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An essay donated by Susan Humphreys

Who & what is killing religion?
Is it outside forces, or an inside job?

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Religious conservatives might say it is the scientists, historians and intellectuals that have killed (or are killing) religion. I think that religion has sown the seeds of its own demise by creating in man that which it originally set out to do away with.

What is "that which it originally set out to do away with"? I think the key to answering this question is to understand the first purpose of religion. One purpose is helping the individual connect with God or the sacred. That is an individual purpose. Here I am addressing the communal, social purpose.

In the beginning, man set out to explain the unexplainable, make sense of the unsensible, (storms and earthquakes, why good things and bad things happen), to provide man with an understanding of his place and purpose in the world and what he needed to do to survive. Peter L. Berger offers a good explanation in his book "The Sacred Canopy, Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion." 1 On page 19 he writes:

"A meaningful order, or nomos, is imposed upon the discrete experiences and meanings of individuals."

This is the first purpose of religion, to bring order/law/custom (nomos) out of chaos. In earlier essays, I Identified four purposes, the first three fit under this canopy of nomos. I defined them as explaining how the world works, providing rules to govern behavior and providing a community for people to belong to.

Genesis explains how the world began and confirms mans place in it. Religion sowed the seeds of its own demise when the religious explanation of the world (nomos) no longer agreed with the reality of the world and religious conservatives were unable or refused to make changes, to adapt to man’s new knowledge and understanding. In a sense the conservative theologians are right. The scientist and historian did help bring about the demise of religion but only because conservative religious leaders refused to adapt to the new information and reality that the scientist and historian uncovered.

Explaining the origins of the universe and humanity is only one task for the nomos. A second task is to define, establish, maintain and justify the social order. On page 59 Berger says:

"Put simply, theodicies provide the poor with a meaning for their poverty, but may also provide the rich with a meaning for their wealth. In both cases, the result is one of world-maintenance and, very concretely, of the maintenance of the particular institutional order."

A Theodicy is a vindication/explanation of divine justice in allowing evil or injustice. It answers the question "How can God permit…? "The Shack" 2 by Wm. Paul Young is a recent and popular book that tries to answer the question. A Theodicy also defines, establishes, maintains and justifies the social order. The social order isn’t always beneficial to the people, it is all too often designed to benefit the few, the select. In some cases, it is downright evil in nature and outcome.

Conservative religious opinions on homosexuality do this. So do opinions about what is probably the main religious conflict at the present time: marriage equality. They define what is socially acceptable and what isn’t for the group and they select the passages in the Bible that support their position, while ignoring passages that tell them their position is wrong. They REALLY get upset when science and the moral position (nomus) of others tells them they are wrong. Read the argument from Dr. Phil on this web site to see how it works.

A religion’s nomus also defines the role of men and women, of priests and Popes, provides rules for correct behavior in all areas of life and rules for punishing wrong doers (read Leviticus). Religions sow the seeds of their own demise when their "nomos" is at odds with a changing and progressing world.

Religions frequently take advantage of mans fears and weaknesses. Salvation doctrines have been devised to keep men in line by taking advantage of their fear of death. But which doctrine do you follow: salvation by faith alone, by good works alone, by a combination of faith and good works? All of these options can be found in the Bible. Religions sow the seeds of their demise when their own scriptures contradict each other creating more confusion/chaos and more problems than they solve. You can find many contradictions within the Bible itself, read Genesis 1 and 2, both can’t be true, or you can google "Bible errors" or "inerrancy" or read essays on this web site..

Religious leaders have used fear to demonize the other (those that don’t believe what we believe): they are a threat to the morals of society, they want to kill our God. Each tries to prove the TRUTH and superiority of his/her nomos/doctrine while disproving and denouncing the others in an attempt to establish their power and supremacy. The problem with using fear as a tool to control man is that it often backfires. It emasculates humans keeping them weak, powerless, subservient and unable to help themselves when the demands of the real world call for action. Fear also sets denominations, preachers and religions against each other resulting in the unholy holy wars which we now find ourselves in the midst of at home and abroad. Religions sow the seeds of their own demise when they sow fear.

Kathy LaPan, writing on this web site, states that Christianity is the Only True Religion, implying that all others are based on lies. She claims that to tolerate other religions would be to admit that her religion is wrong. Another woman wrote a Letter to the Editor of my hometown paper where she said that she had heard that we should tolerate other religions but she doesn’t think that is right. I have met the woman and she looks like the grandmother in a Norman Rockwell painting. Looks can be deceiving. Religions sow the seeds of their own demise with these teachings. If you aren’t willing to show respect or tolerance towards others why should they show respect or tolerance towards you? That is the basic premise behind the Golden Rule a concept that was first developed by those early Pagan Greeks and has been expressed in some form or another by many of the world’s religions as well as secular philosophies.

Religion can change and adapt as man’s knowledge about the world changes. Alternately, humans can do away with religion. Both have been tried. Unlike some Atheists I accept that religion can be a positive influence not just a negative influence on people. Some people benefit from the order and companionship that membership in a church provides.

There is also the problem that by doing away with religion altogether they often throw out everything, the good and the bad, the concepts of ethics and morality, as well as the outdated cosmic order. Man once again finds himself adrift, in a state of chaos with nothing but his own wits and ingenuity to guide him. The strong find their way and thrive (perhaps with the help of books, a good education, teacher/mentor or shear will power), but the weak struggle and in some situations give up and give in to their baser instincts.

If religion refuses to or can’t adapt, the man that clings to the old ways finds himself at odds with the rest of society that has moved on/advanced/progressed. The religion that once brought people consolation and comfort now brings discomfort and unease, a new state of chaos. The Christian fundamentalist that insists on a literal interpretation of the Bible and denies any errors or contradictions in its pages find him/her self in this position. It is no wonder they go to such lengths to deny scientific and historical discoveries that are at odds with their nomus/world view -- and why they create Creation museums.

Religion has another option, it can try to make man adapt, conform, or accept its world view. It has done this in many ways. Originally it denied most people access to an education and to the sacred texts. That didn’t work (and won’t work) for long. People have inquiring minds and some have a great deal of ingenuity and determination when it comes to surmounting obstacles put in their way.

In some places and times past, religion aligned itself with the political authority to become the state religion. There are many Christians in the US who would like to see this happen here. Yet they are horrified at the thought of some other religion becoming the state religion. It’s okay for them to force their religion/beliefs on others but not for others to force their religion/belief on them? You can force people to obey laws but you can’t force people to believe any more than you can force people to not believe.

Another way that religion has worked to make man adapt, conform to the party line, is to alienate man from his self. This can be seen in a quote from Berger’s book: p. 56:

"I am nothing -- He is everything -- and therein lies my ultimate bliss."

In p. 74, he writes:

"the masochistic solution par excellence to the problem of theodicy -- submission to the totally other, who can be neither questioned nor challenged, and who, by his very nature, is sovereignly above any human ethical and generally nomic standards."

The problem being that it is the Priest and Minister you are submitting to, the self-proclaimed representative of God on earth, the only one capable (sanctified) of interpreting Gods word for the ignorant masses.

Daniel Pals in his book, "Introducing Religion, Readings from the Classic Theorists." quotes a passage from E. Evans-Pritchard"

"E Durkheim ….had an insight into a psychological fundamental of religion: the elimination of the self, the denial of individuality, its having no meaning, or even existence, save as part of something greater, and other, than the self." p. 333.

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I have a friend who is a member of AA. In one of his moments of despair he wrote me a letter in which he said that "the sole purpose of his life was to glorify God". I thought how sad. He had much more to live for, a greater purpose than glorifying God. In all truth a God that needed to be glorified wouldn’t be worth glorifying, in my humble opinion. In thinking about his problems and one of the problems with AA (and other addiction treatment programs, why there is so much recidivism) I realized that AA just swapped out one dependency for another. The person was nothing, hopeless and powerless without the help and intervention of a higher power and the friends at AA. It didn’t teach folks they had the power within them to overcome their addiction, to be strong self-sufficient, independent, enfranchised, beings.

The whole doctrine of "original sin" was designed to keep man in his place, humble, subservient, submissive, powerless, weak and worthless. We know from psychological studies that humans if told often enough come to believe what they are told and think and act accordingly. Imagine what a doctrine of "original goodness" might have produced: humans strong in character, self-assured, compassionate, and independent (with no need for priest or church).

Religion sows the seeds of its own demise with its doctrines and dogmas designed to keep people humble and compliant while elevating the sanctity, power and position of their own clergy. One good example is the problem with the sex scandals in the Catholic Church. The doctrines regarding a man’s "elevation" to the priesthood, imply that the man undergoes a fundamental change in his character, becomes sin free. Unfortunately, for far too many, there were never any fundamental changes in the man’s character proving the whole doctrine was wrong.

Because of our fears and survival instincts, humans have tried to make sense of the unsensible, to bring order out of chaos, to find meaning and purpose in our lives. Each of the world’s great religions created a cosmic order, a nomus (rules, laws, customs, practices, explanations) that fit the needs of its people. In some form or another each has tried to teach the individual to annihilate the self as the means to maintain the social order and as a means to find the connection to God, or salvation, unity with the Tao, Nirvana, or whatever it is they see as mans purpose and/or final destination.

What they have succeeded in doing is creating a condition of Anomie. Such a wonderful word from it we get anonymous -- without identity. It means: without law, without purpose, disenfranchised, total submission, subjugation. When man loses touch with, respect for, and annihilates his self he also loses touch with, respect for and is all too willing to annihilate others. Mans basic survival instinct is at odds with this command to give up and give in, to do away with self in order to please or be near God, to be saved. Religion creates the chaos (loss of nomus) in man that it set out to eliminate in the first place.

There are two ways to deal with this unfortunate situation. One is to abandon religion all together which many men have done. Another way can be found by bringing the nomus into balance with the reality of the world or in my thought setting it straight. Humans don’t need to give up, negate their self they need to learn how to rise above their self, to broaden their self to encompass more than just their self, or as I like to put it more simply…

Humans need to learn how to turn their ME upside down. So their ME becomes WE.

When you find the connection that ties human to human, and ties all living things together, find God within you rather than seeing God as being outside of and totally separate from you. You aren’t annihilating yourself, You are becoming bigger/expanding/broadening your self, becoming one with all other things, and in that realization your personal sense is heightened not lost; you are enfranchised not disenfranchised; your sense of anomie disappears; you are a part of reality not in opposition to it; and you certainly aren’t alone when you see that all of the past, the future and the present as a part of you.

This is exactly what the second purpose of religion was for, to help men find a connection to God or the sacred, the Tao, Nirvana. That purpose appears to have been lost in the doctrines and dogmas, laws and traditions, of the first purpose -- the nomos, that was designed to help men find their way out of chaos but ended up creating it.

In my humble opinion if religion wants to survive and become a viable and positive force for this new century; if it wants to help society finds its way out of the mess we are in, it can do so. But it can only do so if it is able to evolve and grow and figure out how to help people turn their ME upside down to find the WE.

Some may try to insist that it isn’t religion that "has gone bad" it is humans that refuse to believe or refuse to behave as the Bible tells them to or who simply perversely choose to defy God. If that is the way they chose to see the problem they must ask themselves "why"" Why do humans refuse to believe, or refuse to behave as the Bible tells them to or why do they perversely choose to defy God? If religion was working the way it should work, then humans would see the "light" and fall in line, wouldn’t they?

Some insist that it is the removal of religion from the schools that has caused society to fail. I like to point out that churches have never been denied the right to teach their values and moral concepts in their churches. If 78.4 % of Americans claim to have a Christian affiliation why is there so much crime in our streets? Why are there so many in prison? Why is there so much drug and alcohol abuse, so much bullying in public schools, so much…… Again it comes back to where did religion go wrong? Why hasn’t religion had a stronger more positive influence?

Some insist that people have been lead astray and follow false gods, hold false beliefs. If they would only follow "my beliefs", become born again, pledge their life to Christ.... I know the real TRUTH. If they would listen to me, they would realize that all other beliefs are lies. They will pull out their Bibles and quote scripture to prove their TRUTH. I can pull out my Bible and quote a passage that counteracts their passage. If there is only one TRUTH why is there so much disagreement over what it is? Why are there so many different religions, denominations, sects, affiliated and non-affiliated church groups? Why are there so many different and contradictory translations of the Bible? Which Bible is the real inerrant word of God: The King James, the New King James, Jerusalem, Revised Standard, New International, Contemporary English, Inclusive New Testament, Oxford Annotated……?

Some insist that people just don’t have FAITH like they used to. They ask too many questions. Have too many doubts. They are just to accept what they are told is TRUTH, and that’s that.

Religions have sown the seeds of their own demise by failing to accept the reality that humans are curious and inquisitive by nature. Doubting is built into our DNA, so to speak. It is a survival strategy that has evolved to keep us safe, hard wired into the very core of who we are.

This web site has a good discussion on this issue of doubts and security. One thought I had from that discussion is that the problems arise because people are told NOT to have doubts. They are told that doubts are harmful, their doubts will send them straight to Hell. BUT they can’t help but have doubts.

Religious leaders, Popes and Priests, Ministers and Mullahs, really don’t like their "flocks" to ask questions, it undermines their power and authority. Especially when those questions are ones they have been too afraid to ask themselves and ones they have no answers for.

People need to understand that having doubts is normal and necessary for their growth and development as human beings. AND they need to learn the tools that are required to deal with their doubts. They need to learn how to search for answers, how to do simple research, where to find answers, how to use basic logic and reasoning to solve conflicts. I wonder if the reports of insecurity, health problems, from doubters arise simply because of the guilt feelings they have about having doubts and the reality they have never learned how to deal with their doubts.

Some insist that it is the intellectuals, scientists and historians (the liberals) anyone but themselves, have killed religion with their lies. Personally I think it is religion that has shot itself in the foot. Religion is responsible for its own demise by creating in man, "that which it originally set out to do away with". The condition of Anomie.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. book cover image Peter L. Berger, "The Sacred Canopy, Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion," Anchor, (1990). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. book cover image William Paul Young, "The Shack," Windblown Media, (2011). Read reviews or order this book
  3. book cover image Daniel L. Pals, "Introducing Religion, Readings from the Classic Theorists, (2008). Read reviews or order this book

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Originally posted: 2013-APR-05
Latest update: 2013-APR-05
Author: Susan Humphreys

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