Rethinking My Beliefs about God Apart From Traditional Christianity

How Religion Kills Love

In Atonement, Church, Jesus, Life, Love, Relationships, Sin, The Bible on March 3, 2011 at 6:44 pm

In previous posts, I explained the way religion doesn’t relieve guilt but actually causes one to live in guilt. This is because general Christian doctrines and rituals are based upon the premise that holiness must be separated from sin; God is holy while humans are sinners.

Because of this, we feel a continual need to cover our shame, or even blame-shift as in the case of the atonement doctrine. If God must punish sin, then Christ is our substitution. He takes our blame. The only problem is that this idea only perpetuates some apparent need for blame. Whatever was dishing out the blame in the first place, it is still dishing it out every time we believe it has been (hopefully) covered.

For Christians, the need to cover guilt seems to be primarily seen through religious rituals such as Bible reading, prayer and church attendance.

But religion doesn’t remove sin; it only attempts to blind us temporarily to our guilt. The rest of the world can see it loud and clear. “Brainwashed hypocrites” is a common phrase from the mouths of non-church-goers about church-goers. As a Christian a few years ago, I remember thinking, “Hey, maybe that isn’t persecution from the world like I had assumed. They might actually have a point.” (But I wouldn’t be able to fully consider that possibility until after I had stopped going to church for a few years. I mean, who wants to admit they’re an asshole?)

The problem for me is that my religious conditioning didn’t go away overnight. And I can’t just remove my long-held beliefs. They have to be replaced or else they will continue to subconsciously govern my entire life. Since we become what we believe, I’ve had to unbecome my beliefs by becoming new beliefs…. So, what new truths can I trust enough to become?

Does the Bible give us the truth? As I’ve said before, an appeal to scripture is an appeal to an interpretation to scripture. There’s no way around the fact that no matter how much truth is contained in a book, we’ve still got to interpret it, or decide on the correct interpretation ourselves. And I don’t see how there is any difference between making that call and coming up with our own set of beliefs. So guess what? We get to believe whatever we want to believe, because, apart from our society’s conditioning, everyone already does that anyway.

Assuming the New Testament accounts, the political bias of the Bible translations of the already fluid grammar, and my understanding of the life of Christ is correct (and all of that is up for debate) why did Christ die? If I no longer believe that Christ took away the sins of the world (and obviously he did not since even believers still sin) then what was the purpose of Christ’s death and why was it supposedly God’s will? I want to replace my long-held belief with a new one.

The way I currently understand the crucifixion is this: the Jewish religious leaders killed their messiah. And it really doesn’t get much more complicated than that. When we exalt a book, such as the Bible, to celebrity or God status, the whole thing gets twisted and even destroyed. Just look at the life of Michael Jackson, may God finally rest his soul.

But if we simply check out a book at the library and read it for whatever it might be worth to us personally, we might actually benefit from it – and so will the rest of the world as we rather unconsciously share its influence on our life. To take a book and formulate a religion around it often blinds us to the essence of the book.

So we’ve got this man, a son of God, who loved people enough to heal their diseases, teach them a new, non-religious way of life called love, and to feed them when they were hungry. He also had these twelve friends who were not his slaves but his best friends. They experienced misunderstandings, terms of endearment, defense of each other, betrayal, and all of those other things that friends go through to make their relationship ever deeper. The man was all about love and friendship. So why’d they have to kill the guy?

Maybe it’s for the same reason the atonement doctrine kills Christ over and over again every time we believe it. We need a scapegoat to blind us to our guilt so we don’t have to feel it anymore.

But if Christ’s death atoned for your sin and my sin, then there’s no love, forgiveness or mercy involved. Somebody was paid off like some kind of a bank transaction. Who did we owe? The devil? God? The creator who created us as sinners? Why would our creator create us with a debt toward him just to fulfill it himself? The payment cancels out the debt alright. The debt has no merit in the first place.

Would y0u say that a child is in debt to his dad if he can’t be just like his dad? Unfortunately, too many fathers put this pressure on their children. But kids are kids. They’re supposed to be kids, not parents, and they simply don’t have the capacity to be an adult until they become an individual adult themselves.

So what’s the point of a father saying, “That’s okay, kids. I’ve sacrificed this other guy over here, or even myself, so you don’t have to worry about being such wretched children anymore.” And lo and behold, the kids are still kids. Not only does the concept not make any sense, it doesn’t work either. This is because childhood is necessary for becoming an adult. And where’s the love anyway?

Just as the religious leaders killed their teacher of compassion, so does our high standards of expectations have this really bad habit of killing love.

From what I understand, God wanted his people to show mercy to the foreigner in the Old Testament. And the Christ was forgiving sins before his death, for reasons that are seemingly unknown. He seemed to forgive people just because that is what they thought they needed. Or maybe it was just because.

Why then did the Christ say he was a “ransom for many” and why does the New Testament talk about ideas such as propitiation or a sin offering?

When the Bible says that Christ died for “us” I think we get the “us” mixed up. This was written from a religious Jewish mindset for an audience that was trying to understand that God loves people just because. No more old covenant sacrifices were needed to cover sin. They never worked anyway, and the idea of love is a whole different ballgame as opposed to say, paying your bills at the bank.

It seems to me that the Apostle Paul et al, was attempting to change his followers’ religious mentality (as well as his own.) It’s like he was saying, “Look guys, we made a mistake when we killed God’s celebrity messenger. But if you still can’t understand that our Father loves you apart from the sacrifices, and not only you but the Gentiles as well, then look at his death as our final sacrifice. We don’t need any more priests or cleansing rites now. You can enter into the holy of holies yourself and go straight to God. Get it? No more sacrifices. God loves you just because.

And then about 70 years later the Jewish temple, and all of its rituals, was permanently destroyed. This seemed to be symbolic of the end of Israel’s religion. And yet Christians today refuse to let it go, and so the blame-shifting continues.

Apparently the blame thrown upon Christ was not enough. We must now point out the sins of the world and the fact that humanity will be punished, if not by some non-blessing, non-answered prayer or natural tragedy on earth, then a fiery torment for eternity.

And the guilt and shame goes around and around. Sinners defend themselves by shifting the focus back onto the sins of our accusers. We all point out the wrongs of others in some feeble attempt to feel better about ourselves. The only way to get off the merry-go-round of sin, guilt and religion is to finally and wholly believe that we are loved unconditionally. Love doesn’t point out sins. Love simply loves no matter what its object thinks, says or does – just because love is love.

But what do we do about the sin problem? It’s not right. It’s unjust. Wrongs must be punished.” Ah, and so we have been led to believe. But punishment doesn’t remove sin, remember? It only perpetuates it. What’s the most effective way to stop sinning? I’d say that since we become what we believe, it really helps to stop believing in sin and start believing in real, genuine, unconditional, vulnerable… love. Replace all of those religious doctrines that perpetuate our ugly wretchedness… with God’s unconditional love and sin naturally becomes a thing of the past, both theoretically as well as in reality.

When I stopped going to church (where my religious mentality was reinforced every week) all of my relationships began to change. I stopped worrying about my kids being overcome by sin (as if I could control that anyway) and began to love them just because they are kids. My love for them and countless others has been slowly growing as I replace my religious conditioning with new beliefs.

I’ve seen marriages that were on the rocks salvaged simply because the two spouses abandoned their personal guilt which was perpetuated through the Christian religion. They fell in love with each other for the first time because they no longer felt any need to shift the blame onto the person closest to them. They are now free to love people because they themselves are loved.

Friendships take on a whole new dynamic when we no longer have to worry about whether our friends are a bad influence on us. We also don’t have to condescendingly look down upon them because of their beliefs or their frailties. We can actually like people with all of their unique strengths, weaknesses and character, because of those things.

It doesn’t mean we have to be “friends” with people, either. Love is not a law nor can we place boundaries on it. If we really don’t like someone, no pretense is necessary. God still loves us whether we love or hate. The love of God is either conditional or unconditional. Which one?

In a world of ignorant human beings who are like children to God, ignorance is not an issue in light of love. Yet ignorance is also overcome in light of love. Freedom to simply be ourselves, no matter what that looks like, inevitably leads to natural growth because that is the way the world functions in all of its natural capacity.

Isn’t it so difficult to really accept even our own selves just the way we are? There always seems to be something we wish was different, or something we want to change but feel we are incapable of changing it. Pure acceptance can only happen in the beaming light of unconditional love. Know you are loved, and stop believing doctrines like the atonement theory, and you will find that your guilt will naturally vanish… just because.

  1. “When I stopped going to church (where my religious mentality was reinforced every week) all of my relationships began to change. I stopped worrying about my kids being overcome by sin (as if I could control that anyway) and began to love them just because they are kids. My love for them and countless others has been slowly growing as I replace my religious conditioning with new beliefs.”

    Excellent article…wow. Loved the part i just posted and the rest of course

  2. Yes, yes & yes to many wonderful brilliant points. In my own truth I describe God as being Light, Life and Love (please pardon any trinity similarities) as all are required in order for us, the world, the universe and even thought to be (e.g. exist). And yet each one is the exact same as the other – words really being very limited in original context.

    Love is ours to give, always. And thus is Love also received. This is no mystery & yet to so many ingrained into religiosity, it is. I pray you wonderful success in your “new” life. May Life’s eternal Peace, Love & Joy be yours always.

    In the name of Love,

  3. Thanks again dear friend. I can watch a film, like The Matrix or Avatar and hear from the Lord so clearly. Then another person can watch the same films and get something totally different than I did. I feel the same way about the Bible. And when people dissect The Matrix into ‘their’ perspective into a study, it taints the view I got from it the first time around. God closes the ears of some and opens the ears of another at His appointed time. He allowed me to be blind and deaf in fundamentalism for 15 years then healed me, gave me sight, and hearing to hear His great love. Now the Bible reveals a much brighter story and I see love everywhere. Understanding the balance of good and evil in the world.. I wrestle with. I’m trying to rest in His sovereignty in these things and accept that I don’t yet understand it very well because He hasn’t made it clearer to me yet. I wait patiently for him to reveal more to me in his divine time. I read your words for what they are and I see intelligent statements and truth. Whereas another coming along might see something different. I’ll just take from the Lord what He gave me through your words and be thankful. 🙂

    • Lisa, that is such a great point. I really don’t understand how people are offended by the message of unconditional love. I understand that it can be a painful offense to a religious system we rely upon to hide our guilt (from ourselves) but still… Don’t we all just want to know that we’re LOVED? It just seems to be a common human longing across the centuries as well as the globe.

      Nevertheless, since we are unique individuals on unique journeys, we’re not all going to make sense to each other… and that seems to be original plan anyway. I guess we that friction between us all creates the energy for the world to grow.

  4. Wow, Elizabeth! So many excellent points.

    “So guess what? We get to believe whatever we want to believe, because, apart from our society’s conditioning, everyone already does that anyway.”

    I loved this paragraph. I’ve had this statement rolling around within me for almost a year now…..”We all believe exactly what we want to believe.” And I have no problem with that. But I know it sounds completely heretical to the religious folks. Oh well. I’m sure that one day they will see too.

    What a gift you have to express the truths of freedom. I soooo enjoy reading your posts. Carry on!

  5. Hi Elizabeth, stumbled upon your blog via FB & like the fact that you want to think outside the ‘religious-box’. Agree with you on the whole re-inforcing thing through weekly conditioning and even about holy text being ‘interpreted’ and definitly about the ‘unconditional love’-thing which changes everything.

    I want to challenge you, though, about your ‘sin’-thinking. Perhaps a little ‘religious conditioning’ still shining there, as you ‘define’ sin as (and this is my ‘interpretation 🙂 ‘stuff we do’?

    For me (interpretation!) ‘sin’ isn’t stuff we do, but rather a bit of ‘loss’ in terms of ‘capacity’ and the narative about a God becoming ‘like us’ has more to do with relatetionship than with ‘washing away a debt’. I believe (not in a religious sense, though) that we (human beings) are unique in that we are the perfect synergy between spirit & matter, us being the first of this kind (the Bible talks of the first ‘Adam’ and Christ as the ‘second Adam) and God, in the one known as ‘Jesus’ following the act, ‘becoming like us’, so that we can ‘relate’ and be in ‘relationship’. I would like to believe that that is/was (depending on your view of time) the intention with this whole reality known as earth, life and the cosmos: an eternal unknowable God who wanted to relate to a some one outside of himself, creating a being (us) ‘like’ him (just enough like him so that ‘relating’ could ‘be’), but entrirely different as well, so that it would be new and exsciting and unpredictable.

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on this – discussion.

    Religion is closed.

    It ‘deletes’ differing ‘opinions’.

    Where I’m at (non-religious in a western Christianized sense, but searching spirituality) ‘exploration’ opens conversation & impregnates new insight.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    • Good stuff, Theunis. I’ve actually got an entirely different understanding of sin other than “stuff we do” but I use that idea in my posts because that is how many churches teach sin, and therefore how many people think of sin. Personally, I don’t even see sin (nor the temporary suffering it causes) as a problem, but part of God’s good plan for you, me and the whole world. Without sin, we would never know any depth of any relationship. So an integral part of life is not a problem but, an integral part of life.

      I like your idea. It sounds like you’ve had some influence from quantum or metaphysics and I think that realm of science, while not complete, has a lot to offer in terms of understanding God, the Christ and human existence.

      Thanks for you comment.

  6. God is not bad nor is religion in it self. It’s the people who interpret God who is bad. Church is a business and their job is to bring people to the church to give money. We shouldn’t hate people for this as people will always have a choice to make their own decision.

    We as people seem to hate God and religion because of what people have interpreted God to be. Don’t blame God for this.

    This is of course my opinion as your blog is yours. Thanks.

    • Good point, James, although I’m not sure I had much of a choice as a child who was taken to church and taught over and over again that going to church is how we grow in our relationship with God. But I agree. I now do not think this is a real God, but a religious system.

  7. I’m on a slow, bumpy spiritual journey, also rethinking my beliefs about God, so when I recently found your site and read your tagline on the top, I knew I’d find good stuff here … and I have.

    This post reminds me of a story I read years ago … about a convo between two early settlers … one man had married an American Indian and lived with the natives. The other lived with the white people (where all ‘sensible’ whites lived) When the guy living with the natives was asked why … he said that he lived with them because they enjoyed life, lived in rhythm with nature … and they didn’t sit around thinking about their sins all the time … like white people do.

    • Since I was a “missionary” in Eastern Europe for four years, I can really relate to the settler who lived with the white people. My closest friends were other American missionaries from my sending church. It makes me sad to think of all the Hungarian friendships I didn’t get to enjoy.

  8. Elizabeth, I have really enjoyed browsing and reading your posts. Thought provoking, but above all I love the “journey” you are on. Freedom!

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