I reckon that religion is a bad thing. In fact, I’d go so far as to blame it for some of my biggest mistakes.
An eating disorder. Workaholism. OCD. Addictions and self-harm. Harming others. Misusing my gifts. Materialism. And many other things that I hope remain hidden.
I use the term religion in a specific sense.
Not God. Not the gospel. Not the church or the Bible or faith or any of the real stuff about grace and what Jesus has done. No – I’m talking DIY goodness. Pull your socks up, try harder, tick the boxes moralism. That sort of religion. The self-imposed rules that Jesus reviled. The performance-related pay that makes God into a ring-master, cracking his whip. The system that turns a community into a courtroom. That whispers freedom but enslaves you instead.
Surely it’s all or nothing. The gospel, I mean. If it’s true then Jesus does it all. If it’s a lie, then we’re on our own. But there’s no halfway house. I know many lovely Christians. But I know just as many lovely non-Christians. So if our hope lies in good behaviour or general niceness, I’m afraid we’re stuffed. (I am at least). But that’s something I keep forgetting. I know I’m rubbish but instead of going to Jesus I try to do things to make myself better. When I fail, I’m destroyed. When I succeed, I’m puffed up. But either way, I’m lost in myself. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, I repeatedly try to go it alone. With truly spectacular results.
Religion tells me this: I am how I perform. When I act good, whether it’s being thin or pretty or brainy or tidy or rich or moral: I’m worth something. I’m special, I count. But I can’t meet my own standards, let alone God’s. I try and I try and I try and I end up burnt out and battered. I’m lost in myself, angry and despairing.
Jesus says something very different. He brings good news instead of religion. On the Cross, he tells me who I am. In myself, lost and hopeless. But through his death, I am beautiful, righteous and lovely. With religion, my performance determines my status. But as a Christian, my status (as a dearly loved and precious child) determines my performance. It’s something I am free to live out – imperfectly, but joyfully too.