By Steve Pavlina | 27 May 2008
While consciously pursuing your spiritual development is commendable, joining an established religion such as Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism is one of the worst ways to go about it. In this article I’ll share 10 reasons why you must eventually abandon the baggage of organized religion if you wish to pursue conscious living in earnest.
Since Christianity is currently the world’s most popular religion, I’ll slant this article towards Christianity’s ubiquitous failings. However, you’ll find that most of these points apply equally well to other major religions (yes, even Buddhism).
1. Spirituality for dummies.
If you have the awareness level of a snail, and your thinking is mired in shame and guilt (with perhaps a twist of drug abuse or suicidal thinking), then subscribing to a religion can help you climb to a higher level of awareness. Your mindset, however, still remains incredibly dysfunctional; you’ve merely swapped one form of erroneous thinking for another.
For reasonably intelligent people who aren’t suffering from major issues with low self-esteem, religion is ridiculously consciousness-lowering. While some religious beliefs can be empowering, on the whole the decision to formally participate in a religion will merely burden your mind with a hefty load of false notions.
When you subscribe to a religion, you substitute nebulous group-think for focused, independent thought. Instead of learning to discern truth on your own, you’re told what to believe. This doesn’t accelerate your spiritual growth; on the contrary it puts the brakes on your continued conscious development. Religion is the off-switch of the human mind.
Leave the mythology behind, and learn to think for yourself. Your intellect is a better instrument of spiritual growth than any religious teachings.
2. Loss of spiritual depth perception.
One of the worst mistakes you can make in life is to attach your identity to any particular religion or philosophy, such as by saying “I am a Christian” or “I am a Buddhist.” This forces your mind into a fixed perspective, robbing you of spiritual depth perception and savagely curtailing your ability to perceive reality accurately. If that sounds like a good idea to you, you’ll probably want to gouge out one of your eyeballs too. Surely you’ll be better off with a single, fixed perspective instead of having to consider two separate image streams… unless of course you’ve become attached to stereo vision.
Religious “truths” are inherently rooted in a fixed perspective, but real truth is perspective-independent. When you substitute religious teachings for truth, you mistake shadows for light sources. Consequently, you doom yourself to stumble around in the dark, utterly confused. Clarity remains forever elusive, and the best answer you get is that life is one giant mystery. Religious mysteries, however, arise not from what is truly unknowable; they arise from the limitations of trying to understand reality from a fixed frame of reference.
A more intelligent approach is to consider reality through a variety of different perspectives without trying to force your perceptions into an artificial religious framework. If you wish to learn more about this approach, read Spiritual Depth Perception.
3. Engineered obedience training.
Religions are authoritarian hierarchies designed to dominate your free will. They’re power structures that aim to convince you to give away your power for the benefit of those who enjoy dominating people. When you subscribe to a religion, you enroll in a mindless minion training program. Religions don’t market themselves as such, but this is essentially how they operate.
Religions are very effective at turning human beings into sheep. They’re among the most powerful instruments of social conditioning. They operate by eroding your trust in your own intellect, gradually convincing you to put your trust into some external entity, such as a deity, prominent figure, or great book. Of course these instruments are usually controlled by those who administrate the minion training program, but they don’t have to be. Simply by convincing you to give your power away to something outside yourself, religion will condition you to be weaker, more docile, and easier to control. Religions actively promote this weakening process as if it were beneficial, commonly branding it with the word faith. What they’re actually promoting is submission.
Religions strive to fill your head with so much nonsense that your only recourse is to bow your head in submission, often quite literally. Get used to spending a lot of time on your knees because acts of submission such as bowing and kneeling are frequently incorporated into religious practice. Canine obedience training uses similar tactics. Now say, “Yes, Master.”
Have you ever wondered why religious teachings are invariably mysterious, confusing, and internally incongruent? This is no accident by the way — it’s quite intentional.
By putting forth confusing and internally conflicting information, your logical mind (i.e. your neocortex) is overwhelmed. You try in vain to integrate such contradictory beliefs, but it can’t be done. The net effect is that your logical mind disengages because it can’t find a pattern of core truth beneath all the nonsense, so without the help of your neocortex, you devolve to a more primitive (i.e. limbic) mode of thinking. You’re taught that this faith-based approach is a more spiritual and conscious way to live, but in reality it’s precisely the opposite. Getting you to distrust your own cerebral cortex actually makes you dumber and easier to manipulate and control. Karl Marx was right when he said, “Religion is the opiate of the people.”
For example, the Old Testament and the New Testament in the Bible frequently contradict each other with various rules of conduct, yet both are quoted during mass. Church leaders also behave in direct violation of the Church’s teachings, such as by covering up criminal and immoral activities by their own priests. Those who try to mentally process such glaring contradictions as coherent truth invariably suffer for it. A highly conscious person would reject membership in such an organization as patently ridiculous. So-called divine mysteries are engineered to be incomprehensible. You aren’t meant to ever make sense of them since that would defeat the whole purpose. When you finally wake up and realize it’s all B.S., you’ve taken the first step towards freedom from this oppressive system.
The truth is that so-called religious authorities don’t know any more about spirituality than you do. However, they know how to manipulate your fear and uncertainty for their own benefit. How nice of you to let them.
Although the most popular religions are very old, L. Ron Hubbard proved the process can be replicated from scratch in modern times. As long as there are large numbers of people who fear the responsibility of their own power, religions will continue to dominate the landscape of human development.
If you want to talk to God, then communicate directly instead of using third-party intermediaries. Surely God has no need of an interpreter. Don’t fall into the trap of becoming a mindless minion. It’s a mistake to think that turning off your neocortex and practicing mindless “faith” will bring you closer to God. In truth it will only bring you closer to dog.
4. Toilet-bowl time management.
If you devote serious time to the practice of religion, it’s safe to say you practice toilet-bowl time management, flushing much of your precious life down the drain with little or nothing to show for it.
First, you’ll waste a lot of time filling your head with useless nonsense. This includes reading some of the worst fiction ever written. Then there are various rules, laws, and practices to learn.
Seriously, if you have insomnia, try reading religious texts before bedtime. You’ll be asleep faster than you can say Methuselah. Why do you think hotels put Bibles next to the bed? It’s the greatest sedative known to man. I have to give props to the Scientologists for at least incorporating space aliens into their stories. It’s a shame Gene Roddenberry didn’t formally invent his own religion; Stovokor sounds like a lot of fun.
Once you finally realize your head has been filled with utter nonsense, you must then purge such garbage from your mind if you want your brain to be functional again. That can take considerably longer, assuming you succeed at all. It’s like trying to uninstall AOL from your hard drive.
Next, you can expect to waste even more time on repetitive ritual and ceremony, such as attending mass, learning prayers, and practicing unproductive meditations.
If I add up the time I attended mass and Sunday school, studied religion in school as if it were a serious subject, and memorized various prayers, I count thousands of hours of my life I’d love to have back. I did, however, learn some important lessons, many of which are being shared in this article.
I especially remember listening to a lot of bad sermons; most priests are hideously poor speakers. Maybe it’s because they drink alcohol while on duty.
Now if you really go overboard and throw in learning a dead language for good measure, you can kiss years of your life goodbye.
The more time you devote to religious practice, the more you waste your life on pointless, dead-end pursuits… and the more you’ll want to delude yourself with a phony “Hehe, I meant to do that” attitude.
5. Support your local pedophile.
In addition to being a serious waste of time, religious practice can also be a huge waste of money.
For starters when you donate to a major religion, you support its expansion, which means you’re facilitating the enslavement of your fellow humans. That isn’t very nice, now is it? If you feel the urge to donate money, give it to a real and honorable cause, not a fabricated one. Better yet, go outside and do something that really helps people. If you can’t think of anything better, grab a can of paint and clean up some local graffiti.
Your religious donations fund freeloaders who mooch off society but who generally provide little or no value in return. Sure there are some religious people who perform valuable public services, but for the most part, that isn’t their bailiwick. These freeloaders typically operate tax-free, meaning they’re effectively subsidized by taxpayers. That’s a great racket if you’re on the receiving side… not so great if you’re funding it though.
Religions offer a suite of special services to generate additional income. They’ll spout some gibberish while feeding you a crusty wafer, pronounce you bonded to a fellow human being, snip some of your excess skin, pour water on your head, proclaim your manhood, cast out your demons, pronounce your transgressions forgiven, and so on. When they can’t think of anything else, they make up some drivel like confirming you’re still loyal to them. The bill may read “suggested donation,” but it’s still a bill.
When you donate money to a religious organization, you’re doing much worse than throwing your money away. You’re actively funding evil. If you think that spending a billion dollars to defend pedophiles and rapists is a good use of your hard-earned cash, perhaps you should run for Pope. You could hardly do worse. At least Wall Street is honest about its greed and lust.
One of my Catholic high school teachers was later revealed to be a repeat child molester… written up in the newspaper and everything. I didn’t see any suspicious behavior at the time, and to be totally honest, I actually liked that teacher and was shocked to learn of his extracurricular activities. He was shuffled from one location to another by those who knew about his appetite for young flesh. I’m glad I wasn’t on the menu, but I feel sad for those who were. Methinks God should raise his standards… just a tad.
Why aren’t Catholic priests allowed to marry? This has nothing to do with what’s written in the Bible or with any benefits of celibacy. This rule was invented by the Church to prevent their priests from producing heirs. When the priests died, their property would go back to the Church, thereby enriching the rich even more. Apparently God needed more cash. It was a very effective policy, as the Church is now among the richest and most powerful organizations on earth. It’s hard to fail when you have a loyal force of lifetime indentured servants who work cheaply and then yield their life savings to you when they die.
Lay religious people (i.e. non-clergy), on the other hand, are encouraged to have lots of babies because that means more people are born into the religion, which means more money and a bigger power base. Condoms are a big no-no; they’re bad for business. Marriage is a big yes; it means more brainwashed babies will be made.
Would you seriously consider this sort of structure a “good cause” worthy of your hard-earned cash?
I have got to get me one of these…
6. Incest is best.
Religions frequently promote inbred social networks. You’re encouraged to spend more time with people who share the same belief system while disengaging from those with incompatible beliefs. Sometimes this is done subtly; other times it’s more obvious.
If you’re one of the saved, blessed, or otherwise enlightened individuals who stumbled upon the one true belief system, then supposedly everyone else remains in the dark. Certain religions are overtly intolerant of outsiders, but to one degree or another, all major religions cast non-subscribers in a negative light. This helps to discourage members from abandoning the religion while still enabling them to proselytize. The main idea is to maintain social structures that reward loyalty and punish freedom of thought.
This us-vs-them prejudice is totally incongruent with conscious living. It’s also downright moronic from a global perspective. But it remains a favored practice of those who pull the strings. When you’re taught to distrust other human beings, fear gets a foothold in your consciousness, and you become much easier to control.
When you join a religion, your fellow mind-slaves will help to keep you in line, socially rewarding your continued obedience while punishing your disloyalty. Why do they do this? It’s what they’ve been conditioned to do. Tell your religious friends that you’re abandoning their religion because you want to think for yourself for a while, and watch the sparks fly. Suddenly you’ve gone from best friend to evil demon. There’s no greater threat to religious people than to profess your desire to think for yourself.
There are better ways to enjoy a sense of community than joining a slavery club. Try making friends with conscious, free-thinking people for a change — people who are willing to connect with you regardless of how silly your beliefs are. You may find it intimidating at first, but it’s quite refreshing once you get used to it.
Since I get asked this question all the time, I might as well answer it publicly. Do I accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior? No more than I’d accept a credit card from Crapital One. Either way I’d be worried about the fine print. Does this mean we can’t be friends anymore? Please don’t hate me because I’m doomed.
7. Idiocy or hypocrisy – pick one.
When you subscribe to an established religion, you have only two options. You can become an idiot, or you can become a hypocrite. If you’ve already chosen the former, I’ll explain why, and I’ll use small words so that you’re sure to understand.
First, there’s the idiocy route. You can willingly swallow all of the contrived, man-made drivel that’s fed to you. Accept that the earth is only 10,000 years old. Believe stories about dead bodies coming back to life. Learn about various deities and such. Put your trust in someone who thinks they know what they’re talking about. Eat your dogma. Good boy!
Congratulations! You’re a moron believer. You’ll be saved, enlightened, and greeted with tremendous fanfare when you die… unless of course all the stuff you were taught turns out not to be true. Nah… if the guy in the robe says it’s true, it must be true. Ya gotta have faith, right?
Next, we have the hypocrisy option. In this case your neocortex is strong enough to identify various bits of utter nonsense in the religious teachings that others are trying to ram down your throat. You have a working B.S. detector, but it’s slightly damaged. You’re smart enough to realize that earth is probably a lot older than 10,000 years and that pre-marital (or non-marital) sex is a lot of fun, but some B.S. still gets through. You don’t swallow all the bull, but you still identify yourself as a follower of a particular religion, most likely because you were raised in it and never actually chose it to begin with.
To you it’s just a casual pursuit. You’re certainly not a die-hard fundamentalist, but you figure that if you drink the wine and chew the wafer now and then, it’s good enough to get you a free ride into a half-decent afterlife. You belong to the pro-God club. Surely there’s safety in numbers. Two people can’t be wrong… although 4-1/2 billion supposedly can.
In this case you become an apologist for your own religion. You don’t want to be identified with the extreme fanatics, nor do you want to be associated with the non-believers. You figure you can straddle both sides. On earth you’ll basically live as a non-practitioner (or a very sloppy and inconsistent practitioner), but when you eventually die, you’ve still got the membership card to show God.
Do you realize how deluded you are?
Perhaps if you have to throw out so much of the nonsense to make your chosen belief system palatable, you shouldn’t be drinking the Kool Aid in the first place. Free yourself from the mental baggage, stop looking to others for permission to live, and start thinking on your own. If your God exists, he’s smart enough to see through your fake ID.
From time to time, some of my readers take a stab at converting me to their religion. Most of them come across as total loons, but I can at least respect their consistency. I’ve no idea why they bother to read my site (which is about raising, not lowering, consciousness). Perhaps some of them are getting ready to convert from fundamentalism to common sense.
You’d think I’d be quite a prize for any serious religion. With 2.4 million monthly readers, that’s a lot of people I could potentially enslave convert, not to mention how much I could fill the Church coffers by soliciting indulgences donations on their behalf. Henceforth I expect a much better conversion effort. If you won’t do it for the money, then do it for the souls. You can’t let so many of us go to hell without trying in earnest to save us, can you? 😉
Just keep those conversion emails below 10,000 words if possible, with no more than 9,000 of them quoted from your favorite great book.
8. Inherited falsehood.
Please tell me you aren’t still practicing the religion you happened to be born into? Surely you’ve outgrown your baby clothes by now. Isn’t it time you also outgrew your baby religion?
What if you were born into a different culture? Would you have been conscious enough to find your way back to your current belief system? Or are your current beliefs merely a product of your environment and not the result of conscious choice?
Many religions are just a mish-mash of what came before. For example, Christianity is largely based on pagan rituals. If those pagan beliefs and rituals had been protected by copyright, Christianity wouldn’t even exist. If you take the time to dig into the roots of Christianity, you’ll encounter various theories that Christianity’s teachings were largely assembled from pre-Christian myths and that Jesus himself was merely a fictional character pieced together from earlier mythical figures. You go, Horus!
Many religious teachers (i.e. priests, rabbis, ministers, etc.) are just brainwashed slaves themselves. They don’t have any real authority and aren’t even aware of the agenda being set by their superiors. This makes them better minions because they actually believe the B.S. they’re spouting and don’t know the truth behind it. A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar, but that’s as far as they get. They may interact with the bartender, but they never get to know the guy who owns the bar. They suffer from inherited falsehood just like everyone else.
Is your religion based on the inspired word of God? No more than this article. Just because someone says their text is divinely inspired doesn’t mean it is. Anyone can claim divine inspiration. The top religions are decided by popularity, not by truth.
Even the central figures in major religions didn’t follow the religions that were spawned in their names. If they didn’t swallow the prevailing “wisdom” about gods and spiritual leaders and such, why should you? If you want to be more like the people you worship, then follow their lead by striking out on your own.
Move beyond your baby religion. Consider maturity as a reasonable alternative.
9. Compassion in chains.
Religious rules and laws invariably hamper the development of conscience. This causes all sorts of problems like pointless violence and warfare. Those who preach nonviolence as a rule or law tend to be the most violent of all. Such people cannot be trusted because they’ll violate their proclaimed values with the weakest of excuses.
When you externalize compassion into a set of rules and laws, what you’re left with isn’t compassion at all. True compassion is a matter of conscious choice, and that requires the absence of force-backed rules and laws.
The more religious a person becomes, the less compassionate s/he is. The illusion of compassion substitutes for the real thing. Religious people tend to be the most bigoted and non-accepting people on earth. They’re the least trustworthy and suffer from the grossest character defects. They pretend they’re doing good, but they’re really collaborators in a system designed to push people into unconscious slavery to a “higher” authority. They are slaves promoting slavery.
Historically speaking, religious people love to fight each other. Instead of unconditional love, they practice conditional loyalty. The only unconditional aspect is their thirst for blood. If you disagree with them, you’re a target… either for conversion or destruction (both of which are really the same thing).
If you value the ideal of unconditional love, you won’t find it in the practice of religion. Real compassion doesn’t arise from believing in God, from practicing various rituals, or from studying the concept of karma. Compassion can only result from conscious choice, and this requires the freedom to choose without the threat of punishment or the promise of reward. If you’re obedient to your faith, it’s a safe bet that compassion is absent from your life. You probably don’t even know what real compassion feels like.
The more we collectively abandon all religion, the better off this planet will be. This doesn’t mean we have to abandon all spiritual pursuits. It just means we must stop turning spirituality into something it isn’t.
10. Faith is fear.
Religion is the systematic marketing of fear.
Blessed are the poor (donate heavily). Blessed are the meek (obey). Blessed are the humble (don’t question authority). Blessed are the hungry (make us rich while you starve). Blessed are the merciful (if you catch us doing something wrong, let it go). Blessed are the pure of heart (switch off your brain). Blessed are the timid, the cowardly, the fearful. Blessed are those who give us their power and become our slaves. Muahahaha!
That’s the kind of nonsense religion pushes on people. They train you to turn your back on courage, strength, and conscious living. This is stupidity, not divinity.
Religion will teach you to fear being different, to fear standing up for yourself, and to fear being an independent thinker. It will erode your self-trust by explaining why you’re unable to successfully manage life on your own terms: You are unworthy. You’re a sinner. You’re unclean. You belong to a lesser caste. You are not enlightened. Of course the solution is always the same — submit to the will of an external authority. Believe that you’re inadequate. Give away your power. Follow their rules and procedures. Live in fear for the rest of your life, and hope it will all turn out okay in the end.
When you practice faith instead of conscious living, you live under a cloak of fear. Eventually that cloak becomes so habitual you forget it’s even there. It’s very sad when you reach the point where you can’t even remember what it feels like to wield creative freedom over your own life, independent of what you’ve been conditioned to believe.
Faith is the coward’s substitute for courage. It’s also really good marketing if you’re the one who controls the faith. If you’re afraid or unwilling to assume total responsibility for your life, you’re a perfect match for religion.
Fear in one part of your life invariably spreads to all other parts — you can’t compartmentalize it. If you find yourself frustrated because you’re too afraid to follow your dreams, to talk to members of the opposite sex, to speak up for yourself, etc., then a good place to start is to rid your life of all religious nonsense. Don’t let fear get a foothold in your consciousness.
Stop trying to comfort yourself by swallowing religious rubbish. If you really need something to believe in, then believe in your own potential. Put your trust in your own intellect. Stop giving away your power.
Dump the safety-in-numbers silliness. Just because a lot of people believe stupid stuff doesn’t mean it isn’t stupid. It just means that stupidity is popular on this planet. When people are in a state of fear, they’ll swallow just about anything to comfort themselves, including the bastion of stupidity known as religion.
Religion is spiritual immaturity.
It’s entirely possible to enjoy your life without spending so much of it bent over in submission. Pull your head out of your rear, and look around with your own two eyes. If you need something to worship, then feel grateful for your own conscious mind. Pull it out of the cobwebs, and boot it up.
Besides… if some popular religious version of God does exist, there’s a good chance he’s a complete and total idiot. He made us in his image, right? So perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to worship an entity so lacking in intelligence. We’re better off on our own.
God isn’t going to smite you for not formally worshipping him. If he didn’t smite me by now, it’s a safe bet you’ll slide beneath the radar as well. And if that doesn’t work, you can borrow my fake ID. I’ve been baptized and confirmed, and I’m the son of an altar boy and the nephew of a priest, so I’m sure I’ll be fine. 😉
Steve Pavlina is widely recognized as one of the most successful personal development bloggers in the world, with his work attracting more than 100 million visits to StevePavlina.com. He has written more than 1300 articles and recorded many audio programs on a broad range of self-help topics, including productivity, relationships, and spirituality. Steve has been quoted as an expert by the New York Times, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Daily News, and many other publications.
Animated map shows how religion spread around the world
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