What is the difference between real religion and Nazi zombies? It’s the difference between faith and an ideology. Here’s a clue: in The Imitation of Christ Thomas a Kempis wrote, “Why do you wish to change the world when you cannot change yourself?” An ideology tries to change the world. Real religion tries to change a person. Pope Francis has preached recently on the difference between real religion and ideologies…go here.

“An ideology tries to change the world (or create an isolated utopia) through a set of beliefs and a code of behavior. “If only everyone would only join our group, follow our code of action, our set of beliefs, our political or economic theories” says the ideologue, then the world would be a perfect place!”

Ideologies might be political, philosophical or economic. They might be ethnically or culturally linked, or they might be based in a religion. Some ideologies therefore, are masked by religion. The Boston bombers did not follow a religion. They followed an ideology. Every ideologue (to a greater or lesser extent) is wrapped up in an unhealthy psychology. It is the psychology exposed by M. Scott Peck’s classic book, The People of the Lie.

The People of the Lie are those types of people who are basically and fundamentally self righteous. They believe in their cause. They believe in their religion. They believe in their ideology 100%. That’s okay. The sickness comes in when they see their group, their belief and code of behavior as a way to change the world (or create a utopia) not as a way to change themselves. At that point the focus shifts away from themselves to others. They’re okay. Others become the problem. Others need to fall into line. Other people need to get with the program. Other people need to conform. Other people need to help create the perfect world the ideologues envision.

It gets worse. The ideologue soon attracts other people who share his vision. They form a group, and that group is the elite. You are either in or out. If you are out you are considered as the enemy. Having enemies is the best way to bolster the group’s coherence. Having an enemy bolsters the ideologue’s self righteousness. Having an enemy helps build fear in the group and loyalty to the leader. Using the image of the righteous crusade bolsters the ideologue and his group so they launch themselves and their self righteous campaign to change the world.

The mentality of the ideologue is also the mentality of the cult leader. Go here for my analysis of cults written last week.

In the end ideologies create hoardes of Nazi zombies. To quote Indiana Jones, “Nazis! I hate those guys.”

Real religion is something else completely. What is real religion? St James gives a clue: “Real religion is to visit the widow and the fatherless.” In other words, real religion is not concerned about changing the world it is concerned about people–people and God. Real religion is first of all a faith-filled, free and loving transaction between an individual and God for the transformation of that person and the salvation of their soul.  The person is then involved not only in loving God, but loving other people. Real religion is also, therefore a freely chosen, faith-filled loving relationship between persons. Real religion will, as a consequence, change the world–but this is the most important point–it didn’t set out to change the world or create a utopia as its first priority.

Therefore, beware of any religion that has as its main priority some sort of social agenda. It’s a false religion. Beware any preacher, pastor principal or priest who sets before you some great agenda to change the world, to bring about social justice, to create the perfect parish or the perfect religious community or the perfect school.

However, you can trust and work with a pastor, preacher, priest or principal who simply wants to serve and love God and love and serve other people.

Remember, “the first commandment is this: Love the Lord your God with all your soul, heart, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Do this and you will change yourself. Do this and you will change your community. Do this and you will change the world.

Don’t do this and you will mess up everything…and you might end up as a Nazi zombie.