"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." (James 1:27)
The letter kills
Religion is blamed for so many things. And rightfully so when you see that the very root of its word means, from its Indo-European origin, "to bind". The legalities of religious practice and expression, bereft of the presence of God, are dry and boring, pointless and ultimately detrimental to the spiritual life of those inclined to practition. It's then so convenient to point a finger at the Body of Christ and level the accusing words of "fraud" and "hypocrite" at them. Without knowing the God they represent. Jesus speaks of the Pharisees:
"All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind burdens and grievous to be born, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers." (Matthew 23:3-4)
I can't think right now of a truer expression of false religion than the above. And it's one thing to oppress an individual through the aforementioned means of legalistic rulekeeping. It's quite another to go forth and conquer and acquire territory under the banner of one's rules and regulations. Much fruitless debate springs from rewinding the argument back to a governmental construct placed over the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And before I go any further, if one doesn't believe in God, "religion" is the gestalt that is seen, rather than the face of Jesus.
Unto whom do I owe?
Jesus said "The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do". He then talks of the motive for which these things are done--the spirit, so to speak. At the risk of repeating myself, He says "but do ye not after their works." In other words, do it for yourself, between you and God. This is Who your religion is aimed at and Whom "religion" flows unto. And when James says "visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction", he's talking about representing God to them. Going one further, "keeping [oneself] unspotted from the world" means staying true to Jesus in the face of a world that would sully your religion (read: testimony) and make a mockery of any tradition handed down from God.
Here's the best way I know to look at religion in this day and age: "...for ye serve the Lord Christ." (Colossians 3:24b)