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No Religion Too? Imagining a world without organized religion

Increasingly, 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:

"Believe 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 agenda.

So, how do you find a church that is emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually satisfying?

Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles Henderson.