“Organized Religion—Do We Really Need It?” – A Followup Response

empty church bench

Organized Religion—Do We Really Need It?

A Followup Response (read Travellin’ Bob’s original article)


To decide if an institution is worthy of existence, I suppose the first thing to establish is What is its function in society? and the second logical consideration to follow would be Is it performing the function for which it was created?  So really, what is the function of organized religion?

Here, I’d like to bring the abstract term “organized religion” a little closer to our personal lives and make it more concrete and practical by calling it “the church”.  None of us attend an organized religion (at least we don’t think of it in that terminology) instead, we attend church, so let us call it church.

What is the function of church?  As mentioned in my previous article on this topic, people attend church for a variety of reasons, not all of which are spiritual, of course.  But in my view, the primary reason why any of us attend church is to, in some way, connect with God.  And if I am not able to attend church and, in doing so, connect with the Divine in a meaningful way, does that mean church should be abolished?  Certainly not!  Why?  Because there are, of course, other folks who do connect with God in meaningful ways when they attend church and should be allowed to do so, wouldn’t you agree?

But Bob’s article made the point that church ( or organized religion) has been the source of war for thousands of years; has been the justification for ethnic cleansing and genocide, not to mention terrorism; has spawned brutal and oppressive laws and law enforcement institutions, including torture; and has legitimized and provided moral and political cover for tyrannical governments.  All of this and more is true.

My argument to this is that Church (in the broad sense) has often operated where it should not have been in the first place, and that is in politics.  Wherever Church becomes the State (monarchs and emperors are particularly salient examples where monarchs are anointed by God to rule and emperors actually “become” gods themselves) to govern populations, there we usually see trouble and abuses of power.  Notice, I’m not being entirely inclusive in this statement because there may have been (or may be) cases in which the people themselves choose a theocracy under which to live.  But when government of any form decides that it has the God given authority to make and enforce whatever policies it chooses, then there’s a good chance, we will see the types of abuses of power connected with organized religion that Bob has cited and I have mentioned above.

Bottom line?  In my opinion, no church (or religious entity) should operate as a government.  And the severe abuses of power, on the world stage, have happened when powerful religious institutions have turned into governments.  And they have operated against their political or religious rivals with brutal impunity because (they claim) they are enforcing, not their own will and law, but that of the Almighty.  This is why they are so dangerous; they become the very arm of God himself.

But always, their perception of God is wrong.  To them, he is a God of unlimited power (which they interpret as force) and severe judgement who is ready, at the slightest provocation, to punish wickedness (meaning, the sinner who offends authority), and that God (and by extension themselves) are the only one, true authority in all things.  This becomes their business: to rule imperiously and to punish their offenders and oppress their rivals in the name of God.

Do you see how God gets wrapped up in their own agendas?  It’s a pretty handy idea if you’re a despot to proclaim God as your guarantor of authority, don’t you think?  So was it actually Church that prosecuted wars and killed the innocent and oppressed millions or was it really men, dressed up in church robes?  Let’s remember that the Church, according to Christian theology anyway, belongs not to men but to God alone.  I would argue that God’s Church is populated with the souls of the humble, the contrite of spirit, the poor, the sick, the grieving, the meek, the brotherly, and the oppressed.  I would argue that it is with these that God makes his habitation.

Perhaps this topic deserves one more article in which I discuss further the authentic function of the church in the world and if or not it is fulfilling its god-given mission.

Until next time, blessings to you.

Join the Conversation

  1. Another erudite respnse, Dale, and I appreciate the time and effort you have taken on both pieces. Much of it I agree with: church, in your sense, does indeed provide comfort and an affinity with God for billions of people, and of course no legislation or action should be taken to change that. Even the fabric, the bricks and mortar and stained glass and scented candles and all the rest, can be a balm to a troubled soul.
    I know this from personal experience: a few years ago I was suffering from a combination of health issues, partly as a result of a difficult recovery from two separate Covid infections (that left me debiilitated and probably suffering from Long Covid) and also mentally failing to adjust to my life as retiree, which after 25 years globe trotting to client sites that gave me exposure to many differenct cultures and faiths, now lacked focus. I had no idea what my place was in this world and fell into depression.
    I paid regular visits to our local RC church (a local parish church, like many such in Poland, it’s almost cathedral sized), but could find no peace there. I had been to too many Masses there over the preceding few yeard and listened uncomprehending to sermons that, my wife later explained, were little better than party political broadcasts for a corrupt government and exhortations to the faithful to vote as bidden by the church. This was done in return for significant donations from government funds that enabled parish priests to live in mansions, bishops to drive BMWs and archbishops and cardinals to enjoy chauffeur-driven Mercedes. This is not how any church should be….
    Then I visited a relation of My Beloved’s in Switzerland, and the town where I stayed had some lovely, small parish churches and a cathedral the size of my parish church, close to the river Rhine, with a quiet harb garden and shaded cloister behind, all open to the public 24/7. I went there several times over my two week trip, and sat quietly in contemplation. The cathedral was not in the least ornate, a single stained glass window behind the altar, with relatively comfortable chairs instead of hard, upright pews. It wax simply a peaceful place to spend time, and invariably I felt more happy and relaxed upon leaving each visit, and by the end of the trip much of the depression had gone and I felt much more comfortable in myself. I still do.
    So I think there remains a place in society for church (with a small C) where believers (and for that matter non-believers) can find comfort and meaning. It’s when the Church – the organised religion, in my terminology – over-reaches itself and becomes dictatorial, governmental and in its view infallible that the problems seem to happen and snowball into the religious conflicts and attrocities was have both referred.
    I’m not sure it’s the churches’ faults: we humans seem to need to be led sometimes, particularly in matters of Faith and Governance, inncapable of making up our own minds and applying a measure of common sense and decency to determine our behaviours. Perhaps ’twas ever thus, even before Churches came along….

  2. Thank you, Bob, for this moving response. Actually, I think we may be quite close in our perspectives on organized religion. I find God in the natural living world, in the quiet times, and in the beautiful creation. It’s in these that my soul is fed and I feel inclined to express gratitude in humility which, I suppose, is my worship. I think our brains have great difficulty grasping God, but, luckily, our souls do not.