Is religion evil?  Avg Joe’s Story

Ever start reading a comment section and wished you had not?  I did so recently, and it made me shake my head as the two people were vehemently debating about religion ‘causing all evil’. One of them stated   ‘religion is the root of all evil.’   Is Religion EvilIt prompted me to look in Webster’s Online Dictionary for the current definition of religion, after reading it, I might actually agree with the statement

Websters def   “Religion is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

At one point in my life, I questioned every aspect of the religion that was shoved down my throat.  Perhaps the very word religion itself immediately turns you off; I know it did for me. That is until some coincidences turned my world upside down. I usually try not to talk about myself.  However, to give you a better understanding of Average Joe’s Portico, I hope you can bear hearing my personal story.

I grew up in a very religious setting. My Dad converted from being a Protestant to Catholic. In those days back in the ’40’s, that was enough to be disowned.  He was shunned by his very own Mother who refused to attend my parent’s wedding.   He and mom spent as much time on church activities as they did with us, eight kids.   She would bring home the church altar coverings and ‘holy towels’ as a service to the church washing them weekly. She acted as if each cloth was the shroud of Turin.  She treated every item sacredly.

I don’t think they ever missed a church service.  If you count bingo for her and the church golf league for Dad as a religious activity, then nearly every portion of their lives was devoted to the church. They actually did consider those events as church events, as Mom helped set up the tables and Dad kept to golf books.  To them, technically they were acts of service.

Before anyone gets their fur ruffled, it worked well for my parents.   Their belief system worked for them just fine and their commitment level exemplified that it was very real to them, and was by no means an evil institution, it just didn’t happen to be my cup of tea.   Ultimately God is the final judge on hearts and He runs the replay booth in the end, not me or any other person on this earth.

For me, I saw it as a no choice requirement to go to church every weekend. I lived as the nice quiet, but shy, perfect catholic boy all the way through 10th grade.   I was so nice that bullies would smash the brown bag sandwiches I brought to lunch each day to try to make me cuss.   I stood my ground with an anxiety-filled smile at their jerkiness, while holding back from wanting to punch them in the nose.

Upon reaching the driving age, the urge to quit the game and have some fun kicked in – with reckless abandon. A daily partying routine that started with meeting the boys before and after school and every evening began and continued throughout high school.  I made an effort to keep the ‘good boy’ reputation in tow covering the party tracks.  Going to church was Mom’s absolute requirement, but my brother and I  worked out a system to get around that. We took turns weekly as to who would stop by the church and grab the Sunday church bulletin to provide Mom evidence we made it to mass. It worked for a bit until she, of course, caught me.

I remember vividly that day as I nearly gave my Mom a heart attack when at the age of 16 ‘I declared I did not believe in God anymore.’Lightning Bolt

I waited for the bolt of lightning to hit!    ….. It did not.    

I specifically told her, I didn’t believe in her religion that forced me to go to church every weekend. I sarcastically lambasted the leaders of her church that condemned the ‘sins’ of drugs, alcohol, and sex, while I watched the same dudes down full bottles of wine after the last mass of the day. The very bottle they earlier had claimed was the ‘blood’ of Jesus. I reminded her of the recent examples, even in those days 40+ years ago, of the ones who lost their collars because of alcoholism, affairs with nuns, and abusing altar boys. Was the religion evil? No, but some of those in leadership roles certainly were.

Although I felt guilty for my statements, it felt freeing to get rid of the ball and chain. It wasn’t long before smoking, drinking and toking became a routine.   It became a ritual to stop by my friends, called ‘grits’ in my days, and get stoned on the way to school, during, and after. We were cool, so we thought, to be in a unique group as both a ‘grit’ and sports ‘jock’.  It became a game to see how much I could get away with. Being extremely shy and a nervous sort, I felt a calming and confidence from it.   One day we stretched the habit and partied before a varsity baseball game. That day I went 5-6 and thought, wow, this stuff is really good.

However, reality soon set in and it didn’t take long before the other side effects of partying kicked in and began to take its toll on my school work, attitude, and stupidity.  Over time after my declaration and many days and nights of partying that followed, a bunch of eye-openers happened in my life –  altering my view on God.

For instance, one evening I was out using my fake ID on a school night and arrived home at 2:30 a.m. I woke up to find my car parked on the lawn.  I had no idea how I even got home. Something or somebody was watching over me to get me home.  Many more close calls and odd things that some would call ‘coincidences’ occurred.   Another time I was pulled over by the police for speeding.   Somehow the cop missed the aroma of weed and gave me a warning only for speeding.   The possibility that I nearly threw my future away scared me half to death.

I began searching for help and today laugh at the absurdity of ‘mere chance’ happening in my life.   These and other coincidences began to reshape my whole belief system.

I messed up my chances for a sports scholarship and decided to join the Army to straighten my life out and plan for a career in of all things, police work.   I hated seeing bad people get away with things.  Maybe it started with the school bullies stealing my lunch?   My inner feelings of anxiety were a constant battle because of people.  I dreamed of arresting them to make life better for everyone else. As the partying spiraled out of control, I thought that joining the Army would be a way to have a good life (once I got straightened out of course).

Little did I know being an MP in the Army was to bring the exact opposite.   We were the heaviest of partiers and prided ourselves on it.  I became a pool table shark and cannot remember ever paying for a pitcher of beer, the trophy for each win.   Instead of getting on the right path I was spiraling out of control.  Reality is the service made me worse than I was before.  Instead of fighting crime, some of us MP’s used our power to do things like bust ‘trainees’ for possession of pot.  We’d let them go with a stern warning that we were saving their career, but confiscate their stash, and then go off and smoke it ourselves.  Just a single time of participating in this dumb act made me feel horribly guilty, and my simple worries turned to extreme paranoia.  Once in that ‘club’ put you in a dangerous position, one a naive 18-year-old could barely handle.  Little did my mentors know I would never rat on them, I was way too scared to even consider saying a word to anyone.  I felt very paranoid and trapped like there was no escape.

Avg Joe in MP garb 1979

Avg Joe in MP garb 1979

The culmination happened one night when a group of my Army buddies at Edgewood, MD and I on a night of heavy partying decided to challenge a place called dead man’s curve.   Its name came from legendary stories about several fatal accidents that had occurred there.  Normally I am quite chicken (a worrier to the max back then) and usually smarter, but I allowed stupidity and the cheering of four other drunks in the car to persuade my foot to hit the gas as we were heading into the curve.

As we rounded the curve, my car flew, literally, through the air.  Horror flashed through my eyes, and I know it did through the eyes of the other four passengers as well.   Somehow the car landed solidly on all four wheels, bounced a couple of times, then screeched itself onto the curved road and landed as if nothing had happened.   The car sustained no damage, but all three guys in the back seat had big lumps on the top of their heads, noticed the next morning, as proof of something horrific taking place. Silence took over the inside of the car coupled with an unmentioned stench exhuming from the pants of one of them.   None of us wanted to discuss what happened for weeks afterward.  I drove by the sign at dead man’s curve the next day and reviewed the film etched in my brain of that near-fatal moment.

Dead Man's Curve

Dead Man’s Curve Sign on Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD

Soon after even more coincidences occurred opening my mind to deep self-evaluation. I dug around into the old religion thinking God spared me several times now, but I better not test Him too much further.  I succumbed to attending the base Catholic church to see if that would help, but it did not, same old religion. Then one day I received a phone call from a friend I called a Jesus freak from my high school who had been bugging me for months. ‘Coincidentally,’ he was going to be near where I was stationed on what I called a religious nut conference that upcoming weekend.  He invited me to attend.   The timing ironically fit in my shift schedule (3 days on 3 days off).  I accepted the invitation and made plans to attend.   

I wanted real friends and alcohol made me confident, it pushed worries away, and it felt good inside. But after that near wreck and seeing my life was turning into a mess, I knew it was time for a change in my habits.  What I needed real freedom was from all the things bottled up inside of me.

Did you ever feel that way yourself?  Did you find a solution?  Well, if you care or dare to find out how I found my way out then read on…

Please don’t go away yet! Read below the red line for more. If this is your first time visiting Average Joe’s Portico, every post is written in two parts. You have just read the portion challenging the mind, body, and soul.  In or on The Portico (as in Solomon’s Portico or porch) , I seek to tap into your spiritual side, but only IF YOU DARE.  If you are in a mood of  ‘don’t shove God down my throat’, this part is not for you, it is your out. Otherwise Keep reading past the Red Line Below and read Part 2  for the Spiritual side of the story.  (For an explanation of this creative writing attempt – read the ‘Do You Dare’ Tab)___________________________________________________________________________________

Freedom is what I wanted, but I found freedom comes with a price.  In reality, most people including me had no clue what freedom means.   I didn’t believe in God because I felt I’d be tied down to rules and regulations. What I heard instead at that conference was God wants a non-forced relationship with us. He puts up with our stuff and with those people who are against Him.  It occurs both in the spiritual realm (yeah I know that sounds cuckoo) and in the daily physical people realm, we see in this world. But He stands waiting, patiently, for us to figure out whatever it is that makes us not believe.  He provides an opportunity to sift through the real and the fake (like bad religious examples we see).  God patiently waits for each of us to come to our own conclusion and accept or reject His invitation.  It is called free will.

At that time way back in 1980 I chose to believe that the Jesus I only saw as a statue in church before not only existed but that he came down to earth and died and paid a huge price for freedom via sacrificing his own life for mine. He displaced religion.  In fact, it was the religious people who had him put to death. I often ask myself and hear it from many, why doesn’t God just zap the bad guys and take the good guys and end it all.   Thankfully, and I get choked up thinking about it, He did not do that before I had all those coincidences happen that made me stop and think that he was calling me to change. He was patiently standing as if at my front door knocking and waiting for me to let him in to start a relationship.   If that zapping had come to fruition, I know I would have ended up in a place I did not want to be for the rest of eternity.   The thought that He could have given up on me overwhelms me with gratefulness at times.

Everything changed for me on that day in March of 1980. I was baptized on the spot in a cold outdoor pond near the campus of the University of Maryland.  I viewed all of my past getting washed away and starting a new life.

Avg Joe getting baptized in a Frigid Pond in 1980

Funny it did not end there but was part of the amazing things God did to show how much He cared for me.  I am forever grateful. At that conference, I was advised to go back to my Army base and find a good church (ugh) and learn more about the freedom I had found. Freedom from what? Freedom from a slavery mentality to have to do things to please other people and try to prove to God with a do the right think mode I can only muster up (aka religion). Once you know you are free from that, it becomes a want-to situation, not a have-to situation.

Another strange coincidence occurred, this is more of the weird portico stuff, and I kid you not.   I was standing at the Army base entry-gate in my MP garb, and a wildly dressed man (he had on a patchwork suit jacket of multiple colors and odd hat) came through the gate.  He told me about a church up the road off base I should check out.   He gave me directions and said ‘ask for me when you get there, everyone knows me.’   So I took that as a sign.  I swear I heard a soft inner voice that said ‘this is where you need to go, Joe.’  So I paid a visit to the small church building off-base that Sunday.

When I arrived, I told the people at this little Pentecostal church that this person in a patchwork jacket told me to ask for him.  I described the hat and the beat-up car.  I asked several people, all of whom chuckled and said no such person attended there, ever.   I asked if I had the correct address again to double-check I was at the right place. No doubt it was.   Is there a spiritual realm, you tell me?  Was that man, an angel, sent with a message?   I’ve experienced things like that on more than a few occasions, honest.  I started a great relationship with a God who not only has a sense of humor, but I believe He is there with me all the time.

Get this, I believe God’s Spirit actually dwells inside me, as that is what He said would happen if I accepted the invitation.  I knew it from the day I gave Christ permission to be a full part of my life.  The little Pentecostal church prayed with me an additional time to be sure, it was not necessary, I was already filled with a joy, peace, and power I had never felt before.  I have seen Him heal people of sicknesses, taken them out of financial ruin, and seen Him fix wrecked lives many times, including my own.   Just this past week multiple ‘coincidences’ have happened in my own life, in my own family, and all around me, not because I believe it happened, it did happen.

We have a * 26-year-old son despite losing three children to miscarriages and being told my wife would never be able to have a child again by the doctors. We saw that same young man be told by three different doctors several years ago that he’d need to take a set of mind controlling medicines the rest of his life to have normalcy.  Yet today he is completely healed of the problem and not taking any prescription meds. Yes maybe the docs were just wrong, but maybe God reached His hand down and healed, which we solemnly believe He did.

*This post has only been updated to reflect the current age from original post in 2015.  Read Zack’s miraculous story here.

The journey has had a lot of bounces over time. I still with this skin on have to sift through life’s ups and downs.  It rains and shines on everyone. A relationship with God does not mean suddenly that you become a millionaire and all your problems go away. It does, however, start a brand new journey and a new life with a new perspective.  All I know is for the early part of my life, I worried about everything.   I shied away from any controversy.

Today my worry comes in different colors as my worries have shifted from concern for me, myself, and I, to concerns for other people.   Something has filled the inner spirit that turned me into a believing Warrior seeking to help people that are scared and lost like I used to be.   But dealing with people produces stress, which requires a second by the second battle in how to respond in a positive way to people.  It is a huge challenge, and one I admit comes out less than perfect too often.

I have no regrets in making a decision to fully ‘believe’  and love the fact God allows me the chance, like now, to tell others that might be searching for that same freedom about that relationship. And like any relationship I have my fights, doubts, fears and even say and do things to Him I’d like to take back.   Tell me atheist do you say Satan Da&*it, when you slam your finger in the door? Or do you do what I shamefully said a few days ago after scalping my skull in the basement crawl space? No promise of everything being perfect was made, nor me becoming perfect.  Except in God’s eyes, I am forgiven because of the commitment to trust in God for my salvation.

I have changed my ‘religious views’ a few times since the day I made a decision to change my ways and become a believer in Jesus Christ.   I struggle when I see people show up at a large building on Easter Sunday and respond to an altar call, or raise their hand when someone says a prayer and they agree with it.  Or they are baptized and temporarily display the do-right things the Bible says, and are added to the tally as another one who was ‘saved,’ ‘born again,’ and other very Biblical sayings.  For some who made a decision of emotion, or because at the moment it was the cool thing to do, I wonder if it was just another display of religion?

In daily interactions with people sometimes I say to myself, I hope I am not an all words and no action religious-person.  God tells us to be humble and do not judge, dare I say he or she is or isn’t a true believer?  I would never dare answer that question – God is the final judge of all things.  However, when those thoughts creep in, I use it as a moment to examine myself.   With His help, I look to clear out my own shortcomings and doubts and instead try to do as Paul said to  work out my own salvation with fear and trembling.    In other words, take it seriously.  Paul adds in that section, to not sit around and argue with other believers, we live in a tough world as it is, why fight over the many gray areas that lead to idle disagreements.

Yes, this is an example of entering the portico, dare we touch on controversies of salvation?    Let’s face it, the churches of today have some shortcomings and are anything but united.   Jesus near last prayer   cited what He thought was of deep importance – that all His followers would be united as one.    Yet today there are MILLIONS of variations of ‘Christian churches’ in the world.  Wikipedia provides an eye-popping list of all the denominations in the world.  How does one really know which group or person is ‘right’?

Paul, who was not in the group that followed Jesus while He was alive,  experienced what no person ever experienced.  He was blinded after having an encounter with the spirit of Jesus.  He went on to provide witness and be a living testimony of miraculous happenings.  He had previously hated Christians and even had many killed for their faith in Him. Paul was a murderer. After realizing how wrong he was and becoming a believer in Christ, he went about telling people what he learned in that encounter and had this to say;  “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.” And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. (Romans 3:22) 

In the simplest terms; Christianity has a foundation of a combination of belief, faith, and hope which produces good works.  Good works that come solely out of seeing and knowing God’s love for us first, and nothing that we ‘do’ to be saved. (In case you are confused, I recommend none other than the late Billy Graham’s simple Gospel explanation for review)   Religion is the opposite, do things to get to heaven, rather than solely trusting in what God already did for us.     Anyone can say they believe, but what follows as proof is action.

If someone tells you your house is on fire, and you even smell smoke and fire and you say, yes I believe, but do not get out of the house, than you really did not believe, correct?   James, one of Jesus brothers born of the well-known mother Mary surmised that there needs to be significant evidence.  James said:  A body is dead if it does not breathe. In the same way, believing is dead if it does not do anything good.”      You cannot say you are a firefighter if you do not fight fires and save lives.   Some may disagree, but my view is you cannot say you are a Christian if you are not a warrior fighting evil (first within yourself, 2nd in this world) and seeking to save lives.   Like a firefighter, we may not put out every fire and save every life.  As a Christian, we will not win every battle and save every life.  But if we are willing to try to keep on trying, that is proof of belief, and ultimately God will make the final judgment for every individual.  All I know is if I am wrong as Paul said, I and all believers in Christ are to be pitied;  ‘if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.’   *Note if you are going to click on and read any link in this whole document, click on this one, it sums up everything I have stated.

Jesus put it simply, more than once, while speaking to a close friend named Martha whose brother Lazarus had died, said:  “I am the resurrection and the life.   Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.  Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” (John 11:25-26)

Insert your own name where Martha’s is.  Do you Dare take the step to look deeper at where you stand?   Or have the religions and religious hypocrites of the world caused you to see religion as evil?  I let religion cloud my view of God, it took two near death experiences to open my eyes, there is no guarantee you’ll have another chance to decide.  I am so grateful and humbled that I was given more than one chance to believe, thus I tell my own story, in hopes that you too will believe.  But don’t believe in me or any person or religion, believe in Jesus who was the only perfect One.  Something tells me if you read this far, you either already know Him, or will soon.  Do you believe _______?

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