(Co-authored by Anne-Marie Montgomery)
“Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.” – Christopher Hitchens*
“I wouldn’t have turned out the way I was if I didn’t have all those old-fashioned values to rebel against.” – Madonna**
For Christopher Hitchens, religion is a big problem because of the evils perpetrated by it. For Madonna, religion is a straightjacket, a one-size-fits-all approach to life that couldn’t possibly be the way to live. They are among the critiques of religion who say: “The record of religion, the record of the Church for that matter, is fraught with injustice and violence towards others. Such a system of belief is surely untenable and not worthy of our allegiance. Not to mention the fact that religion is cold, sterile, and restricting. I prefer a dynamic, free and happy life.”
This might surprise you, but Jesus seems to agree with them. He identifies injustice waged by religion and the restriction of freedom in religion as a problem he has come to solve, not perpetuate. In fact, Jesus was not simply against religion, he hated it! He hated it because when religion is an attempt to get God in our debt by putting on our best moral performance, it becomes man’s vain attempt to control God by being good.
Jesus spares nothing in rebuking us when we think we can control God by our moral efforts and use religion as a tool to self-righteously control others. Jesus contends that God is not in debt to any of us and that none of us are good enough to come to Him on our own terms. Rather, we are in God’s debt and it is only through the grace and mercy that Jesus offers us that we can be acceptable in God’s eyes. Jesus came to offer us neither irreligion nor religion. He offers us something totally unique, totally life transforming: a new way of living. He came to give us good news and not a new religion.
How does His good news differ from religion? I define religion as man’s attempts to earn God’s favour through moral performance. But the good news Jesus brings is that He came among us to suffer judgement in our place and give us new life. He came to rescue us because there was no other way we could be reconciled to His Father. Religion offers the attempt of salvation through moral effort. But Jesus offers us the assurance of salvation through grace. Religion is about what you must do to earn standing with God; Jesus’ message is about all that God has done, is doing and will do for you. Religion is about trying to earn God’s favour; Jesus’ good news is about the lavish love God pours upon sinful people who could never earn His favour. The religious way of life allows for self-righteousness and a performance mentality without assurance of God’s love. The way of life Jesus offers produces humility and a deep joy grounded in all God has done for us. According to Jesus, religion is part of the problem; his good news is the solution.
Do you have questions or would you like to find out more about Jesus’ message of hope? Respond with a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Christopher Hitchens “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything “
**Madonna on Rebellion