Losing My Faith in Religious People

Normally, I build my blog posts around one or two interesting or inspiring quotes I’ve found during my studies, but today there’s nothing that applies, or at least nothing that applies to how I feel. “Christian marketing” is fond of advertising “Christianity: It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” That’s bunk. It’s a religion. That’s not a bad thing, but as I read recently (albeit from a non-Christian source), “…This phrase sets up a classical logical fallacy, called a false dichotomy (more specifically, it’s black-and-white thinking, a sub-class of the false dichotomy)…The phrase implies that there are two choices. It’s either religion, or a relationship.”

There’s nothing wrong with a religion. I’ve said many times before (and I will again in tomorrow’s morning meditation) that religion is the interface by which we learn to understand God. Religion is the structure in which we comprehend the specifics of our faith, including how to interpret the Bible, the nature of prayer, and any traditions (yes, Christianity has traditions) and rituals that help us to operationalize and express our faithfulness behaviorally. The problem is, I’m losing my faith in religion.

Actually, I’m losing my faith in the human beings who are involved in religion. Well, no, not all of them. I have very high regard for most of the people I communicate with (primarily over the Internet) in the world of faith, but others can be a royal pain. Maybe it’s not their fault. I mean, we all have our moods, and our needs, and our insecurities. Whenever you add religion or “righteousness” to that mix though, you usually get something that’s bent and twisted just a little bit (and occasionally by quite a bit).

What started this rant? I was “rebuked” on an online social venue earlier today. You see, I have this thing about “experts” or maybe I have “authority issues.” It’s not that I don’t recognize and submit to authority. I have a job and I have a boss and what he says goes. There are religious authorities I respect and consider very knowledgable and wise, and I defer to their judgment. I know they know a whole lot more than I do, and more than I will probably ever know.

My problem is with the sort of person who really wants and needs to be called by a title, and who is continually telling everyone, “I’m an authority!” The interesting thing is, the person really is an authority and I can certainly recognize that, but by always saying “call me by such-and-thus title,” and “I’m an expert,” and “don’t question my judgment,” I keep getting the impression that they’ve got something to prove beyond their education and experience (I wouldn’t really care except I really do respect and like this person…otherwise, I’d just ignore him). I know that some people are insecure but not always for personality reasons. Sometimes, the person’s field of study, or where they got their education isn’t considered “mainstream,” and they aren’t always given the respect that is their due. In such cases, I suppose they need to compel the world around them to give them what they deserve.

But it still rubs me the wrong way. I’ve known too many people, particularly in the world of religion, who adopted roles, and titles, and authority that they certainly did not earn by education, experience, or temperament. They just “needed” to be a big shot and by inference, they needed everyone around them to be “little shots,” if that makes any sort of sense. So when someone who is genuine comes along and really has earned what they have, and they aren’t given respect by everyone around them, they have two choices: blow it off, or push back.

It’s the pushing back that bothers me. It’s the pushing back that seems to say, “I need to be big, and to meet my needs, you need to be little.” It’s the pushing back in a religious world where even the Master we all follow valued humility above blatant honors. It’s not like Jesus doesn’t deserve honors and it’s not like he doesn’t receive them. Yet the first time he was here, he set them aside, even to the degree that he washed the feet of his disciples. Even to the degree that he died for an unworthy humanity, including me.

The authorities who I have respected the most didn’t need to tell me they were in charge. They didn’t need to tell me to respect their knowledge. Just by being who they were, I learned to respect them. They didn’t have to make it a command. It’s ironic that people who God has given great gifts and who use those gifts in His Name, can still push back and push away those of us who are just trying to keep our heads above water. If the pushing keeps up, I’m going to be pushed out, and down, and I’ll drown in a sea of someone else’s religious authority and personal requirements.

I’m losing my faith in religion. I’m losing my faith in some of the people in religion. God is good, and great, and pure, but what human emotion does to faith and religion is anything but. It takes a great deal of energy to be patient sometimes and you know how lousy I am at keeping my (virtual) mouth shut. So I need to be able to push back as well, or let myself be pushed out of the body of faith altogether. I’m already isolated enough without someone, even a well-deserving someone, saying, “you’re not good enough.” I guess that’s what I hear when someone says, “I’m an authority,” or “you should respect me,” or “call me such-and-thus and not my first name.”

But as annoying as people like this are at times, they aren’t the real problem. I am (I suppose it always comes back to that). People like this are everywhere and sometimes they just can’t be avoided. They are in the world of religion and if I want to learn from them, I can’t avoid them…or I avoid them and avoid learning the lessons they are very good at teaching (the intentional lessons…not the unintentional one I’m talking about). Here’s what I need to learn:

“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”

-Robert Frost, American poet

I suppose if I had learned that lesson well, I wouldn’t be writing this “extra meditation.” I suppose if the “authority” had learned that lesson well, the event that triggered my unfortunate little missive would never have occurred. It’s not the first time I’ve wanted to push back and it won’t be the last. Maybe someday, I’ll start listening to Mr. Frost (who has my respect and my attention) and learn the lesson he teaches so well. Then I will be able to listen to almost anything…and I’ll still be fine.

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12 thoughts on “Losing My Faith in Religious People”

  1. I was wondering if you’ve seen and checked out the book “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse”… because a lot of what you mentioned today sounds a lot like some things I’ve read in the first 6 chapters of the book.

    I don’t think it’s so much a personal problem, but a problem of some people within the religious community to be spiritually abusive; and how we react towards that.

    Shalom

  2. Excellent post. Can’t help but think to the instance where Jesus washed the disciples feet to give us a picture of the leadership he wants to see out of us. We’ve done a pretty good job of ignoring that…

  3. I think many people have experienced similar problems in church settings. James 1:27 27Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. Great job, keep up the good work!

  4. Wow! Thanks, everyone.

    Please keep in mind that I’m not “authority bashing” or “respect bashing.” Even if someone else gets a little heavy-handed with me from time to time, if I was better at what Robert Frost is saying, then the whole thing would be moot. It would be nice if all those folks who were in authority in the world of religion would be able to keep us safe from danger, including the danger of their own humanity, but it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes that sense of safety has to come from within, from that small, still voice inside, from the tiny spark of the divine we try to nurture, and that nurtures us.

  5. Hey James~
    I was surprised to see you put into words something that bugged me on facebook last week. There was this video or something (I admit, I didn’t even open it) entitled, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”…something like that. Ugh. That false dichotomy thing…so, I have to choose one or the other? Really? Because I love BOTH–take THAT, random fb people! (I’m feeling a little surly at the moment) 🙂
    I’m not nearly as articulate, thoughtful or studied as you or the other big guys in the messianic blogosphere…but, man, I sure would need a Sabbatical from blog visits if were you. I can’t visit certain blog sites much without feeling that I may slip into a bad place if exposed to too much of the “stuff” in the comments sections alone! But, I’m wimpy that way. I rather float along in blissful ignorance of the ignorance, harshness, and counter-to-Yeshua’s character antics of some folks out there…because, truth is, they probably would never-in-a-million-years act/speak/treat one another the way they do IN THE REAL WORLD the way they do in the comments section of blogs. I suppose that’s some sort of cold comfort…? I dunno.
    Just wanted to comment, check in, and say you are loved and prayed for. Maybe I should have started and ended with that? 🙂
    ~Allison

  6. “I’m not nearly as articulate, thoughtful or studied as you or the other big guys in the messianic blogosphere…”

    Allison, I am not a “big guy” (well, I have put on a few pounds lately). Hopefully, I’ve been communicating that I’m just a “regular guy.” Sure, my point of view is hardly typical, but I’m no scholar or expert. I’m just like everyone else. I’m walking a path, crossing boundaries, encountering blessings and obstacles, and trying to reach my destination: God. I’m just like you.

    “Just wanted to comment, check in, and say you are loved and prayed for.”

    That is such a nice thing to hear, Allison. Thank you. Blessings upon you and yours. 🙂

  7. Having been on both sides of the “thorny issue of religious debate”, as some here can attest to, I must say that I understand the frustration. Not just from being on the receiving end either. I have also been quite frustrated at my own insensitivity toward others at times.

    Remember the foot washing meetings back in the seventies? It was difficult, if not impossible, to carry a grudge against someone when they were humbly washing your feet. Many tears of repentance flowed into the basin.

    Can’t quite do that on the internet can we?

    Nice post James. I think all of us, whoever that may be, have experienced what you shared. Maybe we should all address it more often.

    Russ

  8. Can’t quite do that on the internet can we?

    No, Russ. The limitations of virtual communication prevent some of the most important aspects of fellowship. More’s the pity, since it also gives us access to people we would otherwise never know.

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