I am often confused by religious jargon. Follow any number of God’s devotees on social media and you’re sure to be bombarded with memes quoting Bible verses and meaningless inspirational sayings that people will tell themselves to help them get through another day in their seemingly miserable lives. This doesn’t stop with the internet, either. Religious quotes are plastered all over the highways of the United States and elsewhere, including the Philippines. In the song “I Quit Church” by Matt & Toby, the body of the second verse is as follows:
Thought the preacher would grab my arm
Tell me I was wrong and we could weather the storm
But he never said a word
The people were content, and they never heard as I left
The door closed behind me
As I looked up and asked God why
Is this all that He’d planned for me?
A sermon, a show, a lie?
“Sons don’t curse your fathers”
“And mothers teach your children well”
The scraps of the greatest story
Were replaced with the story about yourself
This is a song about from the perspective not of someone who had given up on God, but by someone who had given up on the institution of organized religion. The preacher in this song doesn’t care about the person leaving. He has a whole body of brainwashed sheep to attend to. The one hurting is the person leaving. And with all of the hatred preached, watering down, abuse of scripture participants of organized religion are guilty of, who can blame him? I am one of them.
But what I’m most concerned about here is not about how misquoting scripture or dumbing down to the status of memes helps people. What I’m concerned about here is how it hurts people. It’s when phrases from scripture like when Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) are taken and misused. The Christian may ready this and say to himself, “well I’m a Christian so I’m good, my way is correct, anyone who believes differently is obviously mistaken.” But that is the theological fallacy in dumbing down scripture. And I’m not picking on Christianity here. Every religion does this in their own way.
Religion, like everything else in life, is a game. There are two ways to play a game. You can play tennis, where there are definite winners and losers. But that would imply that there is an empirical method to judge who the winner might be, and who the loser might be. Heaven and Hell would certainly prove this point. But Heaven and Hell aren’t real places. And religion is a religion because it can’t be proven. It can’t be won. So trying to win is effectively a waste of time.
The other way to play the game is simply to participate in it. Religion is a part of life. It stems from our natural curiosity about life, about our place in this universe, about our consciousness, and about our demise. It asks “Why?” when “Why?” cannot be answered. But the effect religion, when done properly, has on one’s life can be remarkable. When one recognizes that life is not a zero-sum game, that it can’t be won, that it ends in death and a return to the Universe from which it came, then life is treated like the game of friendship. No one is trying to win a friendship. You’re simply enjoying the game and time you have together.
There is something to be gained from participating in religious practices, from prayer, from meditation, from walking a labyrinth, from singing hymns, from practicing yoga, from reading scripture. But to take what you get from scripture and twist it to apply hatred towards another person is simply bastardizing the text. To condemn someone to hell for practicing a different religion, for having a different sexual preference, for having a different skin color, for being from a different country, or even for being from another planet is simply abusing the religion. And it makes you look like a fool.
And there are a lot of fools. Churches and mosques and synagogues and temples are full of fools. Fools who take the greatest stories ever written and use them for evil. Fools who disguise hatred with love. Fools whose only acts of compassion are for the purpose of marketing their brand of religion or self-service. Fools who think that a sharing a bumper sticker and a meme are sufficient qualifications for a Holy life. If you understand that the primary theme across all religious texts is love, then DON’T quit church. If you act compassionately towards everyone regardless of how different they are, DON’T quit church. If you can see God in another person, DON’T quit church. If you have the capacity to act selflessly, DON’T quit church. The church needs you. The mosque needs you. The synagogue needs you. The temple needs you. Because without you, they are lost in their own self-sustaining body of hatred.
So live life like you are God, and like everyone else is God. You do not stop with your own body. You are a product of and a participant in the planet and have a direct influence of its future. You are reliant upon it for your survival, and it is reliant upon you for its survival. You are the greatest story ever told: the story of the conscious human.
Author: Adam Hinds is a vagabond and a human being by most standards. He serves as a Chief Operations Specialist in the US Navy, holds a MA in Christian Practice and Conflict Management from Lipscomb University and a BS in International Relations from Middle Tennessee State University. Follow him on Twitter @ahinds3d.