Tuesday, November 1, 2011
I don’t know what it is, if I just started coming into contact with different types of Christians over time, if the argument went through a phase of being popular, or if I just remember poorly, but I seem to recall one particular comment being made quite often many years ago that I just read again… for the first time in a long time. Christians I knew in high school always made comments that were disparaging of “organized religion.”
I took it to be what I would now call “dog whistle” tactics. In those days, I would probably call it code or a euphemism. To me, “organized religion” was the Catholic Church, because I went to a Catholic high school, but there were plenty of non-Catholics there. Just as one example (not a representative one), a buddy of mine had a father who thought he was Jesus. He bought a farm in southern Indiana, and this kid would be out of school sometimes for a week or more at a time because his dad “had a feeling” the end of the world was coming.
So anyway, being against “organized religion” essentially meant a small, Protestant off-shoot Christian, or the occasional Buddhist, Wiccan or non-practicing (though pork-free) Jew. Again, this was just my experience, but it seemed that most who directed disdain towards “organized religion” were more moderate or liberal religious people not part of a major church. I guess there were also some self-identifying agnostics who shied away from admitting they were atheists. I think that about covers it…
But I never much heard such a statement made for years until just today. I can see why; it’s a peculiar stance. The assumption is that most people who say “I oppose organized religion” in some fashion are really saying, “My religion isn’t crazy like that one.” Sometimes there is a hint of, “I do my own thing,” or a general dislike for certain larger sects, even a blanket rejection of authority as a whole (I wonder if Quakers say such things…). It’s quite nuanced, and I really need to take the speaker who says it into consideration more than I otherwise might.
But putting that aside, what is the implication of such a view? That religion should be disorganized? That would be the opposite, so if you oppose organized religion, you must prefer disorganized religion… which I guess meets at random times without proper notification, and your donations must get lost occasionally.
I think the term “organized religion” is a serious misnomer. People really mean “group religion,” as opposed to “individual religion.”
Maybe I’m way off, maybe there is something I’m missing completely, but it seems to me like the idea behind the hostility for “organized religion” has more do to with the fact that they function as a club, in all three meanings of the word “club.” Religions are often exclusive groups, a means of finding someone to date, and something to hit others over the head with. Maybe it should be “religious clubs.”
At any rate, organized religion has a very different meaning, in my eyes. How can a religion be valid if it’s not organized? If I’m understanding this properly… these people who are religious but against “organized religion” see what’s so wrong about certain faiths, but they seem to think they’re smart enough to interpret the truth faith better than anyone else. This is assuming, of course, that the individual takes some personal responsibility for their own faith. I am assuming through logic that someone who criticizes organized religion is not, themselves, in an organized religion… even though when dealing with religious people, it’s wise to never assume logical conclusions. The person may just be a hypocrite.
I feel like it’s crazier to believe you have the inside track when it comes to understanding the divine. I reject the Bible as lunacy, but to believe it has some truth behind it, and to think you can interpret it now, in what is probably just a translation, better than millions of experts before you… that takes both ego and insanity, or at the very least, earth-shattering naivety.
And yet, I generally prefer someone like that over someone who is part of an organized religion. Opposing “organized religion” often means not wanting to impose a belief on others. That is certainly something I can support. And make no mistake, those who are not part of an organized religion are usually far less cruel to others regarding their faith, as they lack that “us vs. them” mentality instilled within most organized religions.
One final note, as this whole topic got me thinking about something else I do still hear quite often. If this is the approach one takes, that one chops the world up into “organized religions” and… whatever else there is, then I can start to see how some people see atheism as a religion. If all an “organized religion” is to you is making a donation to a larger group and attending meetings, then I guess there are religious atheists. However, they would prefer to be called “organized atheists,” I imagine.