A religion (or a religious belief) may have the best of intentions, yet by its very nature and the eagerness of people to follow, it is susceptible to being used as a control device. The “True Christian” defense is often employed to explain this very problem away. To explain why some particular leader manipulated the follower’s beliefs for the leader’s own gains. The defender will proclaim, “They weren’t a ‘True Christian’—they utilized Christianity’s methods, words and means to obtain their own ends.”
Even followers of religious doctrines recognize that in the wrong hands, the very techniques, beliefs, creeds and statements of their religion can look so very similar—yet with vastly different motivations and results.
Simply put, religion is an extremely pragmatic tool—effective to exert control.
Further, even without a nefarious motivation, religions naturally entail control through prescription of values. If a God (master of all time, space, energy, etc.) was interested in establishing a particular religion here on earth, it makes sense there would be a reason to do so. That reason results in exercising limitations and restrictions. The reason is the foundation for establishing the rules and regulations of the religion.
The reason is the justification for implementing direction and controlling the behaviors of the followers. Offer the correct sacrifice; the pleased God rewards. Offer the incorrect sacrifice; the angered God punishes.
By searching and proclaiming the reason a God would bother intervening in the world; one creates the rules to satisfy the reasons. If God intervened to make people happy—the religion explains what the person must do to make the God happy. If God intervened to be worshiped—the religion explains how to worship God. If God intervenes to save humans from themselves—the religion provides the means by which the God does so.
Christianity initiated during times when religious prescription was in full force. The Roman Gods required certain acts and sacrifices. The Jewish God required certain acts and sacrifices. Even the mystic religions had secret rituals.
The first Christian writing we have—1 Thessalonians—continues to follow the typical religions dictates. If you read through the book, you will see the focus on doing--not believing “walk worthy of God.” (2:12) “how you ought to walk and please God.” (4:1) “abstain from sexual immorality.” (4:3) “don’t defraud your brother” (4:6) “lead a quiet life, mind your own business, work with your hands.” (4:11) If you read through the entire book (it doesn’t take very long)—it reads like a list of Do’s and Don’ts of any variety of religions.
In fact, it doesn’t emphasize faith or believing, but rather uses those doctrines as tools of encouragement that the believer will continue to follow the rules.
But something changed. What that was, we can only speculate from piecing together the Christian documents we have and our little knowledge about the First Century Mediterranean. Christianity became a religion of belief. As long as one believed correctly, the actions could be forgivable.
“….if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9)
What is the inherent problem here? Well…if all one has to do is have a certain belief, this can be easily made, and then there are no more limitations. Heaven is assured whether one acts a certain way or not. Christianity becomes a one-time thought, and then Blessed Assurance.
Paul recognizes this problem, and spends some length in Romans 6 attempting to justify how Christians were dead to sin, and shouldn’t keep on sinning because they no longer should want to, but what Paul doesn’t explain is why.
The result is a muddled balance whereby a person must believe AND that belief must be evidenced by works. (James 2:17-18) For all the claims about Christianity being “different” because it is not a works-based religion, it necessarily integrates works within its belief. (Go back to the top of this blog entry. Remember those “No True Christian” arguments? Was that as a result of what the person said they believed or what works were present? If one claims they were not a “True Christian” because of their works, then Christianity must be a works-based religion.)
Christianity’s retention of Do’s and Don’ts retains religion’s control over the believers. A comment was made in the last blog entry as to reconciling the concept of immediate justification (salvation) yet subsequently disappointing God. Was the act of salvation insufficient to completely satisfy God?
In short: yes.
Therefore, while God may be 90% or 99% or whatever percentage you desire to pick, pleased with one’s choice, there was still that remaining percentage, no matter how small, where you could still disappoint him.
So Christians spend an inordinate amount of time, effort, and funds to avoid that percentage (whatever it may be) chance of making Jesus cry. That small percentage is area the religious focus 99% of their lives.
If one’s own personal belief was enough—what would it matter if Adam and Steve were married? If one’s own personal belief was enough—who cares whether there was a strip club down the street? Or liquor is sold on Sunday? Or people wear certain clothes or say certain prayers or do certain acts?
By their nature, religions control. Christianity (despite its protests otherwise) is no exception.
(Title of Blog credited to Janet Jackson, of course.)