The business model of religion

Article for St Catharines Standard newspaper by Peter Youngren.

In any business, you need a customer, and a product that meets the actual or imagined need of that customer. The business of religion is not all that different. The need of the adherent to a religion is fueled by two vital ingredients; a guilty conscience and a displeased deity. Skilled practitioners of religion, any religion, know how to nourish both concepts, on a weekly, or at times even daily basis.

The idea of a guilty conscience is perpetuated by a continual focus on how we must do better; pray more, study harder and be more active in our religion. God may be described as loving, merciful, almighty, and all-knowing, but he (or she) must always be at least slightly displeased. There must be the sense that we are not quite measuring up to the standards set by the Divine.

These concepts feed off of one another. If God is displeased, who would have caused His displeasure, but us? We’re obviously not living, praying, believing or thinking as we should, and this lack perpetually condemns us to inadequacy. The Apostle Paul called our inability to do everything our religion requires a “curse”. Honest people will agree to their shortcomings, because no religion has the power to cause its adherents to perfectly live up to the laws, rituals, liturgies and ceremonies required. This puts us in a position of debt to God, but one that we are incapable of paying. Do you see how guilt works? We try as hard as we can, but always find ourselves coming up short. When the right dosage of a guilty conscience and a displeased deity is present, people will go to great lengths to deal with their perceived problem. Prayers will be offered, pilgrimages undertaken, and some will sign over all earthly possessions to their religion in an effort to successfully cross into the afterlife. Since a guilty conscience seems inherent to the human psyche, no wonder religion has thrived and continues to thrive in every culture.

Jesus blew the business of religion to bits. With one fell swoop, He put an end to it, forever freeing humans from the burden of guilt and a displeased deity. Christ put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and He did it “once for all”. His death was on behalf of every person, forever eliminating God’s displeasure and the need for a guilty conscience. No exceptions! No exclusions! What Jesus did is not a mere idea, but an objective reality, that can be known subjectively by those who choose to believe it.

This message, called the Gospel of the Grace of Jesus Christ, is dangerous, because when it is believed, religion and its practitioners lose their grip over people. No more intimidation or coercion.

The Gospel swept the world 2000 years ago, as masses were liberated from the yoke of their own inadequacies. Those tired and wearied by their own efforts and shortcomings found rest for their soul. Religious practitioners lost control once the common people could no longer be subjugated by intimidation and condemnation. People were free to live through the inner compass called the new life in Christ.

Naturally, religion has to fight back, and for centuries, it has done a pretty good job of it. Religion implicitly mistrusts the power of this new life in Christ. Instead it continually returns to edicts and rules, no matter how inefficient they are to make people righteous. Layer upon layer of guilt-inducing rituals and requirements have been added. In fact, when looking at the religion of Christianity, it is sometimes hard to detect the Gospel at all. The add-ons of tradition are subtle but, oh, so deceptive, and they choke the very life out of the Gospel message.

Think about it! God is not displeased, and you need not feel guilty. Who made this arrangement? Jesus. If you believe it, you will want to turn from all your efforts to rid yourself of guilt, and turn to Him, who has already accomplished what was impossible for us to do.

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