One Sunday I was sitting in church and our pastor began his teaching by saying, “Don’t Be Religidiculous!” When I heard it I started laughing, because it just seemed like such a bizarre thing for someone to say. However, what he went on to share had an oatmeal effect on me – it was heavy and really stuck!
Growing up in the south, the terms “religion and religious” were commonly used. One of the reasons for this was because part of being a good southerner is to never be outright rude to anyone. For instance, instead of telling someone that they are a jerk, their life is a total train wreck and they are driving everyone crazy, you would instead say, “Honey, what you need is religion!” Another example could be the miserable angry next door neighbor lady who points out to everyone what’s wrong with them and their life as compared to her own, while at the same time declaring she’ll “pray for them”. Instead of openly expressing one’s true feelings in public, a common statement about a woman like this would be, “She is just a VERY religious”.
In my youth, rarely was the term “religious” ever meant as something positive. Generally it was used like a heads up, to notify folks that this was not a fun person to be around. Of course for some people, this is a word of endearment. It conjures up thoughts of a very warm, nurturing and loving person, who for them represented a tangible example of God.
The word religious can be defined as: Relating to belief in, teaching of, or practice of a religion; Scrupulously faithful; Showing devotion or reverence for God.
For the purpose of this writing however, I will be making reference to the more negative connotation of the word. My point of reference came from my own experiences with certain people that I consistently used the words “Religious” or “Bible thumpers” to describe. These were those individuals who I found to be self-righteous, judging, or critical of others from a religious standpoint. I wanted nothing to do with them and desired to never be one of them. That sentiment only grew worse as I moved towards addiction, where I desperately sought out any reason to not be involved with people who didn’t do what I was doing. Of course in EVERY religious dwelling, you are certain to find that “religious” person who is more than willing to push all your buttons, and that is just exactly what happened in my case. Someone spoke the words I was waiting to hear…about how I was “disappointing God” and that He would “punish my sin”, etc… and at last, I could justify within myself leaving the church forever.
For the most part, from the age of 14 to 34, (with the exception of about 2 years and certain holidays), I would remain out of organized religion. I can remember feeling very liberated upon entering into the recovery community, because it seemed like I could have all of God I wanted…without any of the religiousness. I remember saying on more than one occasion, “Its so awesome being somewhere that I’m not judged and where people aren’t dictating my life to me and making me feel guilty when I don’t do what they think I should.”
But as time went by I began to realize something startling…something awful! I noticed in the meetings that there were certain individuals who were bossy and judgmental; some were “rule based” and seemed very critical of anyone who didn’t agree with their point of view. I once had a person that agreed to work with me in my recovery efforts, who during my first call began by telling me, “Quit your job, move out of your parent’s house and get rid of your car if you really want recovery and to have me work with you”. So….I found someone new. When I was 4 years clean and sober I began attending new meetings away from my primary one and ended up with about 12 members, (from my group), telling me I had to “choose” and saying: “You are either with them or you’re with us, but you can’t do both!” I disagreed and was informally yet promptly, blackballed. Initially I walked away wondering, “What the heck is going on? What just happened here? This is crazy!”~ Then it hit me…like a ton of bricks: It’s the EXACT same crazy that had happened in the church so long ago!
All that time I had thought that the problem was the “church”, but it wasn’t…the problem in the church was the same problem found in the meetings AND is the same problem that can be found everywhere that PEOPLE are! It’s a human problem. Lets face it, as long as mankind breaths air, there will be a need to feel and attempt to be in control. The way that mankind often tries to control things is with legalism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that rules, laws and the enforcement of them are bad. But what I am saying is that to make choices: Whether good or bad; To take or not to take healthy actions; To agree or disagree; To be right or to be wrong ~ all without fear of loosing sobriety or the love of God for us…is to truly know freedom and to be able to experience joy.
I am reminded daily to stand guard at the gate of my heart and mind, always remembering that to allow anything like rules, laws or legalism to come in and direct my life, rather than asking God to…is to be just plain RELIGIDICULOUS!
©2014 Rebecca Balko