Religion can go on, without God

Institutionalize:
To incorporate into a structured and often highly formalized system of institutionalized values. [1]
If someone becomes institutionalized, they gradually become less able to think and act independently, because of having lived for a long time under the rules of an institution. [2]

In my earlier post, “Religion Redefined”, I touched on certain aspects of ‘religion’ and it should be defined as the constant acknowledgment of the fact that there is an Ultimate Reality that shapes the universe and everything within it. However, when I thought deeper into the methods of institutionalizing ‘beliefs’ into bite-sized summaries that people can easily understand and apply, building ‘religion’ on the central acknowledgment of the Ultimate Reality may prove to have disastrous effect.

“Institutionalizing personal interpretation of scriptures can be seen as forcing your beliefs down someone else’s throat.”

When the foundations of ‘religion’ are to be founded in scriptures and scriptures alone, an explosion of interpretations will ensue, leading to the disunity of the church and more critically, theological chaos [3]. In fact, the development of the multitude of denominations we see in Christendom is the exact latent manifestation of Luther’s Sola Scriptura.

Every denomination that ever was, have its roots in Luther’s Reformation of the church. Every one of them claims that theirs’ the right way of worship, and ministry. Sure, there is no right or wrong, and every church preaches the gospel of Christ. But even so, conflicts are prevalent.

Hence, when the key focus of ‘religion’ is on our own personal interpretation of the scriptures and on our own personal walk with God, institutionalizing this ‘personal interpretation’ can be seen as forcing your beliefs down someone else’s throat.

And this is exactly what Paul taught in the Scriptures. He wrote, “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” (Romans 14:22, NIV).

“Institutionalization of religion minimized the chances of people stumbling on controversial interpretations.”

With this, it appears that Paul is not supportive of the institutionalization of faith. However, we have also learned from history that such disputes that originate from the differences in interpretations were eradicated through institutionalization. When issues and disputes were brought to the table, a council talked through it and decide the best possible solution to it. It is the resolution that provided the council with a specified principle about what is right and wrong, minimizing the chances of people stumbling on controversial interpretations.

So, is institutionalized faith good?

Sure, institutionalized faith can help religious communities take its shape. It organizes faith into a collective belief that is held and practiced by all who are within it. It also made it easier for religious practices to be listed and passed down to future generations or to others who are joining the faith. When Christianity became state religion in Rome in AD380, we see the enforcement of religion throughout the region. People know not what they believe in. People practiced religion, but little people knew God. Sure, even though the Edict of Thessalonica [4] gave us the Nicene Creed in which still form the fundamental basis of Christianity today, little is talked about in modernity. People stopped questioning and take things as they are. It is as if everyone had the mentality that if something is recited weekly, it must be true. No one thought critically. No one questioned. Not that I know of.

“Institutionalized religion made people less able to think and act independently.”

This comes to where I first started: religion can go on, without God. If religion becomes institutionalized, there will come a time when people gradually become less able to think and act independently because they had lived under the rules of the institutions for a long time.

Recently, I have posted a question on my facebook asking people to comment and share their views about Jesus Christ and whether or not He is God. Not one clergyman or pastor who is active on social media responded. But thankfully, there are people who responded. I will group them into 3 main categories. First, there are the handful of young Christians who tried to rebuke me with certain scriptural texts which do not fully comprehend. Second, they are the slightly-more-mature-but-self-righteous Christians who simply leave verses on my comment or simply like certain comments they might affiliate with. Tragically, the third group is by far, the humblest of all in my opinion. They privately message me telling me that they are unsure of the faith but shared some of their opinions on the subject matter and offered to share more information when they chanced upon them. This third group is the Muslims.

My question is this: did institutionalization of the faith made people so ‘dumbed-down’ to the point where they are unable to think critically about the things they claim they believe in? And, if it is so bad, why do we do it in the first place?

A balance point in institutionalization must be met to ensure the functionality of the community and that critical thinking is not affected.

In my own humble opinion, I think there should be a middle point; a tipping point or some sort that institutions must identify. We need to institutionalize in order to ensure that the functions of the community are met. However, we should also limit institutionalization when it influences thinking and affects critical analysis, causing intellectual darkness as how history unfolded [5]. And, I think the Muslims are doing a good job balancing institutionalization and humble knowledge acquisition. At least, this is the impression that my Muslim friends are giving me.

Whatever, ‘religion’ of the institutionalized kind can continue. If ‘religion’ has evolved into “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things” [6], then sure. It can stay this way without God.

Institutionalized religion can go on. But those who are from God will continue to seek Him.

But if God is concerned, the Bible tells us that we are to seek Him and His righteousness first (Matthew 6:33), with all your heart and soul (Jeremiah 29:13). This meant, thinking critically, analyzing all that was preached to you, and differentiating whether or not what we have heard is or is not from God (1 John 4:1-6).

‘Religion’ can go on without God. But if you’re from God, seek Him, and He will be found by you. For what is there to fear? For all I care, the institution is not able to separate you from the love of Christ.

 

References:

[1] – Institutionalize. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/institutionalize

[2] – Institutionalized. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/institutionalized

[3] – Hensley, K. (2018). Luther: The Rest of the Story, Part V: The Road to Chaos. Retrieved from https://chnetwork.org/2018/06/19/luther-the-rest-of-the-story-part-v-the-road-to-chaos/

[4] – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Thessalonica

[5] – McGettigan, T. (2012). Blinded by Faith: Religion as Institutionalized Ignorance. Retrieved from https://www.opednews.com/articles/Blinded-by-Faith-Religion-by-Timothy-McGettigan-121102-235.html

[6] Émile Durkheim (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.iep.utm.edu/durkheim/

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