“Organised religion – do we really need it?” — A Response

four women looking down

My friend, Travellin’ Bob, wrote an article, 27 March 2024, on his blog entitled: Organised religion — do we really need it?  Though many folks might be tempted to answer yes or no just as a reactionary response based on their present personal relationship with faith, I believe the question deserves a more contemplative and careful answer.  It’s a wonderful article Bob has written, and I hope you will find the opportunity to read it.

But rather than take a formal and academic path to this question (by offering a sort of literary analysis of Bob’s article), I will leave you to read his article for yourself, and I will, instead,  attempt to answer the question directly.  But first, I should offer you some backstory on my own history with organized religion so you can judge better the merits of my response.

I was “born in the church” as folks in the Protestant Pentecostal denomination of Christianity would say—the brand of faith with which I grew up.  I grew up in church and, for all of my childhood and much of my adulthood, was the son of a Pentecostal pastor of a small but growing congregation during the 1960s and into the early 1990s before my crisis of faith happened.  I was also, for a number of years, the Assistant Pastor with my father of this same church which by that time had built a new sanctuary complex and then served a congregation of about 500 souls.

I would characterize “Pentecostalism” as the fringe of the evangelical Christian sects.  To put it another way, we were more demonstrative, more dogmatic, more separatist, and more mystical in our theology than most other evangelical Christians.  (I once heard that some Baptists believed we were possessed with demons—smile)  But we believed in healing by the laying on of hands, speaking in other tongues (or unknown languages) as a form of prayer, words of prophesy directly from God to individuals in the congregation, and the casting out of demons (exorcism) through the group prayer of elders, again, by encircling the vexed individual and laying hands on him or her in prayer (with their permission, of course).  This isn’t an exhaustive list of the articles of the Pentecostal faith, by any means.  In general, the Pentecostal church offered an open hand and fellowship to those who found themselves in the most dire circumstances of life.  As a result, many drug addicts, people with alcohol dependences, those with family or marriage crises, individuals with serious health issues, and simply people on the fringe of society itself, found refuge, acceptance, healing, and a place to belong in the Pentecostal church.  Needless to say, I experienced many extraordinary things during my life at church.

So now, allow me to return to the question:  Organized religion: do we really need it?  First, I will address the physical institution of Church, and, from here forward, refer to the type of Christian churches I know and are familiar with instead of all places of worship.

If I use my imagination and try to picture the United States without churches or other places of worship, I believe I would see a less beautiful landscape.  Why?  Because churches represent more than stations for theological training and moral teaching.  They also represent community and family and the celebration of significant rites of passage, such as the births of children, the marriages of lovers, and the final departures of loved ones.  They offer the safe and friendly surroundings (even more than schools) where youngsters can nervously present their first musical performances in choirs or alone or on piano or with guitar and be celebrated by people who are not strictly family but who are just as enthusiastic about their imperfect performances.

My guess is that most adults who attend church (or many of them, at least) forget the pastor’s or priest’s homely as soon as they leave the building (perhaps before).  They do so because they do not really attend church for spiritual guidance or moral exhortation; they more likely attend for inspirational and social reasons.  They forget the sermon because they already know what they believe and why, and have a solid understanding of what they should or should not do, and what they’re obligations are towards family and community.  If they are youth, in their teen years, they might still seek some of the information found in sermons, but mainly for guidance on how to act appropriately within the group, how to correctly use the jargon of their particular church, and how to be accepted in the larger social environment of the congregation or “church family”.  I’ve known several people who were not raised in church, were not taught Bible verses, did not learn the biblical stories, and they all say the same thing to me:  I wish I had grown up in church like you.  They also seem to identify a healthy, functional family life with church attendance, whether or not a correlation exists.

But there is more to this question than what I’ve said so far.  So I think I shall leave it here for now and take up this topic again later, in another blog, soon.  In the meantime, add your comments below to this discussion and read Bob’s original post.  Until next time, I wish you a wonderful Easter.

Join the Conversation

  1. Hi, Dale. Thank you for kind words and recommendations of my piece, it’s much appreciated.

    I found your response very interesting. I’d heard of the Pentecostal Curch (as most movie goers probably have) but knew nothing of what it means or how it works – so thanks for filling in that gap in my knowledge. I think the whole essay also brought into sharp relief a key difference between the US and my home country, the UK, in how people generally view religion. Which is to say it’s all taken much more seriously in the US, no matter what Faith is under discussion. The numbers of people regularly attending Church were already in a fairly steep decline before I came along, and that trend has continued all my life – with the exception of Eastern faiths like Islam, Hinduism and so forth – since Britain has taken in millions of Indian and Middle Eastern refugees over these years, and of course their churches have come with them. It all has left what could be called an unbalanced population – and not only in religious terms. I saw a report a few years ago that showed there were more people working in Indian restaurants in Britain than the coal, steel and shipbuilding industries combined. Considering my country became a global empire and world power largely on the back of those heavy industries I found that very sad. But that is whole other topic to address another time!

    But it shows that you and I, Dale, have had very different experiences with our religious upbringing, and that has coloured our views to this day. I remain a religious sceptic (though not atheist: closer to agnostic) while you retain your Christian convictions – which is of course great. We are each on a path that suits us.

    I look forward to your follow up! Have a Happy Easter, and not too many chocolates!

    1. Yes, I’m sure we did have quite different experiences with organized religion growing up and it has affected us differently. I’m not a church-goer at this time and have not been for many years now, but I do call myself “Christian” though my theology, I’m certain, does not line up with any Christian church organization I know. But neither did Jesus’s theology line up with the religion of his birth, either. So in that respect I have some confidence. I guess, in my case, it’s a matter of not wanting to throw out the baby with the bathwater. When I see children sing like birds “Kirie Eleison” I know there must be a God. And I’m so amazed by the world around me every day that I’m convinced that a mystery exists so much bigger than me. It is this Mystery that I call God. And when I write, I know I’m being helped. Where does this help come from? I think it must be some helper sent by God. I don’t think God believes in wars; it’s men who believe in them. Though I’ve had a falling away from organized religion, I have not shut my eyes to the miraculous.

      Thank you, Bob, for your poignant article and the comment above; I truly appreciate your honesty and thoughtfulness. Both are rare to find these days. May God bless you, and I hope you too had a very Happy Easter. (I ate too many jelly beans, btw—hehehehe. They’re my weakness.) I hope to write a follow up article pretty soon. This has been great, Bob! Again, thank you.

    1. Thank you, Lopamudra, Kathy and I had a very nice day. I cooked supper featuring a turkey and carrot braise with lots of mashed potatoes to go with it, and Kathy baked cupcakes with chocolate frosting (not Easter traditions for your typical American household but we make our own traditions, Kathy and I do 🙂 ). We read the resurrection of Christ story in the Bible and watched a movie portraying the life of Jesus but didn’t attend any church services. It was a quiet and beautiful day, all around, and thank you for asking. I hope your day was very good too.