How Religion Makes Us Stupid (And Jesus Makes Us Wise)

Posted on January 19, 2017 by Paul Ellis // 73 Comments

Religion is an endless car race and I have a trackside seat. I smell the fumes of religious ambition, and I hear the sickening crunch of condemnation. The religious race goes on and on, and I get to watch people slamming into the hard wall of rules and unforgiveness.

I don’t particularly want to watch this, but Jesus said to help the hurting, and many of them are lying broken on the religious racetrack.

Religion hurts people. The old religion of rules and regulations ministers condemnation and death. Hopefully you know this.

But did you know that religion can also make you stupid?

But their minds were made dull… Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:14-15)

The word for dull in this passage means a kind of stone. Live by the ministry carved on tablets of rock, and you’ll end up with rocks in your head.

Rule-based religion will give you a dull mind and a veiled heart.

I see proof of this every day in my message box. Consider this question I was recently asked:

Paul, I have been told that divorce is a sin. I understand that it was not God’s will for me to leave my first wife. Should I leave my current wife and our three kids and try and reconcile?

So let me get this straight. You think divorce is a sin and the solution is to do it again?

It’s a dumb question, but I would never mock the person who asked it. In fact, I rejoice that they brought their question to me and not to some rock-headed law-preacher. (If you’re wondering, I told the person to stay married.)

We all make mistakes and I’m all for taking responsibility and cleaning up our messes. But, and I say this with love, you’re as dumb as Adam if you think you are the remedy to your sin.

The bad news is your sin is too great for you to handle. The good news is that Jesus is greater than your sin.

Here’s another example of religious stupidity: “God raised up ISIS to accomplish his purposes.”

A certain church has been teaching this and I’m glad most of you aren’t buying it. But some people are, and that’s sad. Some people are saying the same thing about Covid.

God is good; ISIS and Covid are bad. They have nothing in common.

And don’t fall for that religious chestnut that says God “allows” ISIS in his sovereignty. Religion says God is in control and therefore he bears some responsibility for everything that happens, but that’s not what the Bible says.

God is good and everything he does and everything he gives is good. I know that’s a tricky piece of theology but it’s worth remembering.

Religion makes us look stupid to outsiders. When unbelievers hear us debating these things they shake their heads in disbelief. Then when they visit our churches we say “Thanks for coming, but don’t touch our crackers and grape juice.” More stupidity.

How to respond to religious stupidity

There are two ways to respond to religious stupidity. First, we should call it out, as I’m doing here and as Paul did in his letter to the Galatians:

You stupid Galatians! … How can you be so stupid? Do you think that by yourself you can complete what God’s Spirit started in you? (Galatians 3:1,3, CEV)

Sheesh, Paul, tell us what you really think.

“Let your conversation be full of grace,” said the one who called the Galatians stupid. We who walk in grace are sometimes nicer than Jesus, but it’s healthy to laugh at religious stupidity. Some have even suggested that laughter is a fitting response to ISIS.

The One who sits enthroned in heaven laughs at his enemies and religious stupidity is his enemy and your enemy.

Many is the time I’ve laughed at something stupid I once believed in. Such laughter is liberating. (If you’re open to it, I encourage you to share your former religious views below so we can all enjoy a good laugh.)

The second way to respond to religious stupidity is to preach Jesus and nothing but Jesus.

Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. (Galatians 3:1)

Religion is stupid because it says it’s all about you and what you need to do. The cure for such stupidity is to hear about Christ and what he has done.

Religion says you’ll be wise if you worship the rules, but the gospel declares that Jesus is our wisdom from God.

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? … But we preach Christ crucified: (1 Corinthians 1:20-23)

How Jesus makes us wise

The world is not impressed by a stupid manmade institution, but a church that displays the manifold wisdom of God shines like a city on a hill.

We all need wisdom. Every day I hear from people asking for wisdom in their marriages, workplaces, and churches.

“What should I do?”

What you should do is ask God for wisdom. “But I haven’t been to church, I haven’t tithed, I haven’t been a good person.”

So you think God only helps good people? You don’t believe in grace? Do you have rocks in your head? Renew your dull and unbelieving mind.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)

Religion will give you a lecture, but God will give you wisdom. Religion will make you pay, but God gives freely.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians 1:17)

Wisdom and knowing Jesus go together. Whatever your situation, make it your ambition to know the Lord. “Jesus, what do you think about this?”

The Lord longs to be gracious to you… Blessed are all who wait for him! … Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:18,21)

Know Jesus, know wisdom. When you know Jesus in your situation, you will know the way to go.

Grace, peace and wisdom be yours in abundance.