Why Christians Hate “Religion” and Why We Yell Pharisee Too Quickly

I think most Christians today love to hate legalism, Pharisees, the word “religion,” and anything reeking of institution — not because they’re worried that these things dehumanize us or diminish us or divide us, but because it’s cool to look really relevant and revolutionary.

Yelling “Pharisee” is pretty much like yelling “Nazi” or “skinhead” or “bigot,” and it’s a buzz word that instantly conjures up the middle-aged, Bible-thumping, suit-and-tie white guy who weaponizes Scripture and prays for the demise of Hollywood and Rob Bell.

Certainly some of these kinds of people exist in the church.  Surely there are fanatical extremists who fit most of our one-dimensional caricatures.  Of course there are mean religious people who do atrocious things in the name of a loving God.

I just think it’s too easy to dismiss them to appear like we are better — and the second you compare your faith to someone else, even if it’s a Pharisee, you’ve instantly become a Pharisee.

Actually, it’s very rarely that I meet black-and-white dichotomous people who funnel their hate into a dogmatic shotgun.  Mostly I meet people who do black-and-white actions as opposed to being “those kinds of people,” and those awful church-people also usually have children, insecurities, dreams, desires, hopes, tragedies, losses, and really neat hobbies, like we all do.  They enjoy ice cream and hamburgers and even the same TV shows and movies and fandoms.  In other words, they have layers, and they’re people too.  They’re not monsters.

But we tend to rally around a binary-battle faith because when you can demonize a certain type of person, you can mobilize a large quick movement for profit and influence and power.  It’s harder to fuel a gathering out of love.  Hate is easier.  And so when a supposedly nuanced, hip, relevant, postmodern Christian says “I’m not like those other Christians,” he’s simply fallen into the same default depravity of our reactionary nature and bought into one more dividing line of the in-house fighting.  And I’m doing the same thing with the previous sentence.

There are some Christians who prefer structure, authority, discipline, and hard work.  They want to schedule their Bible-reading and they need to check off a calendar and they want to attend church on a weekly planner.  They tithe to the exact dollar and they dress up every Sunday and they would never ever curse, not even after getting a papercut from their latest Oswald Chambers devotional.  And I think that’s okay.  I don’t think religion has to be such a bad word all the time.  Again, effort is not legalism, because legalism is legalism.

I think God has room for the highly devout church guy who sits in the front row because God respects our individual dignity and personalities.  God does not mock the button-up bravado of the sincerely stiff worshiper — because this sort of Christian is still a sinner in need of grace, like you and me, and we’re not called to treat him based on any other parameter.

God has wired each of us differently.  Some Christians will drink a beer and smoke cigars and get tattoos and pray in the woods by the river with a handmade journal and Lecrae and Mumford and Sons and Nirvana in their iPod — because this is how they meet Jesus.  God has a limitless imagination to speak to each of us in a wild variety of ways.  To limit this is to limit God, and I don’t ever want to suckerpunch His sovereignty.

Jesus loved Matthew, the downright dirtiest tax collector of them all, and Jesus loved Paul, the hottest Pharisee in history.  Jesus loved Mary Magdalene, a disturbed woman with a severe demonic psychosis, and Jesus loved Martha, the proficient taskmaster A-type personality.  Jesus loves you and the other guy too.

If you’re really down on these “Pharisees” and religious church people, maybe it’s time you get to know them.  Maybe you can quit trying to irritate them so much; maybe you can quit trying to shock them with cute rebellious uprisings to get a reaction.  Maybe we can all slow down on blogging such harsh things about the “typical church” and tradition.  You could probably learn a lot from them, because there is no them, and so we could learn from each other, and that’s how we grow to know this love that saved us.

— J.S.

9 thoughts on “Why Christians Hate “Religion” and Why We Yell Pharisee Too Quickly

  1. There is a difference between a person and an institution, and pasting labels can be dangerous. But my years of training in social psychology show people can be influenced by the “corporation”. This is what Jesus condemned, the institutional power to inflict habit and tradition to replace intimacy with God. If your “congregation” helps growth and trains for service, nice. If it demands preference before God (!) then discernment has to be applied. But to condemn anyone for their group membership is, as you say, atrocious! And those who fly solo are missing a lot. Holier-than-thou divisiveness can never be justified. Yet since religion can become an idol (like shallow innovation, etc.) alertness is wise, and collegial counsel necessary. So I affirm your observations even as I fulfil my calling to warn of religion when it is power-over instead of submission under.


    1. Yes, you gave a good balance of all those measures. No manmade institution can guarantee total safety within its walls, but there are ways to guarantee damage if they remain enslaved to condemnation.


  2. Another awesome post! Thanks! I’m not going to take up all the comment section on this one lol. Yeah, as a person that experienced both extremes on the Christian spectrum….as Shane Idleman put it: the circus and the cemetary, I can say that I met people who truly loved God in both. Heck, I was one of those people and still am although I went to wrong methods at times. I thank the Lord for the watchmen who pointed out doctrinal error in love. “In love” is key. I wouldn’t have listened to those who tried to beat it out of me. God bless bro!


    1. Hah I enjoy your long insightful comments!
      I realize too that I’m throwing around broad caricatures, when in fact most people vacillate between extremes most days. And God has grace for those fluctuations too. 🙂


      1. Amen :). It’s easy to stereotype. So often we see the extremes…those are the ones on t.v. and in the spotlight. The in between people are usually hiding in the every day. We would all be in a mess without God’s grace. Blessings to you!


  3. This is why I love hearing people’s stories. God comes to us in so many ways and shows us Himself in so many ways as well. My experiences of God are good and precious and holy and life giving but they’re not the only ways to experience God. He is so big! He is so limitless! I can’t know Him more without knowing Him as He lives in others.


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