In this post I describe the entrapment that occurs through religious adherence. I use the Christian church as an example, but it applies to all organisations or belief systems that ensnare. Let’s get right into it.
When I speak about escaping something, it implies that there is some form of retention, which is either by force or by deception. While some cults do develop and exercise retention by force, most do so by indoctrination, which is a form of deception. Religious adherence in its primary form is a form of deception best understood by looking at and studying the opposite way of life – that of truth – as exemplified by the Master.
In this series, I’ve been describing the Christian worldview – the one that accepts that we were made in His (God’s image); then given the freedom to exercise ‘dominion’ (as it is called in scripture) over His creation, subject to certain simple conditions. That mankind dropped the ball somewhat; brought about distancing from the Creator and ushered in what we call “sin”, is the subject of pain, grief and much heartache ever since the Fall.
And as I’ve put it so simply, yet crudely, before many times before . . . bugger!
Religion, in a Christian context represented by the mainstream organised, systemic, denominational Church, is essentially mankind’s efforts to reinstate that busted-up relationship that we all secretly, whether we admit it or not, desperately desire. It brings acceptance; self-assurance, meaning, purpose and hope; indeed all the things that we miss having gone our own way against God. So Eastern religions (and the modern New Age thinking) tend towards the self-help space – study, meditate, levitate, think positive and so on. The Catholic & Mid-Eastern tend towards the fatalism of a dominant – submissive relationship – think the authority of the Pope or Mohammed. The Western Protestant Christian world tends more towards the faith aspect – believe this and you will get to heaven, sort of thing. Oh and slip us 10% of your gross income too while you’re at it if you want a double blessing to boot! Make sure that your Pastor or Minister gets a little glory too, if you really wanna be good!
The Master however came and taught differently. His message stunned those who heard it, both then and now, for He came to do away with religion. “Hang on!” you say. What’s that? Do away with it?
Jesus reserved His most vociferous and violent attacks on the religious leaders of His day. His attacking the money-changers highlighted their greed and hypocrisy, but the greatest hurt He saw was that by parking their ungodly businesses in the outer courts of the temple, they prevented the Gentiles; the outsiders; the little people; the poor people from enjoying God’s provision for them. This precious space was deliberately designed for the ‘outsiders’.
Unique among religious messages, Jesus brought about a huge paradigm change, showing and teaching that relationship with the Father came through Him. He also claimed, incredibly, that it came through Him alone. Sure it came at a huge cost to Him (through sacrificing His life), and to us (through requiring our humility), but other than turning our attention to Him, often away from unimportant stuff that distracts us, this reinstatement of relationship comes free. He did the work and we simply accept.
Put simply, all false religious adherence costs us something more than humility. We must give money, time, prayers, worship or something, at least. Human activity of some sort is needed before we can gain a supposed benefit in all but Christianity. Sure, sometimes we can gain with our own efforts – increased health, discipline, maturity and growth in many areas can occur but it is often a pyrrhic victory.
It’s a catch and ALL churches (and yes, I mean ALL religious organisations) by their very nature fall into the same trap that the religious leaders fell into – the situation that Christ came to bust through once and for all. A simple guide of how subtle this catch is to ask the question, is there an authority above me within this Church? Am I beholden to someone, or some ‘thing’ or am I free to live, worship and love as I am led to? Affirmative in the former and we fall into the trap. Affirmative in the latter and that church will likely cease to exist in short order as its adherents follow God’s leading.
Anything that comes between a man (or woman) and the leading of the Holy Spirit (God’s representative here on earth) is dross. We must escape from it in order to walk in fullness of His plans and purposes for us. This distancing from systems and organisations enables the increase of intimacy with the Creator that we all seek deep down. For many Christians this “it” is the organised mainstream church, something I describe as a trap, well-meaning but naturally a trap. Generally I have found that the larger churches and larger denominations are more magnetic and alluring, but less within the heart of Christ. Let’s go through this all in a bit more detail.
First, most religious conduct outside of the Christian world requires me to do, say, think or feel something in order to be acceptable to their worldview. I must count beads, do the rosary, say “Ommmm” the right way at the right time, or think the same as they do with some agree creed or else I am not acceptable. That’s all well and good to a point but Jesus’ ways offer me more.
Secondly, I note that the primary methodology of entrapment is to offer adherents something that appears enlightening yet eventually ensnares. Even ‘giving myself the freedom to do things my own way’ is a falsehood and a trap akin to the one that Adam and Eve fell for. I was tempted in my early 20s to “give myself permission [to try certain ungodly behaviour]” and found myself a social outcast by refusing to participate in a particular communities normal conduct. It was a hugely important early lesson for a young man and the price I paid for that independence of thought was high, but worth it.
Many have found this out the hard way at the end of their lives as they look back and see much of their life’s effort wasted; but they also fear moving forward, not knowing where they are going, nor why they are even around. Sadly it’s a very common scenario in later life. Personal freedom is actually gained through submission TO the Truth not demanding or seeking independence FROM it.
Thirdly religious adherence is most subtle when our leaders use techniques of enslavement to manipulate us into certain conduct or belief systems by peer pressure. Cults (including most Christian denominations) do this all the time also claiming exclusivity, or at least exclusivity to some aspect of truth, by projecting a negative or victim mentality onto adherents in order to gain, control and retain their loyalty. I’ve committed to a relatively large range of denominations over the years and am now highly sensitive to this influence. Catholicism states that church dogma (as interpreted by their leaders historically) has validity. Most Pastors that I know of denominational churches exercise the one-size-fits-all approach by way of their systems – meeting to sing a song (or two or ten) once a week for example denies the reality that someone may not want to sing, or that their needs are best met with meaningful human engagement daily. Group think of like-minded people exerts huge subtle pressures on all of us, whether we are aware of it or not. Because it is so insidious, it has to be consciously sought out, identified, recognised and actively dealt with until it becomes natural to sense it.
The Master spoke of putting our allegiance into the right area like He did, i.e. obedience to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. The first Commandment too speaks of putting the Creator FIRST. Oh, how many people are brought up to be ‘good people’ with the Nine Commandments, but leaving the first one off.
There are common phrases that describe the life I speak of here. “Led by the Spirit”, is a corny one in Christendom, but is accurate. This lifestyle brings us the freedom and independence to do what He prompts us to do, when He wants us to do it and how he wants it done. The world is never the same when this happens, but we must escape any restraining force (like the Church) before it can happen.
The amazing thing is that contrary to most initial fears to the contrary, allegiance to and obedience of the Truth, brings total peace as well as wisdom and a multitude of other blessings. I’ve used the example of a coal leaving the others, a symbolism often used to explain why a coal needs to remain in the fire with others so that it doesn’t go out (an example used within Christian circles to retain adherents) in reverse. A coal outside of the rest of the embers has the potential to set alight a lot more fires, thus spreading the heat far and wide. Sure it can remain within the fold and stay warm longer, but getting the heat out and about appeals to those of us who enjoy sharing truth far and wide!
Another concept associated, is that of taking responsibility for ourselves. The hardest thing I found in departing the mainstream church systems was not the escape per se, it was the fact that I had to take responsibility for my own theological interpretations. As someone not versed in Christian-speak by upbringing, I had to deal with a plethora of conflicting religious concepts, values, thoughts and ideas – many of them lovely sounding at the time, and to then settle on the Truth as I saw it. This forced maturity into me as I could no longer hide behind a denominational stance on a certain matter. Sure I could handle whether or not God wanted me to rape or murder and justify to others why I thought that but on what basis did I consider God’s mention of the 1,000 generations to be literal, or how could I talk about and justify my position on the subject of End Times rather than the End OF Time? Eventually I resolved the conundrum that by backing myself I freed myself from the need to get it right all the time! I fact I got wiser by letting myself make mistakes. Go figure that one out!
I revert now to the experience that started this series – my asking of a friend, “From whence your values?” and her difficulty in answering the question. In the next post I go back through the thoughts I’ve shared and give a big picture look at this subject. In doing so I end with arguably one of the most ‘obnoxious’ things that Jesus did to, for, or with His audiences, by making the key question into a binary equation.