Critics of religion, especially those who see it as holding back social progress, believe the Western world is moving toward a post-Christian period. It’s not.
The faithful, however, are disillusioned with the foibles of church hierarchy, long implied to consist of God’s specially chosen representatives, likely to be purer and more immune than the sinful in secular society. Christianity has survived for two thousand years with a message of loving more, judging less, and building stronger communities. It lives despite the hubris, disguised with piety and the veneer of holiness, of titled clergy confusing superstition and ceremonial excess with God, faith, and spirituality.
Pope Benedict XVI has lamented about individualism manifested in capitalist greed and sexual carnality evidenced in growing acceptance of homosexuality. He’s been vocal about secularism’s corrosive ability to empty and close churches. Protestant denominations, conservative and those described or self-identified as liberal or progressive, are encountering similar membership challenges.
Christian conservatives, particularly Catholics, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox, see a changing world rebelling against God’s established order. Wild, uncontained popular culture contributes to crime, greed, substance abuse, and especially threats to traditional families.
Christian ethics, something all too often overlooked by religious leaders, demands of them to ask what role they played in the rise of relativism, secularism, and individualism.
The French and Russian Revolutions were fueled in large part by the incestuous relationship between church and state. Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy legitimized and propped-up abusive, corrupt, and morally bankrupt monarchies. The Protestant Reformation arose to oppose greed within the church. Marxism took hold as institutional religion stood relatively silent in the face of colonialism, deplorable factory conditions, and the treatment of men, women, and children as disposable and easily replaced commodities.
Religious leaders opposed giving women the right to vote, owned serfs or showed indifference toward slavery, and often failed to use moral authority to end segregation. Catholic hierarchs throughout the world knowingly engaged in a deceitful strategy to shield child abusers among its clergy. Protestant leaders have used government to further myopic religious values lowering the wall of church-state separation and inevitably tainting faith with the crass, phoniness of politics, gamesmanship, and sultry access to secular, temporal power.
Eastern Orthodoxy in the former Soviet republics is thriving while its leaders, many of whom collaborators with the KGB, the notorious Communist secret police, have gleefully gone on spending binges buying condos, businesses, and luxury items like jewelry and upscale cars. Independent of this individualism, the purchase of ostentatious ceremonial robes could subsidize impoverished families for years. They have without shame relied on the largesse of corrupt oligarchs while lamenting about society’s moral decline blaming Jews, homosexuals, and the encroachment of Western values.
The world is changing. Logic, science, and common sense play a greater, much needed role in society challenging the often unquestioned moral authority of church leadership. Few are turning their backs on God. They are turning their backs, however, on religious hierarchies committed to control not spiritual empowerment. Basic Christian values are not being rejected. They are as timeless today as in the days Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem.
Holy Sophia the Holy Spirit is showing an extraordinary revelation to pull down barriers. She calls on the faithful not to allow their disillusionment with religious hierarchies to distance them from God, but to move beyond these artificial structures.
Paul Jesep is author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis: Learn to Live and Work Ethically”; “Credit Card Usury and the Christian Failure to Stop It”; and “Crucifying Jesus and Secularizing America – the Republic of Faith without Wisdom.”