Is Religion Evil? Am I Religious? Am I Evil? And Other Questions…

Religion is a very interesting concept. It is the thing that many people cling to for their lives, some try to ignore, and others feel is the source of all evil. So what is religion, really? And why is it such a big deal in our society? defines it as “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” That seems like a pretty good and thorough definition to me. Let’s look at it a little bit closer.

Religion is a set of beliefs, first of all. More specifically, it is a set of beliefs about how and why the universe exists. Some might say that religion is a set of beliefs about the meaning of life. It tries to answer questions like, “why am I here?” and “what are humans meant to do on earth, if anything?” Since these are pretty important questions for us to answer, it makes sense that we’ve come up with “organized” ways of answering them, also known as religion.

Second of all, religion often takes into account some sort of “higher being.” Whether it’s God, Allah, the Universe, or some other spiritual entity, many people choose to believe in a higher power. Particularly, many people use their belief in this higher power to explain creation and give further definition to their beliefs about the meaning and purpose of life.

Thirdly, many religions rely heavily on “devotional and ritual observances,” or certain religious behaviors that are used to practice their beliefs. These can range from praying to chanting to meditating to complex ceremonies and many other behaviors. But they all serve the purpose of giving people something to do to express their religious feelings and beliefs.

Last, religions generally have something to say about morality. They give people rules and guidelines for living. For some religions, these moral guidelines are vague, such as “Seek to live with the truth.” For other religions, they are quite specific; for example, “Do not commit adultery.” Either way, religion serves the purpose of giving people a set of moral guidelines so that they don’t have to decide on each individual issue that they come across on their own. It also often gives people overall guidelines for how to live well.

When you look at religion using this definition, it starts to look like anything, really, can be a religion. There is no rulebook or official book of religions that one has to clear it with in order to believe in something. I could create my own religion called Heatherism in which there is a giant pink pony in charge of the universe, and nobody could stop me. Nobody can control what you believe (although unfortunately, in many countries the government can try to stop you from practicing those beliefs outwardly.) My point is, the word “religion” really doesn’t mean anything too specific by itself.

I say this because many people seem to hate the whole concept of “religion.” But when people say that they hate religion, what they really mean is that they hate the way that some people following some religions have behaved or are currently behaving. Because in reality, I’m pretty sure that no reasonable person would have a problem with me believing in God as long as I didn’t push it on others, especially if believing that made me a better person. Sure, some people might believe with all of their hearts minds and souls that I am crazy for believing in God, but I feel fairly confident that most would not hate my religion in that case.

On the other hand, I completely agree with the many, many people who feel angry about the way that many religious people have behaved. There have been a horrendously huge amount of terrible acts committed in the name of religion, and that is undeniable and just sad. But the truth is, people who do terrible things for religion almost always aren’t acting in the true spirit of their religion. And for many religious-terrorist and religious-hate-group types, I can’t help but wonder what other outlet they would have found for their violent and hateful tendencies if it hadn’t been a religion. Evil people are evil, and religion is just a tool that some of them use to hurt others. Religion by itself is not harmful, bad, or evil, and most religious people are no worse than their non-religious counterparts.

Which brings me to my next and final point, the reason that I am writing this blog at all; Religion and Jesus are not the same thing, but they’re also not as conflicted as some people try to claim.

I love Jesus. Because I love Him and I believe in Him, I choose to follow Him. Following Him means that I try to live in a way that pleases Him and that I participate in certain behaviors that allow me to have a relationship with Him. In other words, I have “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

For all of the people out there who say that they love Jesus but hate religion, I just want to ask them how. How is it possible to believe in Jesus and choose to follow Him without having a religion? Because those two things automatically add up to R-E-L-I-G-I-O-N.

Honestly, though, I understand the motive here. People want to distance themselves from the ugly past of the Christian church and instead run towards a simple relationship with Jesus. None of the messiness and all of the benefits, right? Wrong. You see, there is no such thing as a simple relationship with Jesus, and there is no way for a Christian to grow to his/her fullest extent without a church family. Part of loving Jesus is being part of His family, and as soon as you join the club you get a lovely inheritance of all of the yucky things that Christians of the past (and present) have done. As easy as it would be to simply disown that part of it, things just don’t work that way. The best solution that I’ve found is to love the church for all of the wonderful things it has done, and feel properly angry about all of the terrible things it has done. It also means apologizing for the ways that other people, and I, have falsely portrayed my God in the past!

The other motive that I am aware of for Christians who claim to hate religion is the whole “no religion, just relationship” concept. I really do appreciate this concept for what it aims to do, which is emphasize that a relationship with Jesus, not a religious identity, is the answer to your problems. And it’s true! All the really matters is that you have a relationship with Jesus— that you admit that you need Him, invite Him to take charge of your life, and then live your life focusing on Him. But the thing is, as soon as you do that… you have a religion. It may not be what you thought a religion was, but it still is one. And there is nothing wrong with that!

For me, my religion is my relationship with God through Jesus. I am a religious person, but I don’t let weird religious issues get in the way of being the person that God wants me to be— after all, Jesus sure didn’t! I mean what I say when I claim that I am a follower of Jesus; that is why I aim to live my life every day as Jesus did. Of course, I am quite terrible at it, which is why I need Him so desperately in the first place. But the point is, I try my best to live like He did, and from my studying and time spent with Him, I’ve come to believe that that means loving other people as best as I can. That is the true meaning of Christianity, and the reason why I have no problem identifying myself as a religious, Bible-thumping Jesus freak. =P


Now It’s Personal – Part 2

Last week, I wrote about the meaning of intimacy. I think that the basic idea of it is establishing a connection with somebody that is based on trust, honesty, openness, and vulnerability. Being intimate, or personal with somebody can bring deep levels of satisfaction and is a key ingredient to the most important relationships. I believe that intimacy is vital in one’s relationship with God, oneself, one’s spouse, and selected others. So why is intimacy so important?

The thing is, you can never feel fully accepted by somebody if you never fully show yourself. Putting on a mask is necessary at times, but if you leave that mask on all of the time then nobody really knows you completely. And that just leaves you feeling lonely.

When it comes to your relationship with God, intimacy is more about you realizing that He knows everything about you than actually allowing Him to see you for who you are. No matter how much you try to hide, God still knows you inside and out. In fact, He even knows you better than you know yourself. That’s because He knows the details of your past that you’ve forgotten, the things in the present that you’re avoiding, and everything that will happen to you in the future as well. He knows you totally, completely, and 100%. But learning to accept that and acknowledge that is the key to a more fulfilling relationship with Him.

When you stop trying to hide from God, your relationship with Him becomes more intimate. You allow yourself to dwell in the fact that He loves you and accepts you for everything that you are. You speak to Him honestly and openly about everything. He becomes your best friend, your lover, and your confidant above anybody else in the world. And that is a beautiful and satisfying thing! In fact, I believe that it is the most satisfying thing you can ever do; developing intimacy with God is what every single one of us was made for.

Getting personal with yourself may seem like an oxymoron. But the truth is, I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who isn’t always honest with myself. I try to convince myself of untruths all of the time; it’s part of my sinful nature to not want to admit my own faults and shortcomings. I also have a bad habit of judging myself (which is probably why I don’t want to admit my faults!). You see, true intimacy with oneself means that you allow yourself to be who you are, warts and all, and you don’t judge yourself for it. Get in touch with your own feelings, thoughts, and personality and then realize that if God loves you for all of those things, then you can love yourself as well. Try to see yourself the way that God sees you; His beautiful, treasured creation. Get comfortable in your own skin! It’s the first step to developing intimacy with others.

Intimacy within a marriage is a no-brainer, I would think. And yet, it seems to me that there are countless marriages in which both parties are not completely open, honest, and vulnerable with each other, often because they don’t fully trust each other! Look, it’s pretty simple; you are ready to marry somebody when you are already emotionally, mentally, and spiritually intimate with them. Then, once you do get married, physical intimacy will come naturally and you will understand what God had in mind for marriage, and you can spend the rest of your life working to maintain that intimacy. People don’t just grow apart; they allow themselves to grow apart by slowly withdrawing and choosing not to share every part of themselves with their spouse. Refuse to let your intimacy fade, because your marriage depends on it!

Now, I’ve used the term “selected others” a few times now between last week and this week. So what does it mean? It’s pretty much what it sounds like— other people who you’ve carefully selected to share relational intimacy with. The key to this one is knowing how to select them. The fact of the matter is that bearing your soul to every person you come into contact with simply isn’t a great idea. As sad as it is, not everybody in the world is trustworthy. Choosing the people who you will be vulnerable, open, and honest with takes careful consideration. Whether they are family members, friends, or mentors, I would advise that you choose wisely who you will get really personal with. On the other hand, don’t be jaded! Allowing yourself to trust people is always a risk, but doing it anyway, especially when it’s a calculated risk, is the key to fulfilling relationships.

With other people besides God, yourself, and your spouse, intimacy is not usually (or really ever) a black and white thing. It’s not like something you can just turn on and off; it’s more of a system of levels. You decide how much you can trust each person you meet, and act based on that, obviously. My whole point with even addressing these people is that I have found it very important to allow yourself to put your walls down with at least some people outside of your three most intimate relationships (God, yourself, and your significant other). The truth is, you probably will never have relationships with other people that are as intimate as your relationships with these three, and perhaps that is even a good thing. But you should still try to develop deep levels of trust, honesty, openness, and vulnerability with selected others. I have found that the more I can be myself around others, the better I feel, and the better I am able to understand myself.

So there you have it— my views on intimacy, and why this weird little word is so important to living healthy, happy lives. I hope you got something out of this and that you can learn to be more intimate with the people in your life, especially God. He’s waiting for you!

Now It’s Personal

Intimacy. What an uncomfortable word. I don’t know about you, but just hearing somebody say the word “intimacy” can make me feel somewhat violated. It’s like I’m back in junior high health class, with the teacher talking so openly about things that just aren’t meant to be talked about in public. “Intimacy” is one of those things, or at least it has been for me for a long time. I have to admit, I’m still not completely over it now.

I’m not just talking about sex. Sex is one thing; I believe that you can have sex without being truly intimate. I also believe that you can be intimate without having sex. No, these words are definitely not synonymous. But they are intricately connected. Like sex, intimacy is private (no pun intended) and very personal. The whole point really, is that it is personal. In many cases, people use the word “intimate” to mean “personal.” For example, to say that a concert was intimate typically means that it was small, up-close, and personal. And that, I think, is the key to why intimacy is actually much more difficult to achieve than any purely physical connection.  With intimacy, it’s personal; very, very personal. True intimacy is as personal as you can get.

So what is intimacy, then? And why on Earth and I talking about it?

Well, first of all, I think that there are many components involved. It includes a deep level of trust, honesty, openness, and vulnerability. Second of all, I believe that it is vital, absolutely mandatory, to achieve a deep level of intimacy in several areas of your life if you want to be truly fulfilled. These areas are with God, with yourself, with your spouse, and with selected others.

Let’s start with trust. In order to be any of the other things— honest, open, and vulnerable— you have to begin at a place of trust. You have to know that you can trust the other person with what you are about to share. Of course, to be completely honest, nobody on this planet is 100% trustworthy. We are all human, and we all do and will make mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes involve betraying the trust of other people. When we decide to trust somebody else, we have to calculate the risk that they will betray our trust and decide to accept it, however big or small that risk is. Either way, there is a risk. That’s why it’s called trusting.

When it comes to God, there is no risk. Actually, I should rephrase that; when it comes to trusting God, there is no risk. The thing is, God has made a lot of promises to those who choose to listen. One of those promises is that we will not come under his judgment if we accept the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice. We also know that He is perfect, and that He cannot lie or break His promises. In other words, we can know with 100% certainty that God accepts and loves us. That should make it easy to trust Him, right?

Wrong. You see, as humans, we are full of doubt. No matter how certain we feel that what we believe about God is true, there is always that sliver of doubt. If you’re shaking your head right now, then hold on just a second. Do you really want to claim that you have no doubt at all? Because as Lee Strobel points out so brilliantly in The Case for Faith, if you have no doubt then you have no faith. All you have is knowledge.

Doubt is the reason that faith exists. God may provide loads and loads of proof for His existence, but in the end there is still that leap of faith that must be made, that choice to trust Him. It is that choice to trust Him that allows you to achieve intimacy with God. Because even though He is completely trustworthy, we are still human and it still takes faith for us to trust Him.

Honesty and openness are two of the other major pieces of the intimacy puzzle. Honesty means that you don’t try to lie or withhold information. It means that you can admit the truth even when it’s embarrassing, uncomfortable, or ugly. Lying to God is futile, because He knows what is in your heart and mind. Lying to yourself is silly, but we often do it anyway. Lying to others is a quick and easy way to keep people at a distance. And overall, lying and/or omitting the truth is the biggest enemy of intimacy. You have to be honest if you want to be intimate.

Openness goes one step further than honesty; it involves volunteering personal information without having to be asked, and being willing and eager to share yourself with others. Openness with yourself particularly means not trying to ignore or avoid things that you are dealing with. You simply cannot be intimate if you are not open. It’s an oxymoron! You can’t get personal without getting personal.

Last of all, vulnerability. Eeek! Seriously, being vulnerable can be completely unnerving and downright scary. Nobody wants other people to see them in a weak position! But when it comes to intimacy, being vulnerable is an irreplaceable ingredient. Interestingly enough, allowing yourself to be vulnerable is one of the best ways to build trust. It’s the key to tons of teambuilding exercises— just picture the scene from Mean Girls; one person stands on a stage and says something they have been afraid to share before, then they turn around and allow themselves to fall off, trusting everybody else to catch them. Only by being vulnerable and taking a risk are they able to learn that they can trust the others.

Vulnerability means sharing your weaknesses, not running from the uncomfortable, and allowing somebody else to see you in a deeper and more personal way. To be vulnerable with yourself means that you allow yourself to admit your weaknesses, that you make an effort to get to know yourself, and most importantly that you reaffirm your own vulnerability by refusing to judge yourself. You are allowed to feel how you feel!

Trust, honesty, openness, and vulnerability; these are the four keys to intimacy, as I see it. Next week, I’ll be continuing this topic by focusing on why it is so important to develop a sense of intimacy with God, with yourself, with your spouse, and with selected others.



Dreaming by Faith

As you may (or may not) know, I recently quit my babysitting job to focus on writing. So far, it has been going well but also not well. On the one hand, I am much happier and I love being able to stay at home and work side by side with my husband, just writing to my heart’s content. I’m still planning on publishing my first novel by the end of the year, and that is coming along well. I’ve also published several other small projects including an article, a short story, and even a poem. It has been a lot of fun and I’m gaining a lot of experience, which I think will help me to develop my writing career.

However, the downside is that I’m not making any money. I have literally made $7 from writing since I started this experiment. And the truth of the matter is that I am not sure that I will ever make much of anything doing what I want to do, which is creative writing. So my greatest task of late has been dealing with that fact, and learning to accept it.

Fortunately, God is faithful and He is still taking care of my husband and I. Cory’s web-design business is prospering and he is making enough money to support us on his income alone. That is a true blessing, because it allows me to keep focusing on my writing career and give myself a chance to succeed at it. There is still a possibility that I’ll be the next Suzanne Collins (author of the Hunger Games, in case you didn’t know), and I am holding on to that possibility.

Of course, more than likely, I will not be that successful. There are just so many books out there, let alone young adult science fiction books, and the chances of mine getting published by an actual publisher seem low. Either way I plan to publish my books, even if I have to self-publish; but if that is what ends up happening, then the chances of it making any real money go down a whole lot. In the end, I have to accept the possibility that writing may always be more of a hobby for me than a career. And you know what? I’m actually okay with that.

You see, I think that I’ve found my deeper calling. Yes, I believe that God gave me a gift for writing and I plan on using it to the best of my ability to glorify Him. But I also believe that He has an even greater plan for my life. Recently, I had an epiphany in which I think God revealed to me what that plan is. Are you ready for this? I want to be a foster parent. And when I say that, what I mean is that I want to foster lots of kids; as many as we can, in fact.

Here’s the dream: I want to live in a big house with lots of bedrooms so that we can foster as many kids as possible. That probably looks like we’ll have one or two of our own and take in four foster kids at a time. I also want to start some kind of animal rescue, and let the kids help out with caring for the animals as a sort of “therapy.” That way I can combine my love for animals with my love for children! Plus, I can make a difference in the world and most importantly, I can use my life to serve God. What could be better?

Cory’s dream, which is to be an entrepreneur and start businesses, also fits right in with mine. He is going to make it his goal to make as much money as he can in the best ways that he can so that he can serve God by giving back to build God’s kingdom and providing for our family. His other dream, which is to raise a family, will also be a big part of his job as a father and a foster parent!

I’m really excited about this new dream. I think that this is what God is calling us to do, and it gives me so much motivation to keep working towards it in the meantime while we wait for the timing to be right. But this dream is also kind of scary! First of all, we have no idea how to be parents. Learning will definitely be an adventure and we know that we have a lot of growing to do before we can start. Second of all, our situation is a bit financially precarious. Starting businesses is hard work and it doesn’t always work out. We’ll be depending on his income alone to support a large family, and that is definitely a big leap of faith. But both of these challenges, plus the many others that I’m sure we will encounter along the way, are the ways that God is asking us to depend on Him.

Living by faith means that we know that even when things seem difficult, or even impossible, God is still in control. He is still taking care of us and guiding us through His plan for us. And as long as we know that His plans for us are good, there is nothing to worry about. Which is why even when we think we know what we are meant to do with our lives, we don’t hold on too tightly. Things change, and we can have faith that when they change, it’s because God has something even better in mind. My husband and I are living by faith, in expectant anticipation of what God has in store for us.