My Beef with Religion
“So Lloyd, why do you push back so hard against religion? It makes me uncomfortable,” a friend asked…
I grew up in religion: “A specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices agreed upon by a number of persons or sects” (disctionary.com)
OK, overall I can say it was good. I was taught I could have a relationship with God.
And I did have a relationship with God… and also with religion. And that was the problem.
Religion taught me about love, but religion seemed to get it wrong as much as it got it right. And at the end of the day, religion never loved me…
I knew instinctively that He loved me because I had a relationship with God… But most of the time it wasn’t an intimate kind of love because religion kept getting in the way.
You see, religion taught me that God loved me… but also that God was pissed at me because there was something innately wrong with me.
So, while I figured that God loved me, I was also convinced that He was really angry at me most of the time. And I knew this because He sent His Son to protect me from His wrath and judgment.
This wasn’t something God told me—I learned it from religion.
“God is holy and can’t look at sin,” Religion also taught me that.
So, the love of God wasn’t the kind of love that put me at rest or that I could easily access or experience.
God is love. And I knew it. I’d even taste it or sense it briefly now and then. Love: it was true but so often distorted and inaccessible through the lens of religion…
I was secure about going to heaven, it was probably a Baptist, “eternal security” doctrine that I believed. But I never felt like I’d be sitting up close. I knew my mother would be on his lap, and I’d be way, way back in the crowd. Maybe I could wave to her once in a while. But I thought I’d be there. So, yeah… I got love, but didn’t deserve it and never measured up. It was more like God was putting up with me because of Jesus. Another insecurity given to me by religion.
If you have seen the TV show NCIS, then you can recall when The Boss Man would surprise his understudy Dinohzzo by whacking him up the backside of his head. This was The Boss Man’s way of teaching, or of bringing his point home. And that was pretty much my relationship with God. I never knew when the next shoe would drop. When the next whack up the backside of my head would come. There was always this sense of foreboding. Not because that is what God is like, but religion knows “whacking” will keep most people in line and so religion keeps up the whacking.
The scenario of grabbing a skill saw and tearing into your kid? I knew I wouldn’t do that to my kids. But my theology seemed to make room for that kind of reasoning when I once had an accident with a skill saw… “maybe God wanted to teach me something, maybe He wanted to instill a little discipline by whacking me, or allowing Satan to use this skill saw to mess with me,” I thought.
As a child, I was terrified that He’d catch me with a beer in my hand upon His return and send me straight to Hell, something religion taught me… and I don’t even like beer!
As a child, I knew a pastor, a religious man who, after telling his son the stove was hot, and the child still playing too close to the fire and seemingly not getting the message, took his son’s hand and put it on the stove.
That was messed up and I somehow knew it. And I was never that kind of a father to my kids. I understood it was abuse. At the same time, I can understand where that kind of thinking comes from.
So yeah… my kids got spanked, a lot, but I also asked forgiveness a lot because even back then I instinctively knew love wasn’t about punishment. And I also absolutely knew that loving my kids was not about skill saws and hot stoves.
And yet I believed my Heavenly Father used skill saws and hot stoves to teach me? Why? Religion had something to do with that.
I knew intrinsically that God’s love was true, but religion always kept His love at arm’s length. And it was probably because I was a sinner.
What’s crazy is, God never interacted with me like I am a sinner, never called me by that name. And yet religion seemed to be obsessed with my sin. Religion seemed to want me focused on my sin 24-7. Religion told me that if I ever wanted to be free from sin, I would have to pay more attention to it…
Sin-conscious thinking always has you looking inside, or over your shoulder. You are never, ever enough. There’s always more hoops to jump through, conferences to attend, books to read, discipleship training, accountability relationships, always reaching for more, and never really feeling like you arrived. It’s a hill with no top. The treadmill. And so unhealthy.
That’s why the statistics say there’s very little difference in the morality of a Christian versus non-Christian. Their bad behavior is just a little more hidden. There is very little difference in the stability of marriage. The percentage of religious men indulging in pornography is likely just as high or higher than the non-religious counterpart. Religion is a schizophrenic life at best and at worst. Always fluctuating between superiority and inferiority.
So, what was good during those seasons?
Of course, God was, he’s God. Always consistently faithful and good. My provider, my hope, my Savior, and so on.
And along the way, He would break through religion. He would meet me in those moments of introspection and self-focus, those church alter encounters where once again I went to the front sin focused and desperate. He would meet me while I cried out in my personal prayer times as an insecure hopeless sinner. In those fleeting moments, He would break through the religious mindset that imprisoned me and flood over me with a sense of His mercy, forgiveness, love, peace, and joy and I would be free.
But these true moments of my Father’s embrace were soon overwhelmed once again by religion.
Here’s the thing about this religious way of living…
The delusion is that we think it is normal Christianity. And it is for most folks. It was for me. But those brief moments of true love experienced, it’s so not what Jesus promised. It’s so short of the mark. Those fleeting alter moments of abundant life, those moments where we sense His love and all is right with the world, they are not the fullness of the life Jesus promised.
I’d say it was only about 10 years ago when exhausted, I completely gave up on religion and around the same time, I began to increasingly experience my heavenly Father’s pleasure and embrace. Ever since He and I have been systematically removing religion from our relationship, every relationship actually. So yeah, religion and I broke up. Not the church and I, religion.
Sin-consciousness has so many of us living towards a goal that is completely unreachable in this lifetime. Whereas, the gospel that Paul preached is all about living from the finished work of Christ. And oh, the difference this makes!
So, would I change anything about my religious, introspective, sin-conscious years?
Oh yes! In a minute I would change all that. But really, I’m so thankful that His goodness and His love finally caught up with me, finally broke through all those religious ceilings that kept Him at a distance, that kept His promises delayed. And I’m so grateful for my children and grandchildren—that they don’t have to live that kind of schizophrenic life.
Thankfully I have a half-full personality and that helped. But I know too many folks who have lived their whole life half-empty in religion, and they have had it much worse…
Oh, the joy of living completely full! No more measuring up, no more introspection, no more sin-consciousness. Waking up in the morning completely enough! Full and running over. That’s what we were promised.
And the pushback that people feel from me is from that context. We can live full and running over!
The good news is so much better than I imagined… I can’t stop myself from wanting people to catch a glimpse of who they are and how their Heavenly Father sees them. The gospel truly is the best news on this planet! It’s everything Jesus promised! And I mean everything now! Love and acceptance and joy and peace are no longer fleeting moments that seem to slip away, they are not promises for some future—the goodness has already happened!
Redemption is the restoration of our original blueprint, design, and value. Redemption is a restoration of everything that we lost in Adam. Jesus is not some religious picture of who we should be, He is a picture of who we already are. Jesus is not a religious picture of what we hope to be, Jesus is what God believes about us now. We get to live in Eden, today, one with God. And that is way better than what religion has told me my whole life.
So, that’s why I push back so hard on religion.
Religion is the original bait and switch. Religion taught me about love, acceptance, forgiveness, and so much more. But religion never came through on any of its promises, religion has never loved me or saved me. Thankfully Jesus did and has and we can know we are loved, accepted, forgiven and so much more now.
Lloyd Clark is an entrepreneur, a former pastor, and a writer. He is passionate about being loved by our Heavenly Father and revealing that same love to everyone he meets. He and his wife Mary have 5 children and 7 grandchildren and live in North Carolina.
YOU ALSO MIGHT LIKE…