Religion Too? Imagining a world without organized religion
people are drawn to John Lennon's view that the world would be better off without
organized religion. In such a world we would have no war, no nations, and, of
course, "no religion too." In response to this, those of us who are
involved in a religion like Christianity point to its many positive contributions
to the world.
Aside from that, from a biblical perspective, one might
say that religion is an unfortunate necessity required by the "Fall."
There are two points in the Bible where there is no religion. Before the Fall
in The Garden of Eden and in the City of God that descends out of heaven and is
depicted in Revelation 21.
Talk about losing one's religion is
not just pop music; it's biblical.
The prophets foresaw this
as the point when, as Isaiah put it: "They shall not hurt or destroy in all
my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as
the waters cover the sea." Jesus, seemed to anticipate this set of circumstances
as well when he spoke to a Samaritan woman who had asked him about a dispute then
going on between her people and the Jews. In the future, would God be worshipped
on a mountainside, such as the one they were standing on at that moment, a place
regarded sacred by her own people, the woman wanted to know; or would people worship
God in Jerusalem, in a temple, as the Jews believed? His answer was startling:
me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you
worship God. ... The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will
worship the God in spirit and truth, for ... God is spirit, and those who worship
him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:21ff)
Were the entire
human family to practice that kind of religion, a religion of the heart and mind,
rather than of temples and shrines, there would, in fact, be no need for an organized
religion, for all people would be guided by an inner light.
In the meantime,
however, there appears to be a strongly felt need for support systems which do,
unfortunately, become crutch systems.
Just as an old house needs
continual repair, and sometimes major demolition, to meet the needs of a growing
family, our organized faith systems and structures should be "reformed and
always reforming." To do away with them would simply be to create a vacuum,
which would be filled, I am sure, by something no more desirable that the crutchy
religions we now have. Religion brand name jeans, for example?
So while we await the perfect world anticipated by the prophets and by Jesus Christ
himself, most of us would be better served by lending our efforts to the radical
reform of those religions we have, rather than sitting idly by while others use
religion to support a more narrow, and sometimes violent, personal or political
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.