TOXIC FAITH

Stanley Morris

In an attempt to turn away from deep levels of sin, well-meaning but misguided people often turn to religion and they end up worse than they were before! This soon dissipates into a religious addiction which can be used to avoid making personal commitments, to avoid pain, to avoid reality, to avoid fears, and, lastly, to avoid growth. This type of faith is TOXIC faith.

A book by the same name describes toxic faith as "a destructive and dangerous relationship with a religion that allows the religion, not the relationship with God, to control a personís life." It may start out as a substitution for God but it will eventually end up being a wedge between you and the God who dearly loves you. Don't make the mistake of worshiping His Bible either.

A person with toxin faith can worship a church and its eldership just as easily as an alcoholic can worship a bottle of booze! His life focuses on the crutch, not upon God. Religiosity engulfs him and he loses himself in the practice of it. Are you trapped in an unhealthy involvement with a church? Is your dependence upon God or upon that system? Are you a "church-a-holic"?

When religion becomes a means to avoid life or control life, everything turns bitter. Many people are sitting ducks for this Ė those who already have a low self-esteem; those who were raised in shame-based families; people who have been emotionally, physically, or even sexually abused; some with addictive personalities; and many with faulty belief systems to begin with. And, institutional churches are only too willing to "fill" their "needs."

Their lack of balance is the key to understanding this situation. Instead of permitting God to free them, these individuals are surrendering all their thoughts and beliefs and actions to be totally controlled by a religious group or leader. Every one of us needs to redefine our understanding of God and man-made religion, and, after doing so, we need to completely rebuild our relationship to God and with our family and friends.

There is a big difference between a God-centered faith and addictive religion; between conviction and compulsion; between authentic faith and caricature! At what point does faith turn into something ugly, void of loving God and toxic to the believer and poisonous to all those around him or her?

One's personal faith should speed one's return to wholeness (cf. Luke 15:17 - The Prodigal Son "came to his senses"). It must not be confused and distorted by legalistic, guilt-producing, institutional religion. People should not have to be burdened by a false, ill-defined, system of faith. Jesus said, "You are tired and have heavy loads. If all of you will come to me, I will give you rest. Take the job [i.e. the yoke of responsibility] that I give you. Learn from me because I am gentle and humble in heart. You will find rest for your lives. The duty I give you is easy. The load I put upon you is not heavy." (Matt. 11:28-30).

Because some people are so desperate in their pathetic quest for perfection and the favor of God, they sometimes lead themselves into a delusional world. They badly need to return to the real world. The descent into this harmful belief system and religious addiction comes from several motivations. Many want to escape the tough realities of our high-stress, push-button society. Others want to retreat to this comforting world of structured religion so that they donít have to deal with some personal painful memory in their childhood, or perhaps the loss of a spouse, a child, or another loved one. They cannot process that pain, so they hide behind the walls of denial. And, the local church is only too willing to supply them with lots of church "busy work" to forget. If people do not really value themselves or have their own beliefs, they will inevitably fall victim to the pressures to conform. These hurting people are greatly in need of tender care, but they really believe they are doing GODíS work, and everyone else who does not subscribe to the eldersí "infallible" pronouncements are completely out of step with God Almighty. Therefore, breaking through their denial syndrome becomes extremely difficult as these persons invest more and more of their new "identity" into their fabricated church lives, a sort of "pick-and-choose" religion.

Once individuals are self-deceived, they vigorously resist changing their beliefs. They are so self-obsessed that they believe that they are INCAPABLE of being wrong. They hold their doctrines to be more sacred than God Himself! This spoils any chance for a true relationship with God, the Person. Godís love of you is unconditional; there is nothing you can do to "gain points" with God. Heíll love you regardless. Ultimately, Godís love and favor do NOT depend on your behavior patterns to please Him. God is not like a critical Parent who says, "Try harder!" but is never satisfied. God is not so big that He doesnít care about you personally. And, more than anything else, God wants you to find happiness, but it may take time Ö because you have to do it HIS way! There WILL be some pain!!

Also, there is no such thing as instant peace. Sometimes itís going to be rough sledding. But what you seek is the inner peace "that passes understanding." No denial, just facing the realities of everyday life. You are NOT being punished for some particular past sin in your life. God isnít out to get you! (Read the Book of Job on that one.) Life is simply imperfect. And, no matter how hard we try to change that, that fact will NOT change. Whether we are believers or not, we will all experience tragedy or failure. Thereís no such thing as a divine quick-fix or air-tight insulation from real problems. God wants us to work through those things. He gives us the freedom to make responsible choices. Sometimes weíre going to goof up, but that's how we learn and grow. Pain is often a result of the sin, but not necessarily a punishment for it. Take the crisis and make it a faith-building experience!

The promoters of religious addiction are extremely intolerant of varying opinions or expressions of faith. Their followers either walk THEIR way or they are quickly "cast out of the synagogue." Their rigidity prevents them from accepting anyone but those who follow THEIR prescribed orthodox party line. They routinely judge others and find only the negative in everyone else's life. From their position of superiority, they put others down. These tyrants want to CONTROL the lives of others, especially their beliefs. They think nothing of DEMANDING that you sacrifice ANY relationship with family or friends in order to uphold a standard which they deem essential to salvation. This is fake faith! Who wouldn't want to go somewhere else?

There are times when you should consciously REFUSE to submit to authority Ė if it is not based on God's authority. Silent, unquestioning obedience m the face of dishonesty and abuse will only enable that dishonesty and spiritual abuse to be passed on to the next generation. Blind submission must be REPLACED with responsible actions. Sometimes we are waiting for God to do what God is waiting for us to do!

It's O.K. to be angry, but Paul cautions in Eph. 4:26, 27a: "You are allowed to become angry, but don't sin. And don't let any day end without getting rid of your angry feelings. Don't give the Devil a chance!" Jesus was fully divine and fully human. He was tempted in all points, but he never sinned. In Mark 3:5 he was angry in that synagogue, and he was sad too, because of the hardness of their hearts toward that poor, misshapen man. He drove out the money-exchangers forcefully with a whip, but the text doesn't mention him being angry there. However, I'm sure there was some snap to the whip, i.e. with some feeling behind it. At all times, Jesus honestly expressed the full degree of what he felt AS HE WAS FEELING IT. As his followers, we need to learn to do the same thing. Many in the churches of today are completely out of touch with their own emotions. Christ never denied the depths of what he felt. Why should people feel so ashamed to express their feelings in a religious gathering? Is it threatening to our pre-programmed in-decency-and-in-order dogma? Remember, Jesus WEPT! Never deny your true emotions.

However, it is NOT too late. People, if they will only be truly honest with themselves, CAN look within to find the toxic elements of their faith and to de-toxify, removing them one by one. That's the only way they're going to be happy. Once the totalitarian authority cycle is broken in the mind of someone, that person CAN recover from their compulsive religious behavior Ė their toxic faith Ė and seek a REAL faith which is based only upon the living God and a diligent, independent, study of His holy Word.

As more and more religious leaders falter and fall, and the artificiality of their contrived religious systems becomes apparent, many folks ARE waking up. They are beginning NOT to blindly trust them. They're asking the right questions. And, many are leaving in search of truer pastures. There are no quick fixes for pain. These folks are willing to face up to the real issues of life, no matter how demanding that might be! They no longer are willing to be victimized by any religious leader or set of rulers of any religious group! They are throwing away their harmful distortions about a vengeful God and they ARE finding a loving God who cares for them individually and as a whole. In short, they are turning to the real God and away from an ecclesiastical idol. The apostle John said, "Little children, keep yourselves away from false gods!" (1 John 5:20). I don t know about you, but I want the REAL thing!!