When people express their distaste or even disdain for religion what they often are reacting against is the kind of religion described by Jesus in Mark 12.
Surface Level Religion
The teachers of the law were known as deeply religious men who held positions of religious authority. Yet, their ministry was characterized by abuse of power and hypocrisy. Like many of us, they were more concerned with the outward appearance of their religious practice than the inner condition of their heart. They were more preoccupied with garnering the approval of their fellow man than seeking favour with Yahweh their God. Jesus disrobes their religious showiness and exposes it for what it is, reminding his disciples that this is a deep sin deserving of severe punishment.
Not Even An Ounce
When religion is criticized it is often the showy, double-minded religion the Pharisees and their ilk practiced. People will more easily forgive an evil man who owns up to his evilness, than an evil man who masquerades as a righteous man. When we claim the name of Christian there is the inherent danger that we will be misunderstood as claiming some kind of self-righteousness or moral high-ground. To a certain extent, this is unavoidable, but we make matters infinity worse when we give even an ounce of validity to their misunderstanding.
When we use our religion to push others down and lift ourselves up we are following in the footsteps of the Pharisees, not the foot-washing, cross-bearing Jesus we encounter in the gospels. And if that is the case we are well deserving of Jesus’ rebuke.
The kind of religion that Jesus teaches is dirt-under-the-fingernails religion. It is humble servanthood in the muddy trenches of life. It is offering the place of prominence to the poor and choosing to take the seat of obscurity for yourself. This is not to say it is weak or miserable, for there is indeed much wielding of gospel-power and much rejoicing and blessing. But what it does mean is made clear for us from the life and ministry of Jesus himself–who calls us to come and follow him. And when our religion looks less like the Pharisees and more like Jesus, it will be far more difficult for others to criticize.