Religion is out of control today

angel-230x300Writing  on our new Religion in the News website in the wake of the excommunication of blogger-podcaster John Dehlin, eminent scholars Jan Shipps and Sarah Barringer Gordon make the case that these are hard times for Mormon orthodoxy. Thanks to digital media, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints simply cannot control the message the way it used to. This, they argue, helps explain why it has begun to address issues like polygamy about which it has been mum for a century. And to seek out a middle path on gay rights.

Shipps' and Gordon's larger point is that Mormonism is not alone. Wherever centralized religious authority exists within reach of the Internet, voices challenging it will be just a click away. The interesting question has to do with how the the authority responds.

Back in 1972, National Council of Churches researcher Dean M. Kelley published a book that became a species of gospel in American Christianity. Why Conservative Churches are Growing contended that whereas the liberal churches were hemorrhaging members because they had sold their doctrinal birthright for a mess of political pottage, the orthodox were prospering by holding their flocks to high standards of belief and practice.

The key to success thus seemed to be the old time religion, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Evangelical Protestantism blew Mainline Protestantism out of the water. Catholic bishops undertook to recover their pre-Vatican II mojo. Orthodoxy became American Judaism's growth stock. And Mormonism itself battened down the hatches.

Now this orthodoxy is being challenged, and not only by digital media. In the Southern Baptist Convention, shrinking numbers have forced a dialing back of the hard line. In Catholicism, the new Vicar of Christ just isn't with the program.

Preaching to the assembled cardinals yesterday, Pope Francis declared that Jesus is not afraid of a church that reaches out to those on its margins.

He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity.  He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp.

Those who prize the straight and narrow in every tradition will no doubt find a sufficient number of fellow travelers. But it looks as though the religion that will prosper in this century will be messier and more out-of-control than those inside their camps imagine.


  1. Such a great thing that “Religion is Out of Control Today”! Religion is descending into the hell of control, hopefully to come forth resurrected in the wisdom of Love.

    The paradigm-shifting which is taking place in the world today, painful as it is for many, is much needed! Religion has so much to offer the world if only it can let go the Image of God as Controller-in-Charge.

  2. Bad mouthin has religion backfired and people are now spiritual instead
    of Biblical. It doesn’t matter “spiritual” people are if they aren’t Biblical
    they’re still lost and headed for hell. 1 Corinthians 6:9-12 lists all of the
    people who won’t inherit the kingdom of heaven unless they all Repent.
    Jesus said you are one of Mine only if you continue in My teachings and
    follow Me! If you say you love Jesus and don’t follow the Bible/religion no
    Truth is in you! 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 the whole chapters plus Luke 13
    and Romans 1:18-32 need to be taught. It is not enough to just believe
    in God/Jesus Christ/ the Bible. We all need to/must Repent/follow Him!

  3. guess the prof doesn’t think islam is a major religion.

    As far as the Pope, notice how his openness has a specific purpose…to SAVE the outcast. The prof is only open for openness sake. He doesn’t believe in truth, so human beings have no diginity and don’t need to be saved. The Pope loves human beings and wants them to be save, the prof loves human will and wants it to be worshiped….what is truth?

  4. tz-God is Truth and there is only one God…the God of the Bible. If you have
    created somethin should someone else get the credit for it? No they should
    not and it’s the same with God. Only one God created the world and went to
    the Cross/died for ours sins cause there is only one God. Sayin all roads or
    truths are all the same does not any make sense cause each belief system says something different. We can’t earn our way to heaven so we all need God/Jesus to save us all! If there were other ways to heaven why would He
    go the Cross if there are others ways? No true prophet can be revered if
    they are a liar so if Jesus wasn’t the Son of God He was a liar and He can’t
    be revered or a true prophet so either Jesus was a liar or He was who He
    said was/is. God/Jesus are real! Jesus is the Messiah/only way to heaven!

  5. O.K TZ.
    ….what is truth?
    I am ready, Lay it on me!
    P.S. If you can’t do better than Karla, just forget it.

  6. The truth is the word made flesh. Now you only need to figure out what the word and flesh is …and you’ll be set.

  7. TZ,
    That is mere poetry. At best, it is an unsupported assertion. Why are you so easily
    persuaded? And what species of logic is the following?
    “He doesn’t believe in truth, so human beings have no diginity and don’t need to be saved.”
    Saved from what- themselves- hell fire- indigestion? You appear to be accepting of a statement of a particular authority without further thought or examination. Boo! Are you scared yet? Why not? Because I do not speak for an authority that you accept. So…why do you accept one authority over another? How do we judge? That is the question.

  8. Author

    I confess, tz, that I’m not as sure about the pope’s position as you are. He has called for a stop to proselytizing. He seems quite open to other faiths. He stands for his own. Interesting man.

  9. if you really thought the pope was an interesting man, you would listen to him when he disagrees with you…not just he furthers your slant.

  10. its not poetry…its the bible. the question whether the prof viewpoint is ultimately concerned with the dignity of the human person or the will does not require appeal to an outside authority but merely a perusal of the facts.

    if you don’t know what saved means then you don’t know what human means.

  11. Maybe we are in a spiritual maybe even a religious reformation just as messy and scary as the protestant reformation. What will be the fall out?

    In the first reformation the Bible was finally, after centuries in the hands of the people, in their spoken language. They would stop priest in their sermons at tell them the scriptures did not agree with what they were saying.

    Or actually, have we just gone full circle? This morning I learned the news that ISIS beheaded 21 Coptic Christians.

    From what I see mankind is out of control. Giving the title of religion doesn’t fit, give it the title of atheistism or agnosticism or theism, all out of control and it still is not large enough to fit.

  12. The insipidity of so many who show contempt for accepting the presence of God indicates that any “convictions” they have in that area largely are only gratuitous viciousness to give vent to malignance they carry within them always and directed at someone they think will not respond.
    Sister Lea speaks of letting go of “the image of God as Controller-In-Charge”. But that is the very definition of God. To be all is to be all, absolutely everything. To be sure, there are those who try to insist that humans make their own decisions, that they show no sign of pre determination. But, consider, something can appear both random and pre determined simultaneously. The number pi, for example, 3.1415926535…, looks for all the world as if it was a random sequence of values, but there are innumerably many formulas that can calculate its value and it’s not impossible that there is a formula that gives each digit in order. It can be a measure of how sophisticated, or non sophisticated, your understanding of the world is.
    Of course, Sister Lea may be saying that God’s rules should not be considered worthy of following, that narcissistic, selfish whim should control all our choices. There is a lot that will say, then, about Sister Lea.
    Mark Silk praises “Pope” Francis admonition for Catholicism to stop proselytizing. But, consider, if you know they truth, and you are honorable, you want everyone to know and accept what you know! You don’t want to leave others laboring under self destructive misunderstandings and errors! To be content with others not knowing the truth, which can help them, is dishonorable in the extreme. It’s a measure of someone’s sophistication to think this out this completely, and a measure of their lack of sophistication that their “ruminations” on a subject necessarily stop at the most shallow and superficial consideration!
    For that matter, though, so many, for all their pretenses of thinking do remarkably little.
    How many, for example, when they praise “Pope” Francis for being so different from every other Pope, realize that means that the religion itself, the truth, must be changing. And, truth is defined as not changing. It also says that all the other potential Popes, the Cardinals, in being so purportedly out of touch, cannot, then, be concluded to have made the correct decision in voting Francis in! But, then, the very idea of a collection of individuals who each do not consider themselves to be Pope material, or else they would be voting for themselves, cannot be expected to have been able to choose who has the right ideas to be the next Pope!
    Considering, too, Christ did not establish a means of deciding the nest Pope, which means He didn’t really necessarily even want a Papacy!
    But, then, too, consider the degree to which the “opinions” of so many making comments are based on what somebody else says! They praise the article, they quote from books, they assess how viewpoints square with Orthodoxy or some one or another wretched and vicious God hating and humanity hating perception!
    But not one looks at the viewpoint of the association with God independently. They express discontent with this or that aspect, but none actually tries to actually suggest an actual system that answers dissatisfactions. For many it’s that they simply don’t have that in them, for some it’s that they are just plain loafing slobs, for some it’s that they want religion the way it is so they can satisfy their viciousness and lump hatred upon hatred on it.
    A word, in proceeding to the next advancement in the idea of the relationship between man and God, which is long, long, long overdue, don’t look at religion. God, frankly, doesn’t like or want religion. No creation story has the first people coming into being in pews, holding prayer books. God made man to live, but to live right. And there are ways to go about that, and there are ways God will actually act within a person’s life to inform them if they are or aren’t doing it right! You need to undergo the sea change, to act scrupulously; to act to improve the world and yourself; and to do it because you know it’s right, not for the benefits it will bring.

  13. TZ,
    “…but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
    Bob Dylan

  14. Mark,
    The ever increasing dissonance between the independent judgments required by modern life, and the authoritative medieval mentality required by the Church, ultimately dooms the institution.
    Gods are either speculative explanations, or they are feelings we interpret as coming from inside us- but not from us. Again, the Church tries to control our private interpretations and claim authority over them. They claim to follow God, but the actually are in the business of controlling us and him.
    Here in Alabama (Shelby County) there was a woman who drew quite a following with her visions, and messages from, the Virgin Mary. Our local Catholic Bishop was asked if he approved. He said: “as long as she says nothing that contradicts doctrine.”And there you have it!

  15. Hi Chaplin,
    “From what I see mankind is out of control.”
    Whenever I get depressed about how bad things are today, I play this game.
    Pick any place on the globe. Pick any culture or time frame. Pick 70 years. Would you rather live your alloted three score and ten there, or here? Reluctantly, I always pick here.
    In law school I made friends with an American Indian. I once asked him if he would like to have lived before the coming of the white man. “…umm…can I take my aspirin with me?” he replied.

  16. Your comment reminds me of one of my favorite faith-based stories. To me it shows the complete folly of relying on faith for anything except the enrichment of the church and those who feed off of it.

    About 20 years ago, a pattern of lights suddenly began to appear on the walls of a small Catholic church in the sierras, every day at approximately the same time. People could “see” in it a resemblance to the virgin Mary, much like both she and Jesus have both appeared on tacos and toast. The news began to spread. People came from miles around to witness the miracle of her appearance.

    I remember one lady in particular. “It IS the Virgin Mary, and her message is world peace.” An absolutely faith based response, very specific, and of course, absolute nonsense. it was a patter of lights on the wall, not an apparition.

    The local bishop weighed in with THIS classic: “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. for those who don’t believe, no explanation is possible.” Well, he certainly covered his butt with that one. And yet, ironically, it was far truer than he knew.

    A scientist was called in. He could not determine the source of the pattern of lights, but was fairly certain it was caused by refraction, possibly reflection, of sunlight somewhere in the church. He just couldn’t find it. But he did predict that the lights would not appear on any completely cloudy day.

    And he was right.

    As a professional photographer, who dealt everyday with the qualities and directions of light, it would have taken me roughly five minutes and a long stick to determine where the light was coming from. But they didn’t ask me. The miracle, of course, ceased to exist.

    You could also go with the miracle at Fatima, if you like. Thousands allegedly saw the sun dance. Thousands did not. People a few miles away did not. No one else in the world say the sun dance. There were no disruptions of weather, gravity, or anything else.

    Almost makes you wonder, don’t it?

  17. Wow–Mark you certainly have no shortage of headlines available.

    I look forward to your column on the Watchtower cover-up.

    Until then, I contend that Religion has never been and will never be in control.
    At least I hope it won’t. Religion is mans best effort at appeasing the gods and to be quite honest–we suck at such appeaseology. The gods aren’t impressed and the public is rightfully repulsed.

    I say, let’s keep chunkin rocks at religion (I like chunkin rocks)
    Let’s keep the cameras rollin’, microphones on, revelations on full speed.

    Hey, even throw the stones at Jesus, if your must.
    He invented “stone-casting” and he can take it. (Allah is off-limits however)

    Christianity too can get religion. It can go retail, political and lose its way. It can look and act less and less than the Christ it claims for its head.

    The church has real leadership issues.
    Geoffrey Chaucer has it right.
    “. . . if gold rust, what then will iron do? For if a priest be foul in whom we trust/ No wonder that a common man should rust. . . .”

    Where are the church leaders who can say,

    “I have worked and struggled, and spent many sleepless nights. I have gone hungry and thirsty and often had nothing to eat. I have been cold from not having enough clothes to keep me warm. Besides everything else, each day I am burdened down, worrying about all the churches. when others are weak, I am weak too. When others are tricked into sin, I get angry. (giving money to the seed-faith quacks on TV)
    If I have to brag, I will brag about how weak I am.” (II Corinthians 11:27-30)

    I’ll tell you where too many are–they are alone, filled with envy at the millionaire shysters who pollute the airwaves with their Jesus lotteries and skammery.
    Too filled to care about more than themselves.

  18. Mark Silk’s article begs the question: Given the Dean Kelley observation, which was demonstrably true, why in the post-1960s era, did people flee from wishy-washy mainline churches and flock to more doctrinally rigorous or demanding churches, from evangelical to Catholic? It was hardly a passing fad. It went on for decades.

    Or to put it more specifically, why did the storied baby-boomer generation, the God-is-dead generation, suddenly “get religion” by the tens of millions in the 1970s and 1980s and go on to move much of the nation to the center or center-right at least up until the turn of the century?

    We’ve somehow become a nation of amnesiacs about the 1980s and 1990s. It’s as if our national memory stops at 1979, lurches forward to the 9/11 attacks and then moves on to the present.

    It is a quirky national narrative indeed.

  19. Hi Jack,
    Nietzsche, was far, far over the heads of the the sort of folks who knew nothing of Zarathustra, but knew they wanted to be part of something important and revolutionary. Prophesies of the and end-of-the-world had much appeal to a generation of children that was spoiled with every material indulgence -and found it hollow. A radicalism, that rejected materialism in all its forms, was the prescription of the day- indeed the fashion, of the Baby Boomers. Individual seriousness was lost in mass movements. Morality consisted of picking the right cause. Personal integrity, like, earning your way, and keeping one’s word, became unimportant. Eric Hoffer had explained much of the psychology, but “True Believers” were hardly his audience.

  20. Julian,
    You are welcome to know your truth, but you are not privileged to know mine.
    A creator God could have easily made us all the same, presumably, he could have made us all perfect. He could have refrained from making the devil, temptation, and a thousand other obstacles of life. Are you so wise as to explain?
    I will share, and I will ask questions, but I desire no power over others. Least of all would I speak for God.

  21. Julian, you stated, “…if you know they [sic] truth, and you are honorable, you want everyone to know and accept what you know!”

    ISIS knows that they have the truth, and they also want everyone to know and accept what they know! Religion is out of control because too many members “know” that they have the truth.

    When I took philosophy I was taught that when one uses the word “believe” we acknowledge the possibility of error. Then it comes to religion you, and everyone else on this earth does not “know.”

    Julian and ISIS, believe what whatever you will, but please don’t browbeat or kill me because I don’t hold your position.

  22. Stephen,
    Nasty cracks about my justifying genocide is simply slander. My point had nothing do with race. It had to do with technology. You were just ready to jump to conclusions, on almost no information, much less “gobs”. As it happens, I am part Cherokee. A fair summary of the historical facts was laid outlined in “Germs, Guns, and Steel” and also “1491”. As I understand it, the 90% mortality rate had little to do with war (not to say war was not nasty and racist), but had everything to do with Euro-Asian diseases, to which the Native American population had no defenses, much as the Europeans had no defenses against sub-saharan diseases, before modern medicines.
    As for nasty human behavior, I suggest you read history a bit more broadly and you will see little difference from place to place, American Indians, not excepted.

  23. The best research suggest that since the early 60’s the mainline denominations have suffered numerical decline primarily for demographic reasons, not because people fled over wishy-washy doctrine (whatever that is). The more conservative denominations grew as a result of more favorable demographics, namely high birthrates, not due to more rigorous doctrine (I don’t know what that is, either).

  24. Stephen,
    To a hammer everything looks like a nail. I did involuntary commitments for twenty years. When people get consumed with anger and lash out at everyone, it is time to get them some help. I suspect you mean well, but so did my mother, who ended up in a mental institution. She was possessed by the desire to save others, and wright wrongs, but ended up not being to save herself, or her family.
    I saw this behavior repeated many, many, times, in my legal career. They don’t call it “madness” for nothing.

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