I just finished Christopher Hitchens’s book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and while I actually agree with much of it, we came to two completely different conclusions.
First, I want to distinguish the difference between God and religion. God is great. Religion is poison. God calls us to come to Him, through Jesus. Religion causes people to do insane things, including things like the Crusades, mass murder, manipulation, and events such as the People’s Temple leading and forcing people to literally “drink the Kool-Aid,” resulting in the single greatest loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act, prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Religion has been one of the leading causes of murder and death in all of history. In religion, I’m also including Evolution (specifically referring to macroevolution, or rather, evolution in the sense that we descended from animals). There’s plenty of proof for microevolution and natural selection, but humans transitioning from animals is where it turns into pure religion, because it’s taken completely on faith.
We adapt. Animals adapt. That doesn’t lead to the conclusion that we evolved from animals. the biological family Canidae, or “Canines,” likely includes more types of these dog-like creatures now than it did 1,000 years ago, but we’ve never seen animals “evolve” across kinds. We’ve never seen a bird come from a fish. We’ve only seen the microevolution that happens within a kind, and typically within a species. That’s why I include the view of macroevolution as a religion — especially in the sense of origins.
I understand that we could pull out Webster’s definition of religion, or evolution, or whatever, and it could cloud or confuse things. So I’ll define my terms. When I say religion here, I’m referring to the act of humans trying to reach a god, and/or following rules set by a god. Following Jesus is about God sending His Son to us, not us trying to reach Him. That’s the difference.
I love Jesus and my relationship with Him, but when it turns into following religious rules, I’m out. I follow the Bible, and try my best to live a life like Jesus, because of who He is, not because of some religious set of rules. I understand that my salvation comes through faith not works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Even as Christians, our righteousness comes through Christ, not the law (Galatians 2:21, Romans 8:3). I also understand that faith without works is dead, but the works have to come out of the faith, not the reverse (James 2:14-26).
I love and serve others, and live a life as much like Christ as I can because of my relationship with Him. The Bible is an important part of my life, but I center on Christ first, and view the Bible in that way.
Jefferson Bethke released a popular video many years ago titled, Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus, and I don’t agree with all of it, but he has a lot of good things to say. Kevin DeYoung posted an almost offended rebuttal to the video, with his main focus being on the importance of sanctification and obedience to Christ. While I see both sides, I think too many people are afraid to admit that there is a problem with the church. And I’m talking about the church as a whole.
This is why I’m ok with lumping historical Christianity, which I prefer to refer to as Christendom, into “poisonous religion.” I get that my view isn’t popular, and that many Christians defend the historical church, but I simply can’t. It was, however, religion, not Jesus, that ultimately led to the dreadful church history we have today.
Yes, we should lead Godly lives to our best ability. We should strive to walk in the will of Christ every step of the way. But we do need to do away with the religious, and self-righteous attitude of simply following rules, and earning our way into heaven.
Jesus didn’t come to rebuke the blatant sinners as much as He came to rebuke the religious. And in reading a book like Hitchens’ mentioned above, I notice that he takes the same approach so many others do. He points out how terrible religion is, but he’s really just showing how terrible people are.
Religion, including evolutionary beliefs, have led people to do horrific things throughout history. People do these things because they have a certain belief. That may be that they feel like God told them to kill X number of people, or it could be that since we all just evolved from animals, killing others is no different from a lion killing a gazelle. And with no god, and no objective morality, no one can argue that killing (in that sense) is wrong, because morality would be left up to individuals to determine.
But as far as religion goes…
The underlying point is that, while there are religions whose books encourage murder, Jesus never did. Jesus encouraged peace, even to the point of loving your enemies — no matter what! You don’t see that in other “religious leaders.”
So while I agree with Hitchens that people can be terrible, and people have done many atrocities in the name of religion… just as many, if not more people, have done horrible things due to the lack of any belief in a god, because that always eventually leads to a belief that people are technically just animals.
I follow Jesus, and I don’t believe anything He said could lead someone to violent acts. Say what you will about the Hebrew Bible—the Old Testament (OT)—but Jesus and the New Testament are Christ revealed, while the OT is Christ concealed. Anything in the OT must be viewed through the lens of Jesus, not the other way around. And Jesus is love. True love.
While religion may be poisonous, there’s nothing poisonous about Jesus.