A common theme you will hear among secularists is that religion is all about control. They explain that they could never join any organized religion, because religions are just institutions created to control the masses. And they are exactly right. Let me explain.
Religion is in fact about control
This may be surprising to hear coming from a professing Christian but it is true – religion is all about control and it always has been.
But how do we define “religion”? One of Google’s definitions is:
“a particular system of faith and worship.”
The keyword here being “system”. Religion is a system created by man in attempt to reconcile oneself with the divine creator. It consists of certain rules, regulations, traditions, ceremonies, rituals, etc.
These attributes of religion are often used to do exactly that – control it’s constituents. They require members to uphold certain holidays, diets, prayer schedules, fasting and sometimes even dress requirements.
Examples of control in religion
For example, in Islam, Muslims are required to pray five times throughout each day. In these prayers, there are specific instructions for the Muslim on how to do it correctly. The Qibla, which translates to “direction” in Arabic, is orientation the Muslim must face while they pray. This is a fixed direction towards the the Kaaba in Mecca.
Additionally, Muslims are required to practice fasting during the month of Ramadan. During this month, the Muslim will fast for around 11-16 hours each day during the daylight hours. When the sun goes down then they are allowed to break the fast.
Similarly in Judaism, many Jews fast during the observance of minor fast days. For Yom Kippur, some Jews fast for a full 25 hours. There are also other less well-known restrictions during the holiday like washing and bathing, anointing their body, wearing leather shoes, and sexual relations.
In addition, every Jewish child is required to have a Bar Mitzvah for boys and a Bat Mitzvah for girls. The Mitzvah is like a rite of passage ritual for children, signifying their entering into adulthood. It signifies the child now being held accountable for his or her own actions under the Jewish law.
All of these practices are done by certain religions in order to “gain favor” with God and work toward your relationship with him. The idea is if you uphold these rules and regulations to a high degree, you will be granted grace from the Lord.
Why is Christianity different?
At this point you may be wondering, so why is the author of this article a professing Christian? The answer to this is because Christianity was never intended to be a “religion”.
There are many verses in the Bible specifically against this idea of “religion”. During those times, the Scribes and the Pharisees were the religious authority in all the land. They were looked at as the most pious and righteous people alive. However, when we look at the interactions between Jesus and the Pharisees, we can see that the two were constantly at odds with one another. So much so that the “religious” people plotted Jesus’ murder!
In Matthew 15:1-9, we see Jesus condemning the Pharisees for putting their traditions (religion) before God’s commandments:
1Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying,
2 Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.
3 But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?
4 For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.
5 But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;
6 And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.
7 Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,
8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
Jesus has another altercation with the Pharisees in Matthew 23, calling them hypocrites, fools, & blind:
13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
16 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!
17 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?
Along the way, Christianity has been tainted and polluted by man into becoming a religious system. The evidence of this adulteration can be found in the estimated 30,000 – 40,000 different denominations of Christianity. Each denomination claiming some religious superiority or correctness over the other.
Religion doesn’t bring us closer to God, but rather separates us further from him through meaningless rituals and practices. In order to get closer to God, we must have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This doesn’t require any fasting, prayer schedules, or rituals to do so. All we have to do is accept him as our savior and understand the lengths he went through to put us back in good standing with God.
To learn more about how Christianity is different from every other religion in the world, view one of my previous articles.