WARNING: NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART
Religion invented the premise that in our natural state we are all separated from God. First, let me appeal to your logic. Every human being is created in the image of God. We are further told in scripture that in God we have our being. In other words, God’s being is the source of your being. God cannot be separated from “himself.” If it were possible for you to be or live in “separation from God” you either wouldn’t be here at all or it would make you God. In this sense, religion created a problem and constructed an entire institution to solve a problem that never existed.
What or who is God, anyway? The Bible says things like, God is spirit, and God is love. You might say that God is the underlying, fundamental, unnamed and all-encompassing reality in and through all things. You can’t point to God but you can describe how we experience that reality that fills all things. Love, goodness, beauty, peace, and freedom are some of the words we use to describe the God-reality.
You were told that you are separated from God… separated from this reality that we describe as love, goodness, beauty, peace and freedom. If we are told this long enough we will believe it, and it becomes the lens through which we interpret all things related to God. Of course, we sometimes feel like we are separated from God… from love, goodness, beauty, peace and freedom. In one way or another, we probably feel this often.
What is our crime that separates us from God? As the theory goes, our crime is being human. We are told that we are born “sinners.” Insert our misinterpretation of the word “sin.” According to the theory, before we do anything… we are born as babies “in sin.” In other words, we don’t get a choice; by virtue of being born human, we are at the core, “sinners.” The theory further says that this state is disgusting and revolting to God, which is why God rejects and condemns us, has nothing to do with us, and sends us to Hell… we are separated from God.
Meanwhile, the word “sin” means to miss the mark or fall short. What mark? Fall short of what? Sin is falling short or missing the mark of experiencing and being the love, peace, freedom, wholeness, and well-being that is God, and that God desires for every person. Of course “hates sin” – God hates anything in our lives that prevents us from embracing the goodness God intends for humankind. I love my daughter Jessica. I passionately desire her to know love, goodness, beauty, peace, freedom, wholeness and well-being. It’s heartbreaking to see any way she is not experiencing these, and I want to remove any obstacle in her life that would be preventing it.
Did you ever wonder why Jesus was always picking a fight with religion? It was because religion, which was supposed to help people know God, was the obstacle hindering it. Did you ever wonder what the big deal was about Jesus being both divine and human? It was to show that the two are not in opposition to each other. Did you ever wonder why Jesus handpicked the most notorious sinners of his day to become close friends with? It was to challenge the religious notion that some people are too “bad” to be connected with God. Did you ever wonder why Jesus didn’t allow the adulterous woman to be stoned to death as the religious law required? It was to obliterate the performance-based mentality of relating to God. Dead or alive, Jesus was not going to let religion stand in the way of God and God’s children.
Did you ever wonder why the religious leaders of the day hated Jesus so much? It was because Jesus wouldn’t play their game. Every religion gives expression to the sacred in ways that are deeply meaningful to people. But did you ever notice that when religion becomes damaging to people’s relationship to God, divine intervention happens? Jesus had no problem being the prophet that took on his own religious tradition where it was necessary. It didn’t go well for Jesus; taking on the religious establishment is a dangerous thing to do in every age.
This kind of religion dies hard! What to do?, so pondered this religious mentality. Well, if you can’t beat them, join them! So religion began putting words in Jesus’ mouth, and has not stopped doing so until this day. Jesus was transformed into the poster-child for religion.
Insert the misinterpretation of the word, “repent.” In the religious context, “repent” usually means acknowledging and grieving your sinful condition, turning from your wicked ways, throwing yourself on the mercy of God, and pledging to do better… or else! “Repent” is one of those religious words that conjure up images of judgment, condemnation, and fear.
Jesus often said in the gospels, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” For years it troubled me that Jesus so often used this word because it represented everything that repelled me about religion. But then I learned its true meaning and significance. I discovered that the word “repent” (metanoia) actually means a change of mind or having a new mind. The word suggests a radical transformation of how we process reality.
Metanoia literally means “beyond the mind.” It’s the idea of stretching or pushing beyond the boundaries with which we normally think and feel. It often involves pressing beyond our religious conditioning about ourselves, God, others and life itself. When Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” he was saying that peace, freedom, fulfillment, and wholeness is present in every moment but it can’t be accessed or grasped through the religious mentality. “Repentance” as a way of life would mean acknowledging that what you most deeply want in life lies beyond what you already know or think you know. It involves approaching life from a place of “not knowing” and becoming more grounded in that inner voice that woos you toward what is truly good, beautiful, and liberating.
This idea of repentance became the modern “gospel,” along with a host of other doctrines, which was conveniently labeled “orthodoxy,” implying that you could not even be a “Christian” unless you signed off on this doctrinal litmus test, which Jesus himself would not have supported. Just a cursory reading of church history raises some suspicion of how “orthodoxy” came to be… a few other things for that matter.
I deconstructed away most of my “Christianity” but could never deconstruct away Jesus. Then I realized I didn’t have to have the one to have the other, and that in many cases they were two completely different and irreconcilable things.
Where are the prophets, where are the preachers, where are the pastors, where are the poets, where are the artists… who will courageously stand up and say this, preach this, write this, paint this, sing this… express this… live this… be this???
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.” Where are those hands that will roll away the stone of the religious mentality I’ve described above, and move the wheels of truth???
I’ll tell you why I’ve taken on The Religion-Free Bible Project. It’s because I’m not going to let Jessica grow up in a world where “God” is about fear, judgment, condemnation, division, hatred and shame. I’m not going to let her grow up in a world where she is told that God is disgusted and ashamed with who she is, and that she deserves to be punished for the crime of being human! I’m not going to silently sit by while people are running the hamster-wheel of religion, trying to get God to like them, and hating themselves for never measuring up. I’m taking on The Religious-Free Bible Project for the countless number of people who have sent me emails, sharing how the above religious mentality destroyed their lives.
As you can probably tell, I woke up today with a fire in my soul. I’ve been somewhat discouraged lately. It feels like I’ve been standing on the rooftop, proclaiming the need for the Religion-Free Bible to no avail. I’ve had tremendous response in comments and emails of people sharing their support and enthusiasm for the project, given the RFB passages that have already been written. And yet, I can’t seem to convince very many people that it’s worth financially supporting for the cost of a McDonald’s Happy Meal! Which is curious when I think of what happened yesterday on Black Friday.
I am so grateful for all of you who generously offer your encouragement and support! That’s a big reason why I keep going and pushing through those times when I experience discouragement. Something worth doing is rarely easy, and most things worth doing endure great opposition.
You can contribute to The Religion-Free Bible Project here.
But either way, I’m pressing forward. Life isn’t a popularity contest. I’ve received the nasty and hateful emails, I’ve been unfriended… it’s just part of it.