by J. Kip Givens
I don’t have a lot of patience for religion or religious people! Frankly, religion makes me ill and religious people bring out the worst in me. Religion is filled with hollow ideas that don’t seem to be followed by her hypocritical followers.
Now let me explain. I am an ordained Protestant minister. I have planted two churches in 2 different states and have pastored at another church prior to that for 8 years. I have studied at religious institutions, attended conferences, written manuals, and taught people around the world. In the midst of all that, I can’t stand religion or religious people.
Why? Because religion has it all wrong. Not necessarily in what they say, though some are missing the mark there as well, but in how they live out their religious lives. And it’s not just the Christians; it is all of these religions filled with their hypocrites and lives filled with double standards. Worldviews that are filled with doctrines and dogmas and traditions that have nothing to do with the stated main purpose of their existence or of their Supreme Being. Structures that are built, not for service of others, but rather for their own boasting and comfort. People who are card carrying members to heighten their social status and feelings of elitism and not for the worship of a Creator and Supreme Being and then fulfilling the ultimate purpose of helping others throughout the journey.
Am I opposed to faith and spirituality? Absolutely not! In fact, I think they are the most important things in life and should be the cornerstones of our existence. But let’s be clear: Religion and spirituality are two different things! Some might say that I am dealing only in semantics here, but religion and spirituality truly are two completely different things. Maybe not in everyone’s mind, but they are two completely different expressions and result in different actions and consequences.
Religion is identified by its creeds and letters of the law – all of which are dead expressions of a once life giving idea. The result is arrogance from an idea and a feeling of superiority and an “us vs. them” mentality to all who don’t agree with their said system. Spirituality on the other hand is organic and feeds off of the expressions of living out life-giving ideas and ideals at every turn. It produces compassion and the ability to identify with people and their individual nuances – whether understood or not. The result is people living their lives for a greater purpose than some organized religious system – they live their lives for the benefit of other people.
What’s The Point?
So…what’s the point here? Religion’s value is in itself. Religion exists solely to perpetuate it’s own existence and sustainability as a purveyor of “laws” and “right and wrong behaviors”. Spirituality’s value, on the other hand, is found in the ethic of reciprocity. Simply put, spiritual people are consumed with the idea of sharing their good fortunes with others. They recognize what has been imparted to them and they want to pass it on, or as the popular phrase is, “pay it forward”. They live their lives with the knowledge that everything they say and do affects someone else and they make a conscious effort to make it something worth passing on. They also know and recognize that by living their lives this way they honor their Creator and Supreme Being.
Some may say that that is how religions operate. Religion speaks of reciprocity or a concept that is commonly known as The Golden Rule. True, but when was the last time you truly identified religion with that concept.
I don’t think the people of Europe in the 11th, 12th or 13th centuries would agree that religion followed the ethic of reciprocity considering the Catholic Crusaders who were constantly raiding, harassing and killing anyone who didn’t believe like them.
Or the people of 16th century France who were embattled in a fierce conflict between the Roman Catholics and the Hugenots, commonly known as the War of Religions.
What about other religions? In Muhammad’s time, the pagans of the Arabian peninsula were asked for submission to Islam as a condition for the continuation of their lives. Jews, Christians and Sabeans were forced to become dhimmis, pay a special tax (jizya) and submit to the political authority of Islam or suffer expulsion. 1
“Mormonism teaches that violence and even murder can be justified in certain situations, so long as the violence is commanded by God. The Book of Mormon contains an example where Nephi, the narrator of that part of the book, came upon a drunken and passed-out Laban (1 Ne. 4:7-8) lying on the streets of Jerusalem. Laban had previously stolen Nephi’s family property and had refused to give Nephi an important set of brass plates he needed for his voyage to the New World in about 600 BC. Considering the circumstances, Nephi was commanded by the Holy Spirit to remove Laban’s sword and slay Laban (1 Ne. 9:18).” 2
Let’s not forget all the civil wars that have been waged in the name of religion: English, French, Lebanese, Irish, and Muslim. And what about the various religious practices of voodoo, sorcery, witchcraft and pronouncing curses, most of which are not with good intentions for our friends.
Can we ignore the violence of anti-abortion protestors, gay-bashers, and the “morality police”, most of which operate in the name of religion? Religion may talk the talk of reciprocity, but they do not practice it. The reason is because religion, by its very nature, exists soley for its own good. It looks only to perpetuate its own cause and therefore, does not see the benefit of others and thus cannot tolerate, much less help, others.
True religion is more than nice sounding words. It is principles that are lived out everyday, regardless of what may come our way.
Christianity calls it the Golden Rule. Hindus and modern New Age religions call it karma. Other religions have described it this way:
. “What you wish your neighbors to be to you, such be also to them” – Sextus the Pythagorean
. “Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others.” – Isocrates
. The question was once put to Aristotle how we ought to behave to our friends. His answer was, “As we should wish them to behave to us.”
. “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama
. “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” – Confucius
. “What you do not want others to do for you, do not do to others.” – Confucius
Parliament of the World’s Religions (1993)
. The Declaration Toward a Global Ethic proclaimed the Golden Rule as the common principle for many religions. The initial declaration was signed by 143 leaders from different faith traditions and spiritual communities.
. “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and prophets.” – Jesus of Nazereth
Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, says that the Golden Rule “is arguably the most essential basis for the modern concept of human rights”. Think about that. Everything involving human rights in our world can be promoted by using the Golden Rule. Why is it so powerful? Because a key element of the golden rule is that a person or group attempting to live by this rule treats all people, not just members of his or her own group, with consideration and can identify, or at least empathize, with them.
Where the Difference Lies
What religion says and what spiritual people live is a major difference. Living life where other people are the focus can be difficult, but is nonetheless the focus and passion of spiritual people. Spiritual people can take what religion says and allow it to be a life-giving principle instead of a dead law.
Religion will put parameters on its own laws based on what is expedient. For example, a few years ago a movie came out titled The Passion of the Christ. It had a lot of controversy surrounding it but one thing stood out to me from the Chrsitian perspective. For years, Protestants have told their followers that they should not attend rated R movies because the content of such “filth and wickedness” might pervert them. They would say that there is nothing in a rated R movie that you need to see. If they can’t say it in a way that is “clean”, then you don’t need to see or hear it. But an amazing thing happened when this particular movie came out – the same people who condemned rated R movies were now renting out theatres and encouraging their members to pay money to go watch this film. Why? Because it promoted their cause, regardless of its rating. The point, religion will do what is in its best interest only, even if it conflicts with something they have said in the past. And when the expedient timeframe is over, they will go back to their rigid stance.
Spirituality has no parameters and no limits. It operates on what is right, regardless of what others may think or say. Jesus the Christ made it personal. He kicked religion right in the teeth and said that living a good life, a godly life, involved, no, required, living for the sake of others. Even if those others were not like you, or worse, were your enemies. Look at what he said to his followers:
“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” 3
We’re not talking about playing nice here. This is a serious paradigm shift. Most religions and religious systems have and promote some form of “an eye for an eye” mentality. Jesus is getting right up in the face of everyone who claims to be religious and, in a sense, is slapping them across the cheek and saying, “Anyone can do that. Do you think you are special for doing what everyone else does? Get real! Do you really want to live a life that is worthy of the Most High? Then live without limits, without the parameters religion puts on you. Live for others!”
Notice that he says, “Your reward from heaven will be great”. True spirituality is not concerned with what others think of you or getting accolades from other people. Truly spiritual people are satisfied with a “heavenly” reward. Do you want to know a telltale sign of truly spiritual people? They are secure in who they are and live their lives for a higher purpose and are not concerned with recognition or their “five minutes of fame”. They know their reward will come in its due time but it is not their focus. Their focus, their undying passion, is to do good to others.
Also notice what he says after that, “You will truly be acting as children of the Most High”. Where religion feeds off of its own doctrines and dogmas, spirituality is only concerned with pleasing its Supreme Being. Religion feeds off of itself; spirituality feeds off of helping others and doing what is right and good.
Why is this so important? Because Jesus says at the end that God, the Most High, is “kind to those who are unthankful and wicked”. He gives insight into who the Creator is and what His character is like. Truly spiritual people want to emulate their Creator. They want to act like, speak like and in all possible ways, be like their Creator.
Spiritual people live out of the context of humility and thankfulness. They are so grateful for all that has been bestowed upon them, that they are compelled to return that to others. They live with a higher purpose. Their passion to be like their Creator drives them. And simply put, that is what separates them from religious people and their religion.
James the Just, the brother of Jesus said this about true religion:
“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” 4
Here, James echoes what Jesus said earlier. True religion, spirituality, is caring for those around you and living your life for the benefit of others, thus glorifying God the Father.
He closes by saying that spiritual people do not allow the world to corrupt them. How does the world corrupt us? Arguably in many ways, but in context, by causing us to live by their standards of selfishness, greed, hatred and arrogance. That corruption can sometimes seem natural and overwhelming, but spiritual people fight that urge and live for the higher purpose: Honoring their Creator and Supreme Being by helping those around them.
In conclusion, the question I ask is this, “Is religion worthless?” Depending on your definition the answer may vary, but the glaring facts are that religion and religious people seek only to serve their and their organization’s own needs. In that way, religion is worthless.
On the contrary, spirituality exists, not in a vacuum of its own viability, but for the purpose of a greater good. That being said, spiritual people live their lives with a purpose that is greater than their own well-being. They live for their Creator by honoring all of His Creation, even if they don’t always (or ever) agree or think alike. That, I believe, is worth living – and dying – for.
1 Religious War. In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Copyright © 2000,2001,2002 Free Software Foundation, Inc. 51 Franklin St, Fifth Floor, Boston, MA 02110-1301 USA
2 Mormonism and Violence. . In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Copyright © 2000,2001,2002 Free Software Foundation, Inc. 51 Franklin St, Fifth Floor, Boston, MA 02110-1301 USA
3 Luke 6:27-36 Holy Bible, New Living Translation Copyright © 1996,2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust
4 James 1:26-27 Holy Bible, New Living Translation Copyright © 1996,2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust
Kip is an ordained minister and has been both a youth pastor and a pastor as well as being a certified counselor. He ran an unconventional church in Illinois where he hosted concerts on a weekly basis and had several discussion groups each week on the relevancy of Christianity in our culture. He also opened up that venue to underprivileged kids every Saturday for a free breakfast and a time of games, art, music and free stuff. They were also involved in huge backpack giveaways for hundreds of kids along with food and toy drives for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Kip has written several small books, written manuals, been published in newspapers and taught throughout the world. He is the author of “A New Kind Of Church and Other Writings: Taking a Fresh Look and a New Approach to a Timeless Tradition”.
Right now, my old website is down and I am working on getting a new one up, therefore I have no direct site for any of my materials. If anyone is interested in viewing or purchasing my book the easiest way is to go to one of the following:
Barnes and Noble online (bn.com)
J. Kip Givens