Monday, 23 November 2015

Misrepresenting Jesus

In the past few weeks, I've been forcefully reminded of all the reasons I walked away from the institutional church, and I've revisited all the reasons why I no longer feel safe attending one.

I've also realised how sickened I am by the use of Jesus's name to stroke egos and build platforms, and to inflict pain and doubt and fear on those who are supposed to be family.

Too many people have been damaged and disillusioned by those who claim to represent Jesus - the one who spoke out against injustice, who defended the powerless, and who himself called out the religious leaders on their misrepresentation of God. So here's what I think:

When you chase after power and fame and numbers, you are not representing Jesus.

When you use the law to intimidate and silence others, you are not representing Jesus.

When you choose to protect your reputation by covering up heinous abuse, you are not representing Jesus.

When you try to control and 'discipline' the innocent while protecting the guilty, you are not representing Jesus.

When you build yourselves mansions in a world where poverty kills, you are not representing Jesus.

When you boast about throwing your brothers and sisters under the bus, you are not representing Jesus.

When you support the abuser and dismiss the abused, you are not representing Jesus.

When you build yourself an empire so you can play sexual power games with young women, you are not representing Jesus.

When you blame the victim instead of supporting them, you are not representing Jesus.

When you use fear and threats to control your brothers and sisters, you are not representing Jesus.

When you tear families apart and shun brothers and sisters, you are not representing Jesus.

When you shrug, offer platitudes and distance yourself from me when I tell you I'm being put through hell again, you are not representing Jesus!

And right now, it feels like Jesus is the very thinnest of threads that I'm holding onto. So I have no time for religion that fails to look anything like him at all!

Monday, 9 November 2015

The Dangers Of Religious Leaders

I came across this article over the weekend which references a recent study whose findings will no doubt ruffle a few religious feathers. The title of the article declares, "Religious children meaner than agnostic and atheist kids, study finds".

The article shares this quote:
“Religion and morality are two different things,” said lead author Jean Decety, a Chicago University neuroscientist.
“Past research has demonstrated that religious people are no more likely to do good than their non-religious counterparts. Our study goes beyond that, showing that religious people are less generous — not only adults, but children, too.”
 Which brought to my mind this quote:

However, the thing that really caught my attention was the concept Mr Decety referred to as "moral licensing":
He attributed the findings to a phenomenon dubbed “moral licensing”, where people’s perceptions that they were doing good — in this case, practising religion — exempted them from the obligation to perform other worthy deeds. “Apparently, doing something that helps strengthen our positive self-image also makes us less worried about the consequences of immoral behaviour,” he said. [Emphasis added]
Now, he was talking about religious people generally, but I immediately thought about the unbelievably abusive and 'immoral' behaviour of some 'church leaders' and wondered if this author could be onto something. Because I have never been able to comprehend how someone who claims to be one of God's children, could act with such callous disregard for the feelings of others. How some 'church leaders' can see the pain and distress they cause to another human being and simply shrug it off, disclaiming any responsibility for that trauma? What is it that gives them such a capacity to look upon the suffering they've caused and feel not one jot of compassion? Why do they seem so incapable of feeling the smallest twinge of empathy?

But if what he is saying holds true, then the one who is super-strengthened in their self-image by being 'The Man of God', might readily feel far less worried about behaving immorally - or even in complete contradiction to the teachings of Jesus himself! It would certainly go a long way to explaining why so many religious leaders act as if they believe they are a law unto themselves.

Is it possible that being a religious leader (especially if you have had to climb over others to get that status) brings with it the danger of falling into such a delusional state that any behaviour can be justified in your own mind simply because you see yourself as morally superior to anyone else, convinced that your cause is God's own!? 

That's an incredibly scary thought, and yet there is ample evidence of religious leaders seeming to do exactly that: throwing people under the bus, punishing people by dragging them through the courts, creating such division in families that relationships are permanently destroyed! The list is not only endless, but it's absolutely gut-wrenching! And yet so many who have behaved in such ways not only show no remorse or regret, but angrily defend their behaviour to anyone brave enough to question them.

Maybe that's why Jesus warned that none of us should be called 'leader'. He knew all too well the propensity of some to 'lord it over' their brothers and sisters. I think he knew the very real dangers we face the moment we start to believe our own advertising and step into that place where we see ourselves as being in some way superior to other human beings.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Of Con-Men and Religion

There's an old children's story called "The Emperor's New Clothes", which tells the tale of two con-men 'selling' the emperor a new set of clothes. It is said (by the con artists) that these clothes are woven from cloth so fine that only the truly discerning can even see them! Of course it's all a scam, but no-one wants to be thought undiscerning. So they all pretend that the clothes are there until one little boy, too innocent to play the game, actually tells the truth and points out that the emperor is, in fact, stark naked!

It seems to me that this happens in churches all the time. We 'sell' Jesus as the answer to all life's troubles. Come to church and everything will be ok. Say the magic words and you'll be transformed into a super-christian overnight.

The trouble is, it's not true. It's a religious con. Jesus actually promised trouble for those who truly followed him. He promised a sword, not a sofa-bed.

And the product that is sold in many churches doesn't transform people, it merely teaches them the need to perform and pretend. It polices morals, but leaves hearts untouched.

That's why I fought so long and so hard when everything started to go pear-shaped at my ex-church. We, the leadership, were saying that we had a better way - a higher way - but in reality, when the rubber hit the road, we had nothing better to offer at all. We squabbled amongst ourselves like children fighting over a coveted toy. We lashed out at each other and tried to lord it over each other, hoping that the other side would just give up and go away.

And eventually one side did exactly that, and nobody cared that we were wounded and bleeding. Nobody thought they'd done anything wrong. "Church leadership can be brutal," I was told. That's just the way it is. And nobody even questioned that!

Well, I'm calling bullish#t!

Just this week, I was passed on the school steps by the wife of my ex-friend from my ex-church. I spoke to her, but she continued to pretend I didn't exist... well... actually she looked like she really wished that I didn't exist.

Just like my sister-in-law, she has a way of looking at you that makes you grateful that looks can't really kill! Still, it's not for want of venom in her eyes.

The truly sad thing is that this woman is the "senior leader" (along with her husband) of her very own church! True! Their church even has its own website telling people about how much they value things like love and trust!

But I suspect that's only if you agree with everything they do and say...

Someone who cannot even bring herself to acknowledge my presence, let alone deal with our past issues, is selling herself as a leader - an example for others to follow. But when it comes to her dealings with me, she's not even acting like a grown-up, let alone a christian!

And if she wasn't refusing to have anything to do with me, this is what I'd like to say to her:

Sister, I actually don't care what you think of me, or whether you look maliciously at me every time you see me. It actually doesn't bother me any more, even though it used to tear me apart inside. I've finally found the freedom that Jesus was offering me all those years. And it's better than all the titles and 'authority' I lost when I walked away from the institution.

But here's the thing - when you publicly hold yourself up as a shining example of the "transforming power of Jesus", I will call BS! When I see people being sold a dud product, I will stand up and point it out.

And it's not because I hate you. Or that I want to hurt you. Actually... it's not about you at all.

I do it because I care about the people being conned into thinking they've got the real deal. And I don't want to see anyone else hurt or damaged or betrayed like I was.  And I care less about what people think of me, than I do about those who suffer at hands of religious leaders who are simply peddling snake oil. So when I see christians selling one thing, and living something so entirely different, I will shout a warning and tell the truth that the 'emperor' is absolutely stark naked!