On the Dark Side of Organized Religion

Opponents of organized religion point to centuries of war fought supposedly in the name of a Divine Being. Such patterns of religious wars continue to this day. Holy scriptures are replete with stories of righteous battles in the name of God, Yahweh, Allah and so on. Such patterns continue even in the face of sacred scriptures that emphasize peace and non-violence.

Religion does indeed bring with it power. That power comes from a deep sense of right — that my views are right and yours are wrong and that therefore the moral thing for me to do is to make you submit to my will!

We see the power side of religion in politics as well where politicians quote scripture in the name of enhancing their candidacy as God-approved, implying that the other candidates are less morally strong.

I have heard religious professionals brag about the power they wield. In my own Catholic Church, that power is real. Bishops and pastors now run parishes that resemble corporations, complete with safeguards against lawsuits. When a priest preaches, he now preaches to hundreds at a time instead of just a handful. I believe it takes a mature religious professional to manage such power. At a personal level, supposedly having the power to forgive sins is heady stuff!

We know from thinkers such as Carl Jung that power has a dark side. That sometimes we covet power for power’s sake. Thus, the power of religion can turn dark and can be used in the name of more power or, worse, personal gratification.

The pedophile scandals within the Catholic Church are, I believe, the result not of lust but of the dark side of power. People of power can become arrogant, believing that, because they are so powerful, the normal laws of human conduct do not apply. Some have used this power to seduce and abuse. Others have used this power to hide the truth

Such arrogance of power is not confined to the Catholic Church. All major religions have such scandals to include not just sexual issues but financial ones.

A person who aspires to being a religious professional must be able to identify within himself/herself the lure of power. It is in denying that lure (“I would never do THAT!”) that the religious professional becomes dangerous.

We the people — the members of organized religions– are not blameless. We too look the other way. We too expect our religious professionals to be super-human, able to respond on the spot to our every want and need. We the people need to hold our religious professionals accountable and to continue to demand transparency. But we must also recognize that our religious professionals are flawed human beings, not saints, and that therefore they are in need of our emotional support, encouragement, and consolation.

Personally, I continue to be drawn to Huston Smith’s observation that organized religions would be fine if it weren’t for people. If and when Jesus comes back, I don’t think he will be very happy with what was done with his message

Reflection: 1. What has your experience, good or bad, been with power within organized religion?

About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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6 Responses to On the Dark Side of Organized Religion

  1. Bill Hitzel says:

    Rich, I finally got the news regarding Bob. Was able to get in touch while he was still in the rehab. Apparently he has made a ‘“A GREAT ESCAPE” and now is at home. From talking to him he seems to be doing much better. He tells me, however, that he continues having difficulty using his right hand. With the help of God he will continue to improve. Bill >

  2. Richard Vasquez says:

    Greetings Dr. Patterson,
    I recently subscribed to your blog. Former client of yours in El Paso. 1999-2000 ? Still remember you fondly. I’ve been living in Los Angeles since 2003.Left the teaching profession to begin a new Masters in clinical psychology at Antioch University Los Angeles. My focus of study is LGBTQ affirmative. Wonderful program. I’m just finishing up my second quarter. Thank you for this Blog.

  3. Susan Bass says:

    Ah yes, the power of organized religion. It seems to be similar to the power of all large organizations including the military and the civilian government. Dissent is not encouraged. Conformity is. Double standards abound and rules are for little people within the organization to follow. Does this sound cynical? It is because these practices lead to disillusionment. The difference with religion is that God is in the equation. There are paradoxes, however. One rule- bound priest refused to hear my confession because I am not married in the Catholic church. After I continued hounding him, he finally said, “You don’t need me”. A profound statement. Although the Catholic church is only one of the churches to which I have belonged and never found a place, I think of it as a parent. For me that means it’s love is flawed and incomplete. But in the end, it was a parent still, however imperfect.

  4. Susan Bass says:

    Although my parish priest refused to hear my confession, he did hear my son’s first confession a few years ago. When preparing for it, my son said that he did not know of any sins to confess. I told him that sin includes not only what one does wrong but what one should do but does NOT do (sins of omission). I told him he definitely had sins of omission. I said, “Not helping me with the laundry comes to mind”. After Justin’s first confession I had help with the laundry at least for a little while. This could be considered the bright side of power!

  5. Susan Bass says:

    Okay, okay, my last comment. You mentioned that the pedophilia in the Church was much more about power than about lust. I believe that sexual assault is ALWAYS about power. If you think about it, it is really not difficult to purchase sex. And the one who gets blamed is ALMOST always the seller, not the purchaser.

  6. J. P. Jiménez says:


    Yes there is a dark side of power and not just in religion. My military career brought me into position of authority and power. The difference I learned is that those who inherit power, through their journey, either feel and accept its tremendous responsibility or abuse it for self. I would argue that power does not come just from a “sense of right” as much as the those that will not take on responsibility – that is sheep happy to be led by a shepherd. Wielding power is like a loaded weapon. Your concern is not so much the weapon but the mindset of the one holding it. But again, since few want to share in the responsibilities, it falls in the hands of a questionable alternative. Power is seductive.
    This is my first time on your blog Doc. We have met once and you are one of the few with the acute perspective that you demonstrate.
    Con respecto,
    JP Jiménez

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