Is religion bad?

Question from a reader:

I am an atheist and I accept all regardless of background, religion, culture, sexuality, etc. If you truly love someone then these things should not matter. You control your women! No one owns me! I have been free from religion for 18 years now. I only hope more people see the truth and get out of the cult of religion so that they are able to live their lives how they want.

Answer from Julia Stager (EPM staff):

You have addressed some valid concerns and misconceptions. Specifically, that religion is not accepting, oppressive towards women, restricting, and is a lie. Thank you for your concern and honesty! There are many cults and many religions that are all of the things you listed, but true followers of Christ—and churches made up of true Christians—are not.

One who professes Christianity is aligning themselves with Christ and his teachings; Jesus’ works and teachings are the foundation for the entire New Testament of the Bible. He preaches tireless love.

Matthew 5:43-48
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus recognized the corruption and hypocrisy of the established religion of the time (the various sects of first-century Judaism) and used perhaps his sharpest rebukes against the religious leaders.

Matthew 23:13-15
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

From this and similar passages it is obvious that organized religion is susceptible to corruption, manipulation, and oppression; but there is another way. There is a God-fearing, Christ-centered, Spirit-led church of love, redemption, truth and freedom.

1 John 4:7
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.’

John 15:9-17 (Jesus speaking)
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

All Christians are exhorted to love all people; but loving someone is to do what’s best for them. Love is full of grace and truth. Grace as unconditional, undeserved, and lavished love. Truth as an exterior (as opposed to interior and subjective), unchangeable, set of rules/principles/guidelines that we can choose to agree with or oppose. Christ abides within this paradox (and hopefully His followers as well). For more on this please see The Grace and Truth Paradox by Randy.

Jesus was very progressive in His view and treatment toward women, and all of marginalized society. The amount of time, compassion, and dignity He showed them was culturally unacceptable. This is shown through His conversation with the woman at the well (John 4), His encouragement of Mary sitting at his feet (usually a privilege reserved for men) (Luke 10:38-42), His healing of an unclean (by Jewish law) woman (Mark5:25-34), and an account of Him appearing first to a woman after His resurrection (Mark 16:9). In the first centuries after Christ women were seen as liberated and respected within the realm of the Church. Perhaps not all churches (and/or church leaders) have always treated women equitably, but that opinion is not reflected in the teachings of Christ.

In respect to lifestyle, God is not a killjoy. Being the Creator of life He understands—better than any of us—how life is to be lived and has graciously imparted that knowledge to us in His Word (the Bible) and has written it on our hearts (Romans 2:14-15). What people say has no effect on what is true. Living within the boundaries of proper action, as set forth by the Creator, is living truly, freely, and joyfully. Sin is the source bondage, Christ is the source freedom.

John 10:10
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Galatians 5:1
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

John 8:32
"...and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Proverbs 12:28
In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.

We are free in Christ alone.

Julia (Stager) Mayo holds a Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary, where she works as an administrative assistant. She was previously part of the Eternal Perspective Ministries staff, and still does occasional research work for Randy Alcorn.