I was in Barnes and Noble today to enjoy a cup of coffee and read a few pages of a book. I browsed for a few minutes and found one I have wanted to read. It is by Christopher Hitchens, the British journalist. It was called, “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” The girl at the coffee bar said she would ring up the book along with me coffee. I told her, “no, I’m not buying the book, just wanting to browse through it without spilling coffee on it.” I have a rule where I try not to purchase a book if I wouldn’t give the author money (isn’t that what libraries are for?) She told me how good the book was and that she owned a copy of it. I told her that I disagree with him in this book but wanted to read it anyway. It puzzled her that I would read it if I disagreed with him. I didn’t tell her I was a pastor or anything like that. But I assume she thinks most Christians are brainwashed and don’t think for ourselves. I doubt that she was reading any Christian Apologetic book, like this one.
Hitchens’ point is that God does not exist and in fact belief in God and organized religioin has done more harm than good. I like his title, well part of the title. If I wrote a book I might use this title myself, “God Is Great: How Religion Poisons Everything“. I don’t agree with the title of his book, only the subtitle. let’s look at these words. First, Poison. I came across this definition of poison: “a substance with an inherent property that tends to destroy life or impair health.” Yep. That is what religion does! Let’s define religion, “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. 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.” Living based on religion does poison things. It does “destory life or impair health”. Here’s what I mean. Doing acts because of your beliefs and ritual observances can and will cause problems in your life. Religion says, “here are the rules, follow them!” That kind of living poisons people. If you don’t think so, ask some of the people who would champion Hitchens’ book and others like it. Many of them (including Hitchens) were scarred early in life by organized religion. These ritual observances that had little true value in their lives. They come to reject those beliefs that lead to those rituals. those rituals destroy life and impair health.
Following Jesus is another matter. It is a relationship, not a religion. I serve Christ because of my relationship with Him, not because of ritual. True, some ritual things happen, but the ritual is not an end in itself. Here’s an illustration. I have a relationship with my wife. I love her. I talk with her everyday. I kiss her everyday. I don’t kiss her as an end in itself, I kiss her to express my love and concern for her. No one says to a newly married person, “hug your wife, talk to your wife, kiss your wife, buy flowers on her birthday, etc.” No one would say you are a good husband if you do those things. But if you are a good husband you will do those things. You resond to your wife in love because you love her. You don’t act a certain way out of ritual. Do you see the difference? How would it go if I gave my wife roses on her birthday and told her I had to since I am her husband and it is her birthday? Not very romantic. But I give her roses and I tell her I love her and she is beautiful and speical to me. That is a reason for roses!
Far too many things have been done in the name of religion (Hitchens uses some of them to reject the notion of religion being good and thus God existing). But when we do things for the sake of doing them we have lost focus of Jesus. Being a follower of Jesus is based upon a relationship with Him. Yes, there are things that lok like rituals, prayer, Bible Reading, Church Attendance, Witnessing, etc. But we do those things because we love Jesus, not because it is a ritual. So religion does poison everything, but a relationship with Jesus changes everything