RELIGIOUS BELIEF AND ORGANIZATION
In the modern world where people are always suffering from both psychological and physical threats, not the least part of the salvation on earth is played by religion. Contrary to most speculation of futurists and Marxists, religion and superstition, too, have gained rather strong ground on people's daily life. The number of newly born religions in Japan is on the steady increase, reflecting the stressful society.
When a person seeks something that will relieve him of his anxiety, or psychological pains, most people, especially the uneducated, will scarcely be able to find the solution by themselves in reading enlightening books or meditation. They are, for the most part, incapable of being objective to their own problems. or trying to find the answer themselves. Rather, unlike their US counterparts who tend to rush to shrinks, they are apt to turn for advice to a fortune teller ( especially a palmist on the street ) and a would-be counsellor of a religious group.When you visit a weekly meeting of those newly established groups, you will never fail to find the clear-eyed, happy-looking people who have just been saved from their tormenting realities; bankruptcy, unemployment, divorce, traffic accidents, prodigal sons and daughters, illnesses and domestic conflicts, which they have found almost unbearable. At any rate, they have been salvaged in terms of psychological conditions, if not of realities. They attend their 'church' regularly, pay contributions generously and show full respect and acceptance toward their leaders.
The role of religious organization has been much discussed in the field of religious sociology. And the importance of emotional bondage between a charismatic leader and laity cannot be put too much emphasis on. That is the reason why most heads of religions, by building stupendous cathedrals and putting up glorious symbols, try to impress newcomers and show off their intricately organized system. In fact, any well-known religious groups can be compared to modern corporations not only in terms of personnel arrangement, but of financial and even profit-making management.
In such a vast bureaucratic system, individual believers may be treated as customers on some occasions, but luxurious ceremonies and interview or counselling ( sometimes accompanied by full confession ) never make ' the skeptics' stray out of the group. Those who are hesitant to confess his faith are repeatedly encouraged to go on attending the meetings and ceremonies. Repetitive prayers and preaches will have strong brain-washing effects.
From the viewpoint of individual believers, the vast system is the most relaxing place in the world, a refuge giving comfort to their souls. They will meet many people whose religious beliefs are identical with theirs, attend ceremonies which give them a sense of belonging and get heart-warming words of consolation in the atmosphere of camaraderie.
Catholic church, the most typical example of well-organized religious institution, has been the sources of resurrecting the hope of the poor and the miserable. Some people blame its gorgeous cathedrals for depriving common people of their scarce pocket money in the name of contributions or alms. This may be partly true, but the very magnificent edifice is the 'people's temple' whose architectural exhibition of Jesus's life and other holy things enabled them to feel at home, letting them forget their harsh realities and seeking refuge from them.
This comforting effect of Catholic cathedral and its huge system may seem contradictory at first sight, but its long historical and cultural existence has made it what it is today. Though rocked by radical social changes of the modern world, blamed for its rather conservative stand, it has managed to make its way to the future human society.
Some people claim that this huge organization blurs the real meaning of religious beliefs. In fact, drowned in countless ceremonies and formalism, not a few laity lose sight of what it is all about believing in Jesus. Mother Mary, Holy Father and beautification of many martyrs, in a sense, interfere the fundamental interaction between man and God. The conservative decrees of Popes on modern touchy problems. such as abortion and euthanasia cause some people even to depart from the faith.
In contrast to the huge organization, the other extreme of religious attitude gave rise to the idea that put an emphasis only on meditation. Zen Buddhists, Quakers and monks of various sects try to find themselves in the light of serene silence and isolation. In fact, the words of great religious leaders are the very products of intensive rumination.
It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the essential part of religious life can be found in meditation, not in the socialized Sunday meetings. And the expression of one's faith is found only in putting God's words into action, not in the precise observation of ceremonial code. Most people seem to prefer the latter, because it is much easier to lead a routine, formalized life than face realities and try hard to solve the problems according to his religious conscientiousness. Most regular church-goers are always in the danger of indulging in complacency, convincing themselves that all their sins are condoned.
The historical formation of religious organizations has evolved from necessities derived from countering the anti-religious groups. Martyrdom and prosecution could have been avoided if well-organized church had been established. The lesson has led to building up of larger systems than their foes. It is more than 1000 years since the Christian hierarchy was established.
Now that the common notion that all truth is relative and all 'lifestyles' are equally tolerated are prevalent, those religions degenerating into formalism have no longer strong appeal for the modern public. And some religions are invigorated only when they are presiding funerals. They are as good as dead.
In fighting against social evils and being loyal to its own beliefs, which is the only way to survive in the modern society, religious groups must be simplified. and engaged in, so to speak, guerrilla warfare. The inevitable maladies of huge organization---dictatorship, dogmatism, bureaucratic red tap---must be rid of if we are to realize what we sincerely believe in.
First Written in April 1987 Revised in March 2001