Is All Religion Good?
We need only look around our world to see that all religion is not good. Religion is considered by some to be the ‘opiate’ of the people – meaning that it creates nothing more than fantasies in the minds of struggling men and women to help cope with life. Though this description does not characterize religion as a whole, we must admit that to some extent, this description is accurate.
When religion fails to enhance and enrich the human experience, it is not good. When religion fosters prejudice and intolerance, and stifles creativity and growth, it is not good. When religion ignores true science and belittles beneficial philosophy, it is not good. And, of course, when religion encourages violence, oppression and suppression to accomplish its goals, it is not good.
However, when we inquire about the value of religion, we are not asking whether the people who make up a religious group are good or bad. We are fundamentally asking whether its teachings are good or bad, beneficial or harmful, healthy or unhealthy. Thus, our inquiry should rightly focus on the leadership, not the rank and file.
For the most part, the individual members of a religion are following the lead of their ‘shepherds’ and they are endeavoring to be ‘good and faithful sheep.’ Religion has become so complicated that the average person is too overwhelmed with the sheer number of different ideologies and charismatic personalities to embark on an in-depth personal investigation. Instead, they entrust their spiritual education and worship into the hands of others whom they cursorily, and often times emotionally, judge to be worthy. As a result, we find people who are easily led into an unhealthful course, though believing they are serving God.
We are certain that if religion’s leaders promoted healthy principles, the membership would likewise be healthy. If religion’s leaders promoted love, tolerance and forgiveness, the people who attend those religions would likewise be loving, tolerant and forgiving. This is why Jesus focused all his criticism of religion on the religious leaders. Never did Jesus condemn the sheep. He pitied them and sought to help them. But to the religious leaders who were not looking out for the best interests of the flock, he had strong words.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
- Matthew 7:15-20
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
– Matthew 23:13
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”
– Matthew 23:23-24
Clearly, Jesus did not tolerate religious abuse. His own words establish that all religion is not good. But how did the current pitiful state of religion develop among followers of Jesus Christ, who was a proponent of spiritual freedom? A brief look at Christian history sheds light on this question.
When Jesus arrived on the scene back in the first century C.E., the Jews were mired in a religion of rituals and works of law. They needed the approval of their religious leaders in order to feel acceptable to God. Theirs was a religion of works. Jesus introduced them to a new form of religion – religion of the spirit – which requires the active participation of mind and soul. It removed the apparent wall between man and God, abolished the priesthood, and invited all to approach God as a loving Father who welcomes our personal worship.
All followers of Jesus would be brothers – spiritual equals – with each one being led by God’s spirit. (Romans 8:14-16)
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
– Matthew 23:8-12
Jesus’ religion is interactive with the Father and encourages service to one’s fellow man. It is not consumed with striving for personal salvation, for our salvation is guaranteed by our faith:
“Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.”
– John 6:47
Instead, they were given a ministry to introduce others to the teachings of Christ so they, too, would have the potential of salvation.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
– 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
However, after about 300 years of pursuing a religion of the spirit, things changed. History tells us that about this time, the early Christians established a central church that usurped the autonomy of the individual Christian, taking away the disciple-making work and placing it solely in the hands of the church leaders. The individual Christian was relegated to the position of merely an audience member or attendee at the church, and not an active participant in spreading the good news.
Christianity became a religion of the mind, which requires only a passive and purely intellectual assent to the authority of the church leaders. By casting their lots in with such religions of authority, they compromised the sovereignty of personality, they debased the dignity of self-respect, and they utterly surrendered the right to participate in that most thrilling and inspiring of all possible human experiences – the personal quest for truth.
Most Christians today find themselves, knowingly or unknowingly, a part of a religion of the mind. This superficial type of religion breeds ignorance and intolerance and is the main reason why religion has such a bad name.
No, all religion is not good. But not because religious people are not good. Because many of the leaders of religions are not teaching good, healthful, God-like principles. They have abandoned the religion of the spirit and assert a religion of the mind – a religion of ecclesiastical authority – the “weak and miserable forces.” (Galatians 4:9)
If religion’s leaders would turn to the actual, authentic, plain and open teachings of the Christ, the people would manifest goodness in their lives. Religion’s value would soar and many self-professed atheists and agnostics would see the wisdom and value of pursuing a spiritual life, and turn to God.
For these reasons, religion will continue to carry a bad name until one important thing occurs: The populace must take control of their own spiritual lives rather than abandoning it to the self-assumed authority of men. There must be a return to a religion of the spirit.