Religion can mess up your life. Now, there are a lot of people who say they 'got religion' and it helped them. But I'm not talking about people who reform their habits when presented with a choice of 'change or die,' nor about people who appear to learn (usually late in life) that it's better to be nice to others than to be greedy and nasty.
Because when I'm speaking of religion, I'm speaking of a man-made set of beliefs that defines what a group of people are told they have to believe and live by -- a method we humans invent to claw our way up to God and jackhammer our way into his house, rather than walking through the open front door. I use a somewhat sarcastic description of that concept to try to drive home the point that it's a human-devised method, not the one God designed in the first place.
Religion has been the cause of a lot of evil in this world. The Crusades, for instance. The Inquisition, for another. The Islamic conquest of North Africa and parts of Europe during the 6th and 7th centuries AD, for another. Anybody remember Northern Ireland being torn apart by religious rivalry? And it all goes on today. That's religion for you. A set of rules to determine who's in and who's out. And the 'out' guys usually get slaughtered.
It goes from the macro level to the micro level. Some churches teach that you can't use dice to play Monopoly (and some don't play that nasty, selfish game of acquisition at all!) because dice are used for gambling. They use a spinner on a card to point to a number that tells you how far ahead to move your game icon. (Don't tell them what other people use spinners for, or icons either, for that matter.) Then there are movies, dancing, and microwave ovens. I'm serious.
Dear friends, God never designed any of that as our relationship with him. He created us to be relational, like he is (Genesis 1:26) and called us to be in his family even before he made us (Ephesians 1:3-8). He sent his Son into the world to reclaim the world (Eph 1:5 again) and did it not because we were good enough to be his kids, but precisely because we weren't good enough nor ever could be (Romans 5:6-11).
Yes, he has told us some ways we should love him, and various ways we should treat one another. But they all get back to two real rules: Love God with all you are; and love other people like God has already loved us. When those two rules seem to conflict -- like thinking you should kill someone else because you love God -- it's time to think through the problem again and see if there's a different solution, because I'm pretty sure you could find one!
May you live in peace and joy today and every day, through the love of God.