Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Disorganized Religion

This week Elton John said the world would be better off without organized religion. I'm involved in organized religion, but I think Elton has a good point. The world might be better off if everyone practiced "disorganized religion".

Generally speaking, religion is about defining the relationship between us humans and God. Over the last few millennia we humans have developed a few major organized religions that, in total, have produced some millions of pages that attempt to define the relationship between the two (or more) parties, and their respective rights and responsibilities. God, however, has not seen fit to conclusively ratify any of these organizations or their literary output, despite the protests of the faithful to the contrary. This lack of clarity has caused a lot of problems, but God seems determined not to get involved in resolving them directly.

In the absence of clarity and direct involvement from God, we as a race seem determined to make all kinds of assumptions about the divine relationship and the rules for our own behavior. With the best of intentions, our religons begin with generalities that often seem fairly similar: for example, God wants us to recognize God's being and God's superiority in the nature of things, and God expects us to assist in the execution of God's good plan for creation. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details.

For Elton John, the painful detail is religion's penchant to reject those who practice homosexuality. For the unfortunate Sunni or Shiite in Iraq, the painful detail has something to do with whichever Imam should have been Mohammad's successor. For the dead bystander in Belfast, it is something about a Pope. For many Mormons who fled in terror to Utah, it is about whether or not one wife is the limit. Organized religions have a way of making rules that result in groups of people being rejected, killed, or chased to remote locations. Each sect seems a lot more focused on enforcing their version of the details than on improving their own relationship with the rather elusive deity.

I just happen to be a United Presbyterian, one of several "Presbyterian" churches that fall under the general category of "reformed" Christians, i.e., those who have returned to the true Christianity that was ruined by the Roman Catholics (who have also since "reformed"). All of us Christians, of course, are different from the many flavors of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, et cetera. Even God must have some difficulty keeping all this differentiation straight! (I wonder how God is feeling about the potential split of United Presbyterians, again over differing versions of the details?)

So, today I'm calling for religion to get disorganized. If it's too difficult to just put aside the details, perhaps we humans need to minimize the organizations that put muscle behind enforcing them. Tax religious real estate like private property! Criminalize hate speech from the pulpits! Eliminate special tax breaks for clergy! Enforce religious neutrality in the public sector! I have a feeling we United Presbyterians would do just fine if we downsized enough that the details got a lot less attention, and so would all the rest of God's militant minions. Amen.


1138 said...

Tax religious real estate like private property!
Criminalize hate speech from the pulpits!
Eliminate special tax breaks for clergy!
Enforce religious neutrality in the public sector!


Organized religion is about exclusion, not inclusion - there's something awfully Un Godly about that.

Thomas LB said...

When I took chemistry in college, I remember the professor telling us, "There's really no such thing as protons, neutrons, and electrons, but the truth is unbearably complicated, so this is a model we use."

That's sort of the way I feel about different religions. It's just different models to represent the same reality.

Ron said...

Perfect! Disorganized religion indeed.

It is fascinating how difficult it is for a person to attempt anything that even approximates spiritual transcendence much less figure out how to communicate that to others much less enforce that on others.