Sometimes someone accuses me of hating God or religion. None of these things are true, at least not in the strictest sense of the word hate. I realize that I have benefited from the lessons I have learned and the experiences I have had with God and organized religion.
But, from around 2016, I started to question my faith and the further I went, the more I took a step back and the more unsettling 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 issues in religion and my beliefs about God that were becoming increasingly problematic in my approach to life.
If I wanted to, I could point to a certain period between 1980 and today and the rise of the conservative and evangelical religious machines which were obviously the most toxic. Most people I know who deconstruct their faith emerge from these traditions. While these issues are obvious and easy to criticize, they are not the only points to consider.
Just being more awake and accepting does not erase all toxic beliefs about God and all problems with religion. When we get the right perspective, we realize the problems are systemic and have been around for a long time.
Let’s talk about the big ones
1. Toxic Views
For me, when I took a step back and allowed myself to ask some tough questions, some of my beliefs started to come undone. My beliefs about hell, the punitive nature of God, and my feelings about American nationalism were among the first things to disappear. As I continued to dig deeper and examine deeper, I began to question the legitimacy of organized religion in the 21st century.
While we were deeply committed to religion and Christianity, we always found a way to excuse some of those doubts. But, when I could examine them more honestly, it was easier to let them go. The truth remained, the real things emerged, but many of my long-held beliefs slipped away.
Looking back on this transformation, I have little to no regrets and find a stability and peace that I had never felt before. I don’t hate religion, but I honestly have to reject some of its practices and beliefs to move forward authentically.
2. Organized religion does not heal us
I have to make some general statements because religion tends to operate in general terms. For the most part, religion promises to help us heal our trauma. It attracts the injured, and it intends to help them, but it usually does not heal our trauma and sometimes it provokes or aggravates it.
One reason is spiritual bypass. Because suffering makes us uncomfortable, we develop witty phrases and responses that sound good but don’t address the real issues. Even in small groups, we are more likely to be bypassed than by the deep listening we need to truly heal.
Another reason we don’t usually find healing in organized religion is that organized religion is an organization. In an organization, the organization always comes first. Most of the money and energy is directed towards the staff and buildings and the production of the show. Staff position themselves towards new members and potential members, and members with “problems” are more often seen as the last and sometimes ignored.
Maybe instead of listening to so many sermons, we should have listened to each other. We have to make room for each other and for our trauma. Until we do that, we will not find healing within an organization.
3. Religion is useless
It is commonly believed that people have always had some sort of religion in many different forms. It can be part of our search for meaning, understanding and community. I’m even willing to admit that maybe we needed it for a while. But my current belief is that we have evolved beyond that.
The community that I receive in the typical religious institution today is not really a real community. It is a common enemy intimacy and a false community. There is no true intimacy to heal except on the rare occasions when we meet and listen.
Church services are very easy to find elsewhere. They are also administered very inefficiently. I can hear a religious lecture at any time of the day from anywhere in the world via my smartphone. I can go to a concert or listen to a concert online pretty much whenever I want. I can communicate at home. Can find the best instruction and inspiration and even the community outside the walls for free.
There is really no reason to give 10% of my income to a clergy to oversee my spirituality when the New Testament advises that we are all priests and do not need to go into a building to worship.
So I don’t hate worship or God. My understanding of God has definitely changed, and my need for organized religion has diminished markedly. I can’t keep doing the things I used to do with my new understanding. I can’t not know.
In our book, Out Into the Desert, we consider these other factors when we assess the organization of religion in the 21st century and tell some of our stories.
The best I can do right now is to 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,
Forehand from Karl
Photo by Glenn Siepert