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Organized Religion – Misunderstood?

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Organized Religion – Misunderstood?

By Jennifer Shelton, Owning Pink

Last week, I read Lissa Rankin’s article “Make Love, Not Burned Qurans” on OwningPink.com and started to reply to some of her questions: “Why must we let our faith divide us, rather than unite us? Why can’t you let me believe what I believe, I’ll let you believe what you believe, and we can love each other anyway? Why must we let religion, hatred, and fear get between us and the Divine? If God is love, where is the God in this church? And what are we to do about it?” As I got into my reply, however, I realized I had an entire post inside of me. Here goes.

I was raised as a Southern Baptist in a small Kentucky town. My parents, my sister and I went to Sunday school and church every Sunday morning. We returned to church on Sunday and Wednesday evenings. We had week-long “revivals” several times a year, and I always spent at least two weeks in Vacation Bible School every summer. I was quite faithful to my denomination until my 20s. At the moment, I consider myself “spiritual but not religious” but I think I’m the only one in my family who has “left” the church. I feel that I have a unique view of a fundamentalist mindset, both inside and out.

What may seem like hate is based in love

A basic tenet in many Christian denominations is that non-Christians will go to hell when they die. This was the focal point of most of the sermons I heard growing up. This tenet is accepted just as one would accept the law of gravity. I once had a friend ask me why people would choose to believe in a God who would send people to eternal hell fire. For many, this belief is not a choice. It’s just the way things are. My church community firmly believed that it was our responsibility to prevent as many people from going to hell as possible, and they went about trying to convert everyone to Christianity. How did they do this? Through fear. It can be quite the motivator.

As an elementary school child, I sat through sermon after sermon describing the eternal heat of hell fire, the smell, the pain, the thirst, the never ending agony. Sermons ended with questions like, “If you left this church today and died in a car accident, would you go to heaven?” Some preachers would even point directly at people in the pews, make eye contact, and say, “Are YOU saved?” I know this sounds horrible and hateful. But, keep in mind that within this paradigm, our mortal life is just a blip but eternity is well, forever. To leave one person unsaved was just cruel. Yes, the basis of these fear tactics (for most), was concern and love.

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91 comments

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6:25AM PDT on Jul 11, 2014

Thank you for your thoughtful article.

6:03PM PST on Dec 2, 2011

religion holds humanity back

3:30PM PDT on May 26, 2011

With all the religions, and all of their differerent sects of each, how can anyone say that their belief is the one that God prefers. Especially knowing what humans have done in God's name. ???

9:07PM PDT on Apr 26, 2011

I personally believe strongly that there is a deity, and I believe that He is G-d Almighty, the G-d of the Judeo-Christian Bible. I believe that out of His great love for humanity, He sent His only begotten Son to pay the penalty of sin that we could not: death. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of G-d is eternal life through Christ our LORD." (Romans 3:23) However, what is death. When I think of death, I assume that this means that one no longer exists. There is a belief that when an unrepentant sinner dies (meaning that they rejected Christ,) they cease to exist. This concept is known as annihilationism. I personally cling to this notion, not wanting to believe in a ever-burning Hell. However, many great Christians firmly believe that Hell is a place of eternal concious torment. At this point, I am very confused as to just what I believe about the punishment of sinners. However, I do know one thing: G-d is good. ALL He does is for a purpose, and that purpose is ultimately good, no matter how negative it seems from a human perspective. And more than that, G-d is love. (1 John 4:8) Read 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 for an excellent and Biblical definition as to exactly what love is.

I understand how the author feels about fundamentalists. I attend a fundamentalist church with my father about twice a month, and some of their views DO seem a bit extreme. However, they are dedicated Christians, and in need of just as much love as anyone.

10:43AM PDT on Apr 17, 2011

I was raised Roman Catholic. Need I say more? Over time I evolved to considering myself a spiritual person, and well on my way to not believing in any God at all. I read a book called THE GOD DELUSION a while ago, and while many years ago I would've been confessing to a priest the horrible sin I had committed by reading it, I have to say what I felt upon finishing the book was profound RELIEF. I am quite capable of behaving myself without organized religion thank you and consider myself a good person.

10:31AM PDT on Apr 17, 2011

Organized Religion is more like a corporation than a place to show repect to a creator. It encompasses the practice of spiritual hubris, and has brokrn the trust of many. I don't think it is misunderstood at all, noe is it defensible on many occasions.

7:33AM PDT on Apr 17, 2011

god could not be the absolute goodness since he is the one who also created evilness and introduced it to the world !

that is what makes me so skeptic of all religions..

and if indeed jesus said " if u deny me infront of men , i will deny u infront of god " doesnt that insinuate a bit of evilness ?? why should i accept u against my will , isnt that a kind of dictatorship ? why would god or jesus use a kind of blackmail with humans who are weaker than him ? why cant he love him anyway , even if he ( the latter ) didnt accept him and denied him ? wouldnt that make humans more open and humbled by his unconditional love and automatically accept him as a savior ? without the usual mantra" if u accept me , u will go to heaven..if not,u will go to hell" ?

i have so many questions and when i pose them i get aggrressive reactions from people with faith ..accusations along with this absolute conviction that i will be doomed and go straight to hell :) and how would u know?

why dont u convince me instead of attacking me? why should i be obliged to lie to myself before lying to others with a pretense of accepting or believing in something out of fear and not out of absolute love and conviction ..i only believe that each religion has core values that should be totally respected but as for rituals in any religion ..it is all man made ..

i believe that any scriptures of any religion contain many contradictions that if pondered on,may lead u to the path of schezophrenia !

8:57AM PDT on Mar 26, 2011

My experience with organized religion (something on the order of Jennifer's experience) was indoctrination and fear. Eventually, in my late teens, I saw the politics of ego and manipulation beneath the smarmy do-gooder attitude.
Jennifer's mother turning pale at the mention of someone questioning the existence of God said it all for me...why should anyone be terrified of a questioning mind that they will tell you was God-given on the one hand, and then curse you with Hell if you use it.
Read Eric Hoffer's little book called 'True Believer'. This very intelligent man (with no more than an 8th grade education) could see the mind and ego games that generates the whole reason humanity seems to believe it needs 'religion'.

9:54PM PST on Nov 30, 2010

Thank you for explaining this, Lauren. It's very well-put. I suspected that what seems like hatred from the outside is over-zealous “love,” or, more likely, fear.
I was raised in a non-fundamentalist tradition, and I see it a different way. Simply put, God loves everyone. He doesn't "send" anyone to hell. (Anyway, Jesus’ emphasis was on heaven, not hell.) We’re all sinners, so no sin is bad enough to send a person to hell. No one will go there unless they firmly turn their back on him – if they look him straight in the face and say “I don’t want what you have to offer (that’s pride). But anyone who is seeking and loving is “eligible” for heaven. I think the verse "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love," (1 John 4:8) is familiar to - but misunderstood by - most Christians! It's clear to me that non-Christians are capable of (altruistic, selfless) love - so they must know God on some level. They only need to be "introduced" and God will do the rest. We don't need to win people to him. He WILL make himself known to loving, seeking people, even in spite of zealous Christians. He can do it - He sends angels to people!
As for me, I tell people about my faith - no guilt, it's just my life. I ask them about theirs, too, and we swap stories. I hope the grace of God is compelling enough to make them ask more. (I don't use tracts - that's too artificial.) My church operates a soup kitchen (helping people in need

1:12PM PDT on Oct 3, 2010

The proper way is to plant a seed. If it takes root and grows, all is good. If it doesn't, it was never meant to be. Just move on. "If you love me, keep my commandments" John 14:15

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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