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?