The Beheading of Religion

This morning I read another article about the Coptic Christians who were beheaded last week by ISIS militants. The story is now old news, ready to be forgotten. It is only remembered, sadly, because of a political tussle between conservatives and liberals. However, if we leave the political haze and focus on the deeper, more relevant truths that this event reveals, we are enlightened to a philosophical difference between religion and Christianity.

Religion does not save, it kills.

The shouts to God and the desire to “cleanse the world of all infidels” is not unique to ISIS, nor is it unique to our time in history. For thousands of years, people have killed in the name of their religion: Muhammad’s conquest of Mecca, the Spanish inquisition, the human sacrifices of Buddhist Burma, the human sacrifices of India’s Thugee sect, and the list goes on and on, all of them claiming their religion as the purpose of their slaughters.

Religion has this effect on people because it tricks us into believing that we are better than others. A simplified philosophy of religion shows us why: if we do certain acts for God, then he will reward us; if we do not do certain acts for God, then we are worthless and deserve to be destroyed.  We humans are always ready to make life into a performance-based competition of winners and losers, which is precisely what religion does, but the stakes are life and death.

Jesus killed religion.

Jesus experienced death by religion as well. He was put on trial and sentenced to death for blasphemy by the most religious people of his day, the Pharisees. Jesus did not follow their religious rules, nor did he believe they were the way to God. So, the Pharisees had him killed, and they claimed to be doing the work of God.

The unique message Jesus taught throughout his life was not about a set of rules: it was about a relationship one could obtain with God through him. Instead of killing those who did not follow the rules, he wanted to save them. Instead of making life a competition, Jesus gave an invitation to all people to come to him to receive “the great reward.” Instead of sacrificing the helpless to appease God, he sacrificed himself to please God.

So, then, the death of Jesus was the death of religion. It was the end of our ability to classify one another based on our religious lineage or performance. It was the beginning of our ability to see one another not as good or bad, but as fellow humans saved by grace. This was accomplished when the only one who was good died the death of an infidel. In killing Jesus, religion killed itself.

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Photo credit: Today Online