Monday, 6 August 2012

Neither End Works: Institutional Pessimism

I admit that I am pessimistic regarding the future of organised religion. Many of the times when people take a service and they say 'that was good' I often think otherwise, perhaps at another level.

Let me be clear regarding apparent success. There is no future in anything to do with 'signs and wonders'. This is capitalism religion, an individualism of aspiration and good signs and based on a warm glow spiritual materialism. It was invented with the sociological in mind, in terms of using the religious culture of individualism, but hardly anthropological, in that it draws its religious signs from a past culture of millennialism, getting sick by demons, and the supposed supernatural canopy. Such is not now - not how we think, it explains nothing and is not what works in a practical sense. So the religious sociology is devious and dishonest, as it tries to reuse a lost past. Except it can't, because it has made a concession, in that in the time of Jesus the supernatural belief was collective not individualist and based on what God was about to do to everyone with the Jews as a whole first in the queue.

So Jesus was one of those prophets at that time and place who mined what the other prophets of his stream had said, according to the writings and the intense talk among the rabbis, and set himself up as a Jewish suffering servant for God to then do what he would, starting with sending the Messiah (someone else, some other figure, or Jesus transformed - the latter being what the early Jewish Christians believed along with him having to have been the first of the resurrected, ascended and having to return very soon). When the Kingdom came in, all the dead would rise, all would be judged; such as the Roman occupiers would be simply be swept away; the married would be like angels together; and history as such would come to an end. While Jesus was alive, those he ministered to had healings with the belief that demons escaped and this prepared them for the coming Kingdom, and they were to sin no more while they all waited. They sat and had love meals and thought of a different future where the worst off would be best off.

When Paul turned the collective expectation into a salvation faith through God's sole representative, it still was in the context of those expected collective changes. To have a salvation figure was enough, rather than to have a law. Paul's view remained the same - either or, but he changed sides and then made those necessary cross-cultural changes that would project Jesus into the Gentile world.

The signs and wonders of modern day individualism is a kind of cop-out, and people are not healed by the removal of demons. This whole 'experience' approach is a spiritual placebo and is nothing but a sect of spiritual entertainment that lowers its barriers to contemporary culture while believing the ridiculous and unscientific. No Kingdom will come from it. Of course it attracts those who want and indeed get spiritual entertainment, and individuals so involved are very adapt at living in two worlds at once. Many a time I've tried to examine someone's sociology of knowledge of the present day and their religious beliefs of a past day, and it's like they throw a switch. The sort of beliefs they profess that allow access into the religious form play no part in their expectations of ordinary life. They don't pray for rain because they know it is a chaotic process under a climate system told by scientists called weathermen (and so on). Food grows on its own account in a web of interacting existence - no deity pushes it up.

But there they are, attracting the circulating minority of Christian thrill-seekers. But what of somewhere like I attend?

The service was very good, I'm told, and indeed it was clear in presentation, and I had an active part in its musical choice and indeed affected the service's content. But the service examined prayer and the Lord's Prayer in particular, with it said, then heard as sung by Andrea Bocelli, then read as a Bible reading and then as in a more secular and universalist interpretation - amongst much else said about prayer. As someone who has stopped saying the Lord's Prayer the service didn't (as it happens) address my criticism and the modernising and universalising of it I don't think works.

The Lord's Prayer is not about us as individuals doing good things to bring about a Kingdom. That is a liberal-humanist cop-out, the same kind of individualism used by the charismatics. It is a bit more collective, in the sense of all hands to the practical pumps, but the transformation into the ideal was not presented as some sort of work ethic. Sure we can say sorry and forgive as we would be. Does it need this 'teaching'?

But would this service, and such an intense focus on one apparent prayer, be attractive to the outsider, the spiritual seeker, one of the minorities that comes to a really liberal church? I don't think so. On this level, it all appears far too traditional, and is a slightly radical message delivered in a traditional format. It suits those who are used to the format, but the format is dying on its feet. I try to inject some musical expansion into it, something like the cultural 1970s and Classic FM, but this doesn't break up the format sufficiently.

I just think organised religion is in deep trouble, whether the working is apparently successful (and attracting some) or not successful where the cultural barrier is now high.


Anonymous said...

so why are you a Unitarian then?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Because it might work if it reformed its presentation, like it does at regional gatherings. The flexibility they have should spread out.

Anonymous said...

.....this leads to presentation of what?

but the original question really was this: for someone so dismissive & almost robotic in their view of religion, or really, of Christianity - why are YOU a Unitarian?

are they the only ones stupid enough to give you air?!

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Perhaps you can look up about Unitarianism and answer the question yourself. You are rather personally aggressive to warrant a reply.

James said...

I think the history of Western Civilization is one in which organised religion has waxed and waned. We are likely going through a transition phase rather than outright decline. You may not like what you see but there are churches in the UK and other Western countries that are growing at phenomenal rates. Some of these are new non-denominational churches and many are within the Church of England.
Look beyond our shores and culture to Africa and Asia and organised religion is still strong. In China, Christianity is fast growing with potentially up to 140million adherents, to varying degrees as the Chinese tend to moderately mix their religions. Islam is also growing due to higher birth rates but also due to revivalist movements within it. Buddhism is also arguably the fastest growing religion in terms of conversions in Western societies.
The religions that are declining are the ultra-individualistic and modernistic ones, those religions that have given up completely on collective belief and tradition. And by that we are talking mainly certain Christian denominations including Unitarian-Universalists and certain sub-denominations such as the ultra-liberal wing of the Church of England.
It would be very easy to deride the growing churches as selling a false truth, and to imply your church does not. But lives are being changed for the better by these churches. It would be wrong to say that many of these churches aren't bearing fruit. It is interesting I have never seen a Unitarian soup kitchen or other street-level charity project in Birmingham...

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

IN the United States the Unitarian Univesalists have enjoyed consistent small growth.

Historically including in Birmingham (starting in Liverpool) the Unitarians from a middle class perspective took a view that working class people did not go to church because they were embarrassed about what they could wear, so the Unitarian Mission Van was invented that took religion to the working class. It was, of course, a mis-analysis of why the WC did not go to church, but elements of the WC did go to church leisure and education facilities that were broad and extensive in the Victorian era. In the US the same necessity of social outreach exists that died in Britain and Europe with the growth of the welfare state. Religion has since specialised including with these subjective charismatics, even though they do a few outreach tasks. Many Unitarians do their own charitable activities along with their church membership.