Why I struggle with religion

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That may come as something of a surprise to you, but yes I do struggle with religion.


When I say that I am not referring to any one religion in  particular, but with the entire premise behind religious thinking. It appears to me that whatever our religious background or professed faith or even lack of any faith, there is the same premise at the back of our minds. What is that premise?

It is that God (or the universe or even myself) somehow accepts me on the basis of what I do. And so the more good I do then the more God (or the universe or how I feel about myself) is likely to accept me. That sounds innocent enough, but it has significant ramifications. Let me try to explain.

If God accepts me on the basis of what I do, then what exactly should I be doing and how much doing is good enough?
If we think of the classic bell-shaped distribution curve as  a model for goodness with numbers of people on the y-axis and levels of goodness on the x-axis, then we can pretty well agree on the outliers. On the one extreme we have relatively ‘good’ people who most of us would agree were ‘good’ people – Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela are examples that come to mind. On the other end of the curve are those we would generally agree were towards the ‘bad’ end – people such as Hitler and Stalin.

And the rest of us are somewhere in the middle. And that is the problem. We can agree on the extremes, but using this paradigm of doing good where do we draw the line? If we arbitrarily say 51% goodness, and everyone above that deserves to be accepted, then what about the poor person who is only 50% good by their deeds? And then the person who is 52% good – does it seem fair they should be accepted?

Or take two humourous example.
You are driving along the road and go through a red light. The policeman stops you and proceeds to give you a ticket. Imagine saying something to the effect, “Give me a break, Police Officer! I’ve been driving for more than 30 years and this is the first time I have gone through a red light!” Could 30 years of faultless driving compensate for one offence?

Or to be even more ridiculous, say I murdered someone. Could I make a plea to the judge, “Your honour, I know I did wrong, but I have had problems with anger all my life and this is only the first time that I actually allowed it to get out of control!”

Religious thinking says that God measures up my good deeds against my bad and so long as the good outweighs the bad then He will accept me. But we know in everyday life that does not work.

lever_with_fulcrumIn my own personal journey I have been aware how much religious thinking permeates me. When I was in my teens just before exams I would find myself praying much more. It was as if I was trying to prove to God that He should bless my studies because of my level of devotion to Him.

In my first year at university as I struggled with questions of identity and belonging that also led to a period of depression, I became acutely aware of how much within me was not right and dishonouring to God. I could ‘do’ apparently ‘good’ things on the outside, but my heart was and is filled with so much junk that I lacked congruency between the outside and inside. (For more on that see video at Just As I Am).

Coming to faith in Christ as the One who has lived the perfect life has been a first step, but I still find within me a bent or proclivity towards religious thinking. I now know that I am accepted on the basis of what Christ has done on the cross and not my own performance, but it is so easy for my emotional health to be governed by how I perceive I am doing.

So if I perceive myself to be doing relatively well – doing the things I need to do or getting appreciation from others for example, then it is easy to feel good about my performance to the verge of pridefulness. On the other hand, when I am struggling to keep up, when I find I am disappointing others then there is the temptation to go towards despondency or even despair.

However, what if the basis of my acceptance had nothing to do with my performance? What if if were based on the performance of someone who was perfect in every way? Whose life was sacrificed for me so that I could be right with God?

I love the simplicity and depth of the old Anglican prayer:

“Almighty God, our Heavenly Father,
We have sinned against you and against our neighbour, in thought, word and deed;
Through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault.
We are truly sorry and repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who died for us, forgive us all that is past;
And grant that we may serve you in newness of life, to the glory of your Name.

So I struggle with religion because it gets in the way of experiencing and knowing how much I am truly loved. Religion puts my performance ahead of the One who has done everything for me. I need reminding of that everyday. (For more on this see A Day That Changed The World and 4 Personal Implications Of The Resurrection).

What questions and comments does this post raise for you? Do you see this tendency to religious thinking and relying on your performance in your own mind?

9 thoughts on “Why I struggle with religion”

  1. Thanks for this article, Dad. As many times as I’ve heard it, it was important to hear it again. How freeing it is that acceptance is not on the basis of my performance!

  2. Hi Sunil, I connect with your concern about religion – which is now why I call my Self “spiritual” – not religious. My awareness now is that who I am is a divine child of God, totally connected to Universal Intelligence and Universal Energy. My take is that we humans, due to our teachings, simply do not know our own magnificence. Biggest mistake in understanding was being told that we are separate from our Source of Infinite Wisdom, and being told we were “born in sin”. Why would Infinite Wisdom when creating us take away our awesomeness and create us a sinners? It doesn’t even make common sense! Maybe some of the 2000 year old information needs an update. Which is why I wrote my book: “Trust your Self – Take Back Your Power”. Bottom line for me is that “Love is the most important law of the Universe” – from Dr. David Hawkins. So my deal is – bring the Love – it is our source. And Source has no expectations or judgment. It is unconditional. Love and hugs from Marilyn

    1. Thank you Marilyn for sharing your observations. Yes I agree that there is nothing more powerful than love. However, when I truly love someone then I also hate what is keeping them from their true potential and greatness. An example would be say, loving someone who is an alcoholic, but hating the part of them that keeps returning to the alcohol.
      In terms of being sinners, I would describe that as an inherited design fault which is so much a part of who we are that it had to take a huge initiative on the part of God in sending His Son into the world. The cross shows how much I am loved and at the same time shows how I cannot rescue myself. If I could rescue myself then why would Jesus need to die?
      Thank you so much Marilyn for sharing your thoughts and I look forward to reading your book.

  3. I sometimes wish I hadn’t delved into the world of religion in the first place, I’m constantly aware that a Higher Being MIGHT be watching my every thought, word, deed, which can be annoying, have we no privacy! I’m not suggesting I’d like to behave however I would like without impunity in a nihilistic fashion, but I’m human and can’t be perfect. I do try to do tiny good deeds here and there, not just because it’s nice to help someone, but also I hope that some karmic force might hopefully reward me for my good deeds, sound selfish but I’m hoping it’s the law of the universe! Whenever I see people who have never set foot in church being blessed, it does make me wonder, ‘why should I bother?’.

    1. Those are some interesting observations Karl.
      Another way to think about an all-knowing and all-seeing God is that there is nothing about me that shocks or surprises Him. In addition if He really has given His life for me then I can be totally secure knowing that there is nothing else that can get me away from His love. So rather than being annoying the fact I have no privacy from Him means I don’t have to worry about something to hide – He knows it all anyway!
      Also the issue about people who seem to have ‘better’ lives than me with no apparent faith or trust in God. That is a timeless issue (do look at Psalm 37 and 73). However, to put it simply, your life is like a movie and not a single scene. Just because someone appears to be doing well today says nothing about tomorrow or next week or next year or the next decade or even eternity. And am I living a ‘good life’ to just get God to give me good things or because I truly love Him?
      Thank you once again Karl for sharing your honest questions.

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