This is What Dangerous Religion Looks Like


Last year I wrote a post listing the dynamics of dangerous religion. I’ve spent the last year slowly adding to the list as I tweet and write my books and talk to people about the things that really scare them about the churches they’ve come out of. Eventually the list grew so long that I had to divide it into sections, and I’ll probably keep expanding it as time goes on. Please share your own experiences in the comments, and together we can continue to expose all the wrong things in the hope of bringing freedom and justice.


            Selective Reading of Scriptures


–          Sentences that begin with, “Well, the Bible clearly says…” The widespread notion that someone’s interpretation of the Bible is the literal meaning of the Bible


–          Refusing to read the Bible with the heart as well as the head, allowing one’s emotions to engage the text


–          Giving peripheral interpretations the same authority as doctrinal teaching


–          Preferring your idealized version of the Bible over the one we were actually given


–           Safety and simplicity are seen as Christian virtues; depth and complexity are not (“A legalist rarely exercises critical thinking, preferring the apparent security of one-dimensional living“). Refusing to interpret the Scriptures in a thoughtful and sophisticated way.


–        Many of us don’t love the actual Bible, but just our idea of the Bible, meaning a book that proves, inarguably, that we are right.


–           Claiming to follow the Bible better than everyone else does when they ignore most of what it teaches.


–           People who insist that “babies who died in the womb are in heaven” (or “homosexuality is the sin God hates the most” or some other totally random thing) because “Jesus said so in the Bible.” People who make up their own Bible and then insist that we all follow it.


–           Sometimes the people who read the Bible the most are the most ignorant of what it says.


–           Often when a person demands that you show them something in the Bible before they believe it, they won’t even believe it when you do.


–           People who believe so strongly that the Bible is perfect that not even the Bible itself can change their minds—who aren’t as much interested in what’s in the actual Bible as they are in defending the Bible they prefer to believe in.


          Lack of Curiosity / An Inability to Hear What Others are Saying


–        Automatic exclusion of any beliefs that don’t fit into their accepted paradigms


–           So often we end up ignoring things in the Bible that plainly contradict our beliefs because “the Bible couldn’t possibly say that!”


–           When you tell them they’re behaving like madmen, they’ll say, “The world’s wisdom is foolishness” and “Christ’s own apostles were counted mad.”


–           The horrifying realization that some Christians not only don’t care about other people’s history & heritage, they don’t even care about their own.


–           The way a lot of the same folks who want God to judge America don’t believe America has a problem with racism or discrimination.



            A System That Encourages & Rewards Sociopathy


–          Bad people are loved for their “holiness” while good people are hated for telling the truth


–          Moral certainty is seen as the ultimate virtue, and compassion is seen as a vice.


–           “Those who passionately defend the truth are often just grasping for power.”


–           God is so far beyond our categories of good and evil that we can’t even understand Him. He is completely good and we are completely bad. What seems good to us is evil in His sight. What seems evil to us is good to Him: genocide, murder, unrestrained anger, hatred, arrogance…


–          “Love has to be willing to hurt the beloved, or it’s not really love.”


–           Sociopaths who are able to disguise themselves as good people and become spiritual leaders because they speak in the language of the tribe (would make a great science-fiction novel).


–           Leaders who are able to stifle any dissenting voices by saying, “If you have a problem, come to me first and talk about it.”


–           A system where people are so thoroughly conditioned that they passively accept any abuse or depravity (authoritarianism).


–           The fact that anyone who has a large enough ministry is virtually immune to criticism from the people who follow him, though someone with a smaller ministry who’s not as respected can commit the same abuses and the people will unite against him and demonize him.


–           A culture where people are shamed for saying they were raped or abused, and the people who defend them are shamed and silenced (at BJU, the very worst thing you can do is say you were raped by someone. It’s worse than being an actual rapist).


–           A culture where being the sane person makes you the minority, and sometimes makes you alone.


–           A faith that makes no moral distinction between the good and the evil, between the oppressive and those they oppress.



            Tribalism / Hatred of Outsiders


–          Fear of contamination by the “evil world” out there


–          People outside the community are ignored as if they don’t even exist


–          A corresponding obsession with violence, bloodlust, and the deaths of one’s enemies


–           “You never ask questions

             When God’s on your side.”


–          Christianity = conservatism (or anything else the tribe defines as being “truly Christian”


–           Christians who hate a movie based on the Bible but embrace a fake movie about heaven because it has praying firefighters and talking embryos.


–           The prophets and apostles who are so paranoid about a fascist takeover but can never understand that they’re the ones we should be most worried about.


–           People who insist that members of their religion could never be guilty of a heinous crime. “A true Christian would never hurt or murder anyone” (the No Scotsman fallacy). In fact, some of the people who are most likely to commit violence & murder are the ones who are most zealous for their faith & the Bible.


–           Thinking that everything we say or do because of God is right and true.


–           We’re trained to beware the dangers of secularism, but no one ever tells us that religion can be equally dangerous.


–           For some reason, when one person thinks something is bad, the rest of us assume that person is right.


–           We make ourselves easy targets when we unilaterally assume that a fellow Christian would never lie to us.


–           Ridiculous double standards: “It’s okay when we do it, but totally evil when they do”


–           Fundamentalists who are trying to stop Sharia law by putting “godly politicians” in office who will “put God first” and “enact biblical laws.” (That group that you hate so much? Under different circumstances you might be in it. You might even be in it now and not know it.)


–           A lack of recognition of the racism inherent in white Evangelical culture and a lack of interest in fixing it.


–           Forcing Hindu & Jewish converts to give up their cultural Hinduism & Judaism.


–           History is being rewritten so that the Kansas City prayer group (and any other group with a history of evil or violence) are not Real True Christians. ***


–           Salvation is based on whether one is a “believer” or “unbeliever” rather than on the actual state of a person’s heart.


–           Movies where there are two kinds of people: believers with no moral faults and non-believers with no redeeming qualities.


–           A lack of compassion towards those who have made mistakes, those who suffer, and those who are not like us.


–           Basically anyone who professes to be a Christian is automatically trusted, and anyone who disavows Christianity is viewed with suspicion.


–           “When you pair intense discrimination with government policy, everyone walks away with blood on their hands.”



            The Destruction of Individual Identity


–          “What makes the Church any different from a cult if it demands we sacrifice our conscience in exchange for unquestioned allegiance to authority?” (Rachel Held Evans)


–          Conformity: demanding that other expressions of Christianity look just like yours; questioning the integrity or even salvation of those whose worship or teachings differ from your own


–          All things related to being human—human thought, intelligence, emotion, art, creativity—are seen as depraved and unreliable


–          Hatred of all authority: higher education, seminaries, media, traditional religious denominations, political leaders (populism, the root of conspiracy theories)


–          Destroying a person’s identity by ascribing their personality traits to particular sins


–          Suppression of negative emotions such as anger, fear, or depression


–          Hatred of women (saying they look like prostitutes, etc.)


–           Using a book of stories and poems to try and tell people that art and literature are evil.


–           *** Some folks just can’t stand the thought of someone different from them. Having an infallible text makes it easier to negate their existence.

            Living in a Fantasy World


–          Unwillingness to embrace the two core principles of existence: everything that has a beginning has an end; and the mystery of existence is impenetrable


–          Confusing faith with magic


–          The delusion that one is living at the center of a cosmic drama, a warrior, a hero


–          The association of superstition and ignorance with Christian virtues


–           “In Gnosticism, faith is magic.”


–          “True creativity comes straight from the throne room!” (“God doesn’t care about math, He cares about miracles!”)


–           When people pray down death and judgment on others and somehow don’t realize that that’s REALLY DARK MAGIC.


–           There’s grave danger in the intersection of intense pressure to conform with supposed supernatural powers. When prophecy governs everything, it can take on a mind of its own—and innocent people will find themselves at the mercy of a mob.


–           Some pastors think most religions were founded by wicked angels, yet they eagerly base their ministries on angelic visitations.


–           “The most monstrous parts of human history involve the panic & frenzy of total war against imaginary monsters.” Sometimes the demon hunters are scarier than the actual demons.



2 thoughts on “This is What Dangerous Religion Looks Like

  1. This is fantastic; I sent it off to my sisters so we can continue our journey of healing the wounds the Church inflicted upon us.

  2. These things resonate with me; well, really everything you’ve written resonates: “In Gnosticism, faith is magic.” and ” Some pastors think most religions were founded by wicked angels, yet they eagerly base their ministries on angelic visitations.” I’ve heard people talk like this and just because they had likable personalities at first, I fell for it. I wanted more of God, more encounters, etc., but when I started questioning the lack of the Word of God, the Bible, being used or how it was just used in a proof-texting way, or if I questioned that someone’s fruit of the Spirit was lacking (incredibly “gifted” people with selective kindness or fruit), I was shut down. So I got out and just started reading the Word. I tried to jump back into a fellowship, but that ended up being the wrong place for me, too. Honestly, I’ve gotten more good and healing words from the Word than from any person.

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