Devotional March 15: Organized Religion and Organized Crime
I have always hated the question, “Are you religious?” When I would talk to my mentor Lloyd, about religion, I would say, “I don’t see Christianity as a religion, I see it as relationship with God” his reply would be, “religion is relationship with God”.
However, going to Christian college and studying Church history, I got a different perspective. The perspective that I got is that religion is a man-made construct full of back-biting, quibbling over points of silly doctrine, that seeks to create differences and separations between people, some which lead to prejudice and hate and the history of bad decisions that people of Judeo-Christian values have been accused of for over two thousand years!
Before he died, Lloyd (in one of his last attempts to debate religion with me) said, “You know, many Christians attack other Christian groups”. I told him that I know that all too well, but that other Jewish groups attack and say bad things about other Jewish groups too and Muslims do it to other Muslims. I then told him, “That is why I despise organized ‘religion‘.”
A few weeks ago, I challenged myself and went to Adult Sunday School at my church. We discussed the canons and teachings of our church. I asked the pastor where he went to seminary. Like all good Presbyterians, he went to Princeton Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey. The way we were talking about the statutes and epistemology of Presbyterians, I asked him if the Princeton Law School was right next to the seminary. I asked this because we were discussing points of belief just like lawyers discussing the law: ‘does it apply in this situation?’ or ‘can you do this but not that?’ or my favorite, ‘is it really a sin in THIS situation?’ These funny discussions are part and parcel of the definition of religion, in my mind. Generally these discussions make me sick but they can also be fun sometimes.
However, I am not just leveling this evaluation at religion. Anyone can level it at any other man-involved institution, also: business companies, educational institutions, criminal organizations, and others. They all are guilty of the same crimes that organized religion is guilty of.
Don’t believe me that crime has its institutions? Just watch reruns of the Sopranos! Crime has its priests and books and rules of conduct too! It even had a Pope in Marlon Brando’s Godfather character or in Al Capone or any other famous mobster. All man-made organizations will contain sin as long as they contain humans! Maybe the machines from the Terminator series were onto something. Any organization that is man-made (or woman-made) is full of the same problems that plague religious institutions, either Jewish or Catholic or Protestant or anything in betweens.
Now, having lambasted religious and other institutions, I have to also say that we cannot and should not avoid religious institutions. Maybe we just need to take them with a grain of salt. As human beings, we need community and ritual and doctrine and ceremony and leadership and books and all the other parts that make up the institution of religion. Whenever you get human beings together, they create institutions. Even cavemen had their leaders and rituals and ceremonies and sacred writings on the cave wall!s!
We needed them then and we need them now. We need them to help encourage us and to tell us when we are messing up. We need them for insights we cannot get alone. We need religious inststutions to help us create the temple inside our hearts. And out of that temple will flow the Holy Spirit influencing our thoughts and minds and actions and desires which will make us into His image.
James 1:27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.