I was thinking about my dislike of religion (as opposed to faith which I think is honest and right) and I think the best way to explain it is to demonstrate with football (the word football works fine, no matter if you’re in the UK or the USA, you’re just imagining different shaped balls).
Some people are fans of a particular football team, either their home town, or college, or a well known team, or some team that has good colours, or just someone they fell into following and kept up with. Personally, I’m a New York Giants fan, no good reason, I just am.
Fans of a team share a common faith in that team. They share a common understanding, goal and experience. They turn up weekly or daily or however often or they watch from home, and they hope their team wins. The know the names of some of the players, maybe all of them. They can talk to people they’ve never met about their shared passion and there is a connection. And yet, that passion is expressed in different ways. Some people turn up dressed as a player, some paint their faces, some cut their hair, some turn up with the family in regular clothes and eat hot dogs, some watch from home, some are forced to listen on the radio and others get to hear about it 4th hand, but keep up to date anyway.
They all share that support and that common understanding, but expression is varied. However, within that group of fans there may be factions who all show their support in a certain way, and they feel more companionship and belonging because of it. They all cut their hair, they all wear the shirt, they all bring the same flag. That’s fine, they have found a more specific area of fanship and they take part.
It’s only a problem when those fans begin to look down on non-participating members. To impose their form of fanship. When you’re frowned upon for not quite being as much of a fan, or because you missed a game, or because you didn’t wear this years shirt, you’re wearing last years. You still share the same belief, but somehow your belief isn’t strong enough. Maybe certain fans believe a particular player is bad for the team where-as you’re personally not that worried by them, bad players come and go and the team will survive. But the angry fans force them out, put pressure on everyone to make sure they can’t play.
There’s the line between faith and religion. Faith is belief which can be held by many people in subtly different forms, but religion takes that belief and creates rules around it. You must believe in a certain way, you must dress to football matches in a certain way, you must not allow these people to continue practicing their beliefs because they don’t match our own, you must stop coming to the match with your friend because he’s really a Man City fan and is just here for the burgers.
For the most part, football fans resist being pressured into conforming, they worship their football teams in their own way, are encouraged to do so.
And yet religions appear to me, to spend all of their time imposing how people should practice their faith, the very existence of religion is about control and management of belief.