I often hear the argument that organized religion is corrupt, discriminatory, and unnecessary. Some of the arguments supporting this negative view of organized religion are somewhat compelling, especially when looked at in a historical context. In a recent post, Barbara described some of the benefits of organized religion. In this post (and a few in the future), I’d like to explore some of the downsides of organized religion, how the Mormon church has attempted to eliminate them, and why those downsides don’t outweigh the benefits.
First, I want to cite a passage from the Bible that seems to indicate that the original Christian church had a distinct structure:
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; (Ephesians 4:11-14)
Here, Paul is speaking of Christ’s organization of his church to the Ephesians. It is clear that the structure of the church consisted of different roles assigned to different people. It is also clear that the main purpose of this structure was unity in purpose and in doctrine.
Now, while this passage seems to clearly indicate the existence of a structured church in the time of the apostles, maybe it’s the case that structure is no longer needed. Maybe the proliferation of the Bible and the spread of literacy have combined to make the need for organized religion obsolete. After all, nearly every individual can now read the words of Christ for him or herself and determine how best to apply His teachings to life, so who needs some minister or priest to tell them whether they’re on track for salvation or whether they are forgiven of their sins or what God wants them to do with their lives? This question is especially pertinent if you believe (as Mormons do) that God answers individuals’ prayers and directs individuals’ lives through a process we call personal revelation.
So is organized religion beneficial or unnecessary? As I’ve thought about this question, I’ve come up with the following costs and benefits:
-Allows for coordination in serving members of the church and the community
-Allows for coordination in doctrine
2. Peer Effects
-Older, more experienced members of a church can have good influence on children and youth
-New adherents can benefit from the advice of life-long members through organized channels
1. Potential for Corruption
-Organized religion inevitably involves positions of power which can be used corruptly to benefit the leader at the cost of the congregation
-Doctrine can become corrupted due to the actions of one or a small group of individuals
2. Operating Costs
-A structured organization requires offices, meetinghouses, etc., which all have monetary costs that could be used elsewhere
In my next few posts, I intend to examine these costs and benefits more closely. I will also discuss how they apply to the Mormon church. But, before I do that, I want to ask for your input. In your mind, what are some of the costs and benefits of organized religion? How do these costs and benefits weigh against each other? I’d really love to hear your responses so I can work them into my future posts.