“Don’t Be Religious”

religionYou go to the doctor with a collection of symptoms, signaling a sickness. You are examined thoroughly by your physician: CAT scans, MRIs, X-rays, nuclear medicine, blood work, labs – everything. And in the end you get a diagnosis.

The doctor calls you in and says, “We’ve found it. You have a cancerous tumor. This is the cause of all your problems.” And then he props his feet up on his desk, leans back in his chair, and smiles the smile of a contented man, so pleased with his own diagnostic abilities.

Has that doctor really done anything for you? No! He told you what was wrong, but he has done nothing towards a cure. What you need is more than a diagnosis, you need a surgeon who will remove what is killing you.

This is why, simply, religion doesn’t work. Religion can only diagnosis our problem. It cannot cure us or change the pathology on the inside. Yes, religion can motivate. It can inspire. It can supervise individual behavior and manage the masses. But that is not enough.

People do not need more rules, more religion, or behavior management. We need a better way to live, a better solution for life and a world torn apart at the rivets, not just an analysis of the human condition.

It was one of my teenage chores, in the days of yesteryear, to mow the lawn. And not just at our house, mind you, but my grandmother’s and the neighbors’ houses as well. But for all the years of grass cutting that had to be done, I never had the use of a new lawnmower.

I always had these mowers that were pieced together with baling wire and duct tape standing on their last blade, or the ones that had been handed down to us after an uncle or neighbor had upgraded. So mowing was always an adventure, and if I could get through a couple of cuttings without a breakdown or without calling my dad to come fix the mower, then it was a miracle.

Once, when I was under a great deal of pressure to get finished mowing because I had other stuff to do – wholesome, worthy, honorable teenage stuff – the mower quit yet again. My father was at work and I had no patience left.

I rolled the lawnmower under a tree, got out my dad’s tools, and began working on the machine with a vengeance. I started with what I knew: Cleaning the air filter, and then adjusting the carburetor. When that didn’t work I just started loosening bolts and screws, disassembling the thing until I was down to the mower deck itself, and a million scattered parts. When my father got home I tried to explain myself, but to no avail. He was enraged, and rightfully so. I had done nothing but made a mess.

With our religious tendencies most of us approach our problems (and problems in our world) with this same eagerness and ignorance. We disassemble everything, knowing that something is seriously wrong. And while we are experts at deconstruction and diagnosis, we don’t know how to put it all back together. We don’t know how to fix it.

I have a modest, simple proposition: Let’s give Jesus a try. Jesus does far more than condemn or assess bad behavior, or tear apart what is wrong. He did not arrive with more and better rules, or a more demanding religion. He offers a transformative way to live that sets us free from the heavy burden of rule-keeping, and moves us to right thinking, right actions, and right living. Jesus came to actually change our hearts – to cure us with God’s love.

Rubel Shelly, President of Rochester College said, “Defending a pattern or system, proving my church is better than yours, or trumping my argument with your counter-argument breeds defensiveness. Makes tempers flare. Alienates friends. Starts wars. Makes people nasty. Breaks God’s heart. Following Jesus produces humility and keeps you from being mean. Jesus never said ‘Be religious!’ but simply ‘Follow me.’”