Pulse nightclub, he would never walk out alive. He just wanted to take as many as possible with him.

Mateen was merciless to other people he believed were sinners. He was no more merciful to himself. Was that an example any rational and humane person—of any religious or philosophical persuasion—would want to emulate?

There is, however, another way to look at it. If we live a life of mercy and nonjudgment toward others, we can then afford to be merciful toward ourselves. God doesn’t look for excuses to condemn us. Jesus came into the world not to condemn it, but to save it.

Bad religion breaks the needle on the compass. But genuine faith in God, as we come to know Him in His Only-Begotten Son, can repair that needle and set it right. Readers of The Epistle know how much I love to quote old songs. There’s one, in particular, that I think of when I consider our relationship with God in Christ: To know, know, know him, is to love, love, love him.

In the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy, many heterosexual Christians are responding to us differently than they have in the past. Where there once was misunderstanding or downright animosity, now they are discovering a new capacity for compassion and love. The astonishing thing about love is that it can work miracles, even out of terrible and hateful situations. Hearts are being changed and minds opened. The Holy Spirit is at work, bringing the balm of love to heal the hurt caused by hate.

When God smiles, our lives truly are worthwhile. Love makes Him smile. Hate makes Him weep. Instead of dishonoring Him with bad religion, we’ve been blessed with the opportunity to gladden His heart with faith that leads to kindness, mercy and love. The more of which we give away to others, the more we can give, just as generously, to ourselves.

 

© 2016 Lori Heine


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