Let’s assume that God DOES exist.
Does that mean that the way to reach him is through religion? In order to know God, do we need to dress in a certain way, grow a beard or eat certain foods? Does God expect us to walk around with round pieces of fabric on our heads? Or to bind our arm with strips made of a dead animal’s skin every morning?
Did you know that the term “religion”, the term “rabbis” and the term “TOSHBA” (oral law) never appear in the bible, not even once? Did you know that “Rabbi Moses” wasn’t even a rabbi? That the prophet Isaiah never set foot in a synagogue? That on Noah’s ark there was no sink in which to perform “Netilat Yadayim” (washing of the hands)? That King David didn’t kiss mezuzahs on the doorposts of his palace? That Abraham DID boil meat in milk, and that Rachel didn’t light Shabbat candles?
But, you see, we’ve gotten used to connecting these two concepts. We’ve grown accustomed to “God” meaning “religion”.
Religion causes war, right?
Catholics tortured Jews in the inquisition, Muslims cut off the heads of Christians, Jews butchered and wiped out the Seleucids, Hindus fought the Buddhists and the examples of people who murder and torture each other in the name of God are, sadly, too many to grasp.
This is also the reason why many suggest that the world would have been a better place without religion. The truth is, we agree, and we think that maybe God agrees as well. After all, God never asked that religions be created for Him.
But let’s face it: The root of the problem isn’t the religions; After all, even people who have no faith in God have murdered, and still murder, hundreds of millions of people.
Nobody truly knows exactly what Hitler believed in, but author Max Domarus indicated that, in 1937, Hitler announced that he did not believe in the God of the Jews or the Christians. Author Alan Bullock added that Hitler promised that, as soon as the war was over, he would exterminate Christianity and eliminate its influence in Europe. Stalin, who was responsible for the murder of 20 – 40 million people, declared himself an atheist from his teens. Pol Pot, who executed millions of Cambodians, was also a self-proclaimed atheist. The Chinese communist, Mao Zedong, who caused the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese, was also an atheist.
Which means that throughout the 20th century, hundreds of millions of people were murdered by atheists and not only in the name of religion. All this to say that the problem is not in any specific religion, organization, movement or denomination. The problem is within the human heart.
Taking God’s name in vain
You can’t blame God for the foolish behavior of religious people. After all, this is precisely why God warned us in advance and commanded not to take His name in vain – not to act like this in His name. But there is no doubt we all hold those who claim to represent God to a higher standard. And that is why we examine the outcomes of religion very carefully and attribute them to God. Death and wars in the name of religion, hatred, pride and condescension, judgment and hypocrisy, corruption and religious coercion – all these are automatically projected onto God Himself. Many turn their backs on religion and therefore, automatically turn their backs on God as well. However, we would like to challenge you and say that not only is God not religious, but that religion – any religion – contradicts God’s message.
Does God become infuriated with us when we enter our room on Shabbat and turn on the heater, or the lights? Or when we tear toilet paper when going to the bathroom? Does God really care if we have a cheesecake after our Wiener Schnitzel? What about the color of our clothing? Does God really demand that we only wear black and white every day of our lives? Would God take vengeance, punish or hate us if we don’t light the Hanukkah candles? Or maybe all those religious laws and commandments people invent were meant to generate fear, in order to create a dependency on them, thereby keeping the power and control in their hands, in the name of God?
You see, if a person convinces me that God will be angry with me if I walk around without a piece of fabric on my head, I develop a dependency on him, because he is the one to teach me what kind of fabric, what shape and color the fabric on my head must be, how many steps I am allowed to take without it and so forth. This means that he has control over me. He has power over me. That power is like an addictive drug. Especially for the dominator, but also for the dominated. And that is why it has been said that “religion is the opium of the people”.
And that is PRECISELY the meaning of taking God’s name in vain. If the God who created us and everything that exists in the universe is so big and so strong, the one who invented the laws of Thermodynamics, the structure of the chromosome and photosynthesis, if He is truly above every human oligarch, president or king, isn’t it absurd to conclude that He would really bother with 3,000 rules on how to plant zucchini, which weren’t even commanded by Him?
In the Bible, in Isaiah chapter 29, God is disappointed with Israel for this exact reason. Because they believe that through the traditions of their religious leaders they will be able to reach Him. Listen to what the prophet had to say:
“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” [Isaiah 29:13]
God says that Israel’s heart is far from Him and that the people’s respect for Him is artificial – based on rules which were invented by people. People invent rules, rules create traditions and traditions create religions. If you put in the effort and compare the rules of all the religions, you would probably be surprised to discover how similar they are to each other. They all focus on the same laws. External rules, such as what to wear, what direction to face when you’re praying or in which position, what is permitted and what is forbidden to eat, how, how much, when and where – all that, while believing that THIS is the way to reach God.
What does God want if not religion?
The problem is that, all of these external rules make no difference and have no positive impact inside, on our hearts.
Much like the prophet Isaiah, Paul the apostle writes in the New Testament:
“The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does… For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy…” [Romans 14:3/17]
True, most Israelis today consider the New Testament to be a “Christian” work, but that truth is that it’s about a group of Jews that lived in Israel during the time of the Second Temple. That little group of disciples, along with its spiritual teacher, Yeshua, challenged the perception that through external rules and actions one can find, or please God.
This of course led to their opponents (the religious leaders in Israel) rejecting them, inciting and turning the Israeli public against them. However, just like Isaiah and the other prophets in the bible, they, too, did not back down. Their message was the driving wind in the sails of anyone who was fed up with the religious coercion at the time. Coercion which still exists to this day.
Yeshua, the Messiah, continuously preached about how religion does not lead to God.
Yeshua and his disciples were joined not only by many thousands of Jews, but tens of thousands of gentiles as well. Yeshua’s message changed their lives.
Yeshua wasn’t another one of those rabbis who invented rules which must be kept in order to earn points with God, In fact, Yehsua claimed the exact opposite of what was claimed by any religious leader before him – he taught that God could only be served through the spirit:
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” [John 4:24]
And what are the fruits of such spiritual labor?
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” [Galatians 5:22-23]
In conclusion, if you, too, are fed up with of religious coercion if you, too, are sick of people taking His name in vain, if you, too, are tired of being lost in a labyrinth of strange religious rules – WAIT.
Don’t throw God away with religion. Put the rabbis and religious rules aside for a moment and go back to before this whole mess began, and start searching from there.