Three Taverns Church

Religious Rigidity, Part 1: God-In-A-Box


“We must remember that (religious) rigidity is not primarily motivated by the desire to control other people; rather, it is primarily motivated by the desire to control God, for the fear that so profoundly constellates religious rigidity is the fear of God.” Michael Dwinell, Fire Bearer

For many years I assumed that religious rigidity was primarily motivated by the desire to control people. It certainly seemed that the most religiously rigid among us (atheists, fundamentalists, literalists, etc.) were attempting to control the thoughts and behaviors of those around them. However, while religious rigidity may be used to control other people, I believe Dwinell is correct when he says that the primary desire of such people is to control God.

God is a frightening prospect; He cannot be grasped or defined by thought, word, or feeling. Despite the best efforts of the brightest people over the course of thousands of years, we still do not have a complete grasp of Who God Is. I believe the story of God as revealed in the Holy Bible is an impossibly complex story of grey areas, and though we have some good leads regarding Who this God Person Is, the story of Scripture is often conflicting and confusing, and always incomplete.

The religiously rigid among us cannot stand this conflict and confusion; they cannot live with a God who is not fully known or who permits grey areas. Such people take the vast God of the universe and turn him into God-In-A-Box. They craft carefully devised walls to put around God using dogma and doctrine, and any threat to these walls is met with swift and strong resistance. There is no room for questions in the mind of the religiously rigid because questions imply uncertainty, and uncertainty about God terrifies them. Because they cannot bear grey areas and undefined borders around God they work to change Him from a beautiful God of Wonders into a monochromatic God of Rules. For the religiously rigid God always behaves in predictable ways, His expectations of us are always clear, and there is no argument with their particular interpretation of God and His ways.

Let me use Rob Bell’s book Love Wins as an example. I have not read the book myself, but the response to the book in certain denominations was very negative; some people claimed it was almost heretical. According to one of my professors, however, this criticism was generally unfounded and was usually issued forth by those who failed to grasp what Mr. Bell was saying. I remember hearing some pastors discuss the book, and not only had they bought into the popular criticism that was apparently shallow and ignorant, but they would brook no discussion on the subject. My questions about the book and the author were met with a very strong and opinionated response: Mr. Bell had crossed a line, and that’s all there was to it. In their religious rigidity these pastors were not trying to control me or Mr. Bell, but they were trying to control God. The ideas put forth by Mr. Bell so threatened their God-In-A-Box that it shook the pastors to the core, and their rigid, brittle, fragile faith responded the only way it knew how: With angry, rigid rhetoric.

Do you agree that religious rigidity is motivated by the desire to control God? Can you give an example?

3 thoughts on “Religious Rigidity, Part 1: God-In-A-Box

  1. Yes and no. I think some people NEED religious rigidity to control themselves or they wouldn’t know what to do. They give themselves clear bounderies with regards to God. On the otherhand, I do think that people put God in a box and stick to it, because maybe if they don’t, their “God formula” won’t work. For example: If I give + sing at church + listen to the message= I am good with God. Or some variation of the equation.

  2. Pingback: Church Discipline: Series Introduction « rabidmongoose

  3. Only a very few people are open and mentally flexible as adults, so being religiously rigid is no surprise. It takes a great mature and flexible insightful mind to deal with all the ambiguities and complexities of God. This is way beyond what most people are capable of, so they need rules and inflexible ideas about God to live. This is just a limitation in their ability to reach the absolute truth of God which is available to only a very few in each generation. But this is not in itself a bad thing since everyone is not equal, yet everyone needs some way to reach a divine essence that they can live with.

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