Religion as Idolatry

I’ve often wondered whether or not more people would believe in a Deity if there were no institutionalized religions out there to lay heavier burdens upon people than even God demanded. James Anderson over at “On Faith” ponders the same thing. In his view,

After a year and a half in seminary I found myself filled with doubt and uncertainty. I was a good student but the harder I worked the greater my doubt and skepticism. The more I studied the clearer to me were the outlines of the man-made edifice of doctrinal law, fixed tradition, religious dogmatism and grubby church politics which seemed about to surround and enslave me…

One day I found a book of sermons by Paul Tillich in the seminary bookshop. The title of the collection was “The Shaking of the Foundations”. That sounded good to me. I purchased the volume and began to read. One sermon was entitled, “The Yoke of Religion”. When I read the words, “we are all laboring under the yoke of religion” I was hooked…

Tillich was preaching to me and my situation. He was stating clearly and explicitly matters that I had been grappling with for months. “We are all permanently in danger of abusing Jesus by stating that He is the founder of a new religion, and [hence] the bringer of another, more refined and more enslaving law.”…

There clearly is a need in much of human kind to attempt to overcome the contradictions and limitations of life by reaching for a religious answer. The failure of this attempt to achieve perfection and to find victory over death and disorganization does not subdue the expression of the need.

Much of the criticism of Christianity is correct. We are the makers of religion and we have made a very heavy burden. The Old Testament prophets called this process idolatry, a message never well received, then or now. Isaiah said those who make idols “feed on ashes” led astray by a deluded mind. (Isaiah 44:20) Tillich said that the burden Christ wants to take from us is the burden of religion. Thank God.

If organized religion is the chief reason many don’t believe in God, why not dispense with religion? I fear the reason is because Christianity has become a capitalist machine that dispenses goods like any other capitalist machine. It can’t now be eliminated without taking away wealthy pastors’ salaries and fancy homes, without shutting down “vital” ministries (vital to those being paid by said ministries), or without quelling the spending spree Christians find themselves on, with the marketing of bible characters, bibles, and product tie-ins.

It seems to me that “worshiping the creature rather than the Creator” is inherent in every age.


10 thoughts on “Religion as Idolatry

  1. Thought provoking post, as usual Mystery.

    Even beyond the economic ramifications which would be implicit if religion were to “go away”, what would fill the gap for so many?

    For some, religion is a place to belong and be defined. For others, a place of shelter or support.

    What would be left in its place?

    If we all elevated to a higher consciousness, and the basic framework of life was altered, I would venture to guess that we would not have the worry of where to go and what to belong to, instead living in some kind of yet unknown harmony.

  2. SurfaceEarth,
    I like the sound of “living in some kind of yet unknown harmony.” Why can’t we all be sheltered and supported just as we are, I wonder? The fact that we have to divide up in groups to feel as if we belong is, I’m sure, a holdover of more perilous times. Still, some would say we are still living in such times.

  3. Quotes like that always lead me to wonder how many priests and pastors actually believe half of what they preach? I keep coming across books and blogs from former priests/nuns/pastors, or even former seminary students, whose faith underwent a huge shift as soon as they started learning about the Bible, or the history of Christianity. Sometimes, that huge shift forced them to leave Christianity completely.

  4. Heather,
    I wonder the same thing sometimes. Isn’t it funny that actually READING the bible and studying its origins along with Christianity can finally make you discover that you don’t believe “in” it any longer. It’s a text like any other. It’s one of many religions. Fascinating.

  5. I agree that once we are all on a higher consciousness, the evil will fall away. I think this is accomplished when we have our eyes soley on god and stop beholding good and evil. We need to accept that evil is an aspect of God – the destructive aspect.

    From the very beginning Abraham had a relationship with God based on friendship. The scene with Isaac was meant to demonstrate not only a contrast to the pagan religions around them, but to foreshadow the sacrafice of Christ. It was when his decendents stopped loving god as a friend that the laws came. Then Jesus came presenting grace, to lead men back to the father, no strings attached. Then Rome adopted it as a state religion and borrowed much of the pagan religion to appease the economics and traditions of the society. There is big money in religion. Think about how Christmas is for us on an economic level, how the retailers count on a good season for 1/2 of their business. So, Im sure this was not done with maliciious evil intent, but look at how our government cannot ever just do the right thing even today. They do things by consensus, everyone gets a piece of the action. And it is Babylon all over again: holy days, church cycle, icons and statues, tithing, priestly heirarchy, etc.

    My complaint about organized Christianity is that it presents a small plan, a small god, saving a only a small portion of his creation. They have chosen certain scriptures to drill home a message of fear, which is now backfiring. I read that the Emerging Church is 12 million strong in America and is the second largest denomination. These are people who have left organized Christianity, not people who have left God.

    The scripture says that God is creating for himself a people, and he will write his laws on the fleshly tables of their hearts. I really don’t see how organized religion plays into that promise.

  6. Ah Mystery. I am unlearned, mostly self taught, but I had that occurrence. The more I read, the more I opened the Bible, the more I could not reconcile with what I believed of God and true spirituality. There is either all encompassing love or there isn’t…that is one area where I remain black and white.

  7. Robin,
    Good points. I’ve looked into the Emergent movement and it seems an urban phenomenon. Here in the midwest it’s still a bastion of ultra-conservatism without any hope of change it would seem. Hence, why some of us go it alone.

  8. SurfaceEarth,
    We should all be self-taught and well read. It doesn’t seem to hurt us at all. I believe the exact same way. It’s either all love or a terribly mixed up universe.

  9. Well, I finally Googled Emergent Church and it really was not what I had thought/hoped it was… it appears there are cult like leaders. not that there aren’t good things happening there, but like any system designed by man, it will assume the same structure and not be of God.

    Still, I do believe there are people who are done with organized religion and only want to follow God, whatever that means, and wherever that leads. I believe these are the sons of God the bible talk about that the whole creation is waiting to be made manifest.

  10. Robin,
    Oh, I don’t know. The whole movement seems to be Undesigned, so to speak. Sure there are cult leaders, there always will be, but it shows some promise.

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