The Immaturity of Religion

Ok kids, put your thinking caps on!

I was a Christianity major in college. I was also a Sociology major. Considering I attended and graduated from a Southern Baptist college probably sheds light on my very limited knowledge on both those subjects, however, I did keep some of the books and have turned to browsing through them. It’s amazing how they are much more interesting now than they were then.

Fortunately, not every textbook we purchased came from the Southern Baptist Press. We were provided with mainstream texts, but they were filtered through the Southern Baptist lens of our professors. Reading them now in my un(church)filtered state, I am sometimes amazed at what these books were trying to tell me, and I am saddened that we weren’t allowed to have honest discussions regarding the subjects they raised.

Here’s some passages from an introductory text entitled “The Sociology of Religion” that I found interesting.

“The role religion plays in maturation is highly problematic. While it is difficult to assess religious dysfunction in maturation, we can see that there is the possibility that religion institutionalizes immaturity by encouraging believers to be dependent upon the religious institution and its leaders.

Religion can provide the necessary elements of security and definition at certain stages of life, to enable the individual to meet crises successfully and to develop a mature personality. Paradoxically, even in its dysfunctional promotion of dependence and immaturity, it can become a focus for the development of independence and maturity by becoming the object of conflict and rejection. From this process the development of a more mature attitude and point of view, either religious or irreligious, can take place.”

This passage makes me feel smart. It says what I’ve been saying for the past three years: CHURCH PEOPLE NEED TO GROW UP!! As I have said before (most eloquently I might add)… the church is just a big nipple that people love to suck.

The church is a complete and total paradox. The church says that Christianity is about freedom and then in seeking to set you free it enslaves you. It tells you it wants to make you a “mature disciple and follower of Jesus”, but to do so you have to stop thinking, stop questioning, get in line and be a stupid sheep follower of our version of Jesus.

The church says it offers you the “meat of the scripture” and that anything the world offers you is “milk”. What you don’t realize is that the church is offering you processed meat devoid of any real food value and that the milk of the world might be much more valuable to your overall balance and health.

No doubt, like the passage above states, the church can provide certain functions in a persons life to provide security and a level of stability. It can even assist in the maturation of a person… to a point.

I just think it’s time that most church people grow up.

17 thoughts on “The Immaturity of Religion”

  1. I meant “I have found that the world outside the church is not full of free thinkers,”Double negative negated the meaning.

  2. Everyone is dependent on something. It’s just a question of what. I have not found that the world outside the church is not full of free thinkers, but on people who are dependent on a whole host of other things for very similar sorts of things, whether a political party, a business mantra, or a political candidate. In fact, as I have matured within my own church (which has included an ability to critique it from within), I have noticed a growing perception to what an exceptional degree non-churchly things are presented in truly religious overtones, whether the quasi-eschatological claims of the last corporation I was working for, or the quasi-messianic claims of a political demagogue.

  3. “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

  4. Steve, I agree with your post…alot. As a pastor, I’m glad you pointed it out. I do my best not to make anyone dependent on me. I always encourage reading, questioning, and letting people solve their own problems instead of giving them the answers. Actually, giving any advice these days is dangerous. I can’t say that I never do, but I try hard not to.

  5. We all use arguments to support the things we want to believe. And we usually believe the things we experience to be true. I state the obvious only because I want to say that my experience tells me that the old axiom “Man (and woman) is an island” can be detrimental when shit happens. When your small business loan doesn’t come thru; when your best friend’s child dies too young; when your spouse leaves you. You need others around you or the weight of life kills you. At least this is my experience. And I find the relationships I have through the meeting together at church can bring great comfort and support. Do we need to think for ourselves and not let some people in an ivory tower tell us what to believe? Absolutely. But do we give up on each other? I personally don’t think the “institution” of the church is going anywhere any time soon. It’s been said to have been dying for decades now. But people continue to find solace for life’s woes in community. Will the medium change? Probably. What’s the medium look like? Where do we have theological conversations and encourage each other when life barfs shit all over you? Here? Perhaps this in an inappropriate post for this blog (like giving Oprah advice on the jerry springer show ;). If it is, please delete it, you’re not going to hurt my feelings. My advice is simply this: Don’t throw the whole thing out because part of it is messed up. The church, with all her imperfections, I believe, is still quite beautiful.

  6. I am starting to see the cold hard depressing truth that this is an accurate fact of Churchianity. Even the Emergent types are all the same. I went to a campout with a Missional, Emergent, Body for the unchurched. A hip “unchurch” of sorts and guess what. Same stuff different package. If you make a chocolate cake out of shit, its still shit. Anyway. I am drifting away from the Church. Closer to God and trying new things like meditation.

  7. I can’t believe the college allowed you a text book that said such things! I attended Appalchian Bible College–our text book for psychology? “Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology.”I wish I were kidding…I still have all the old textbooks, none of which are worth their weight even in toilet paper…Apparently you (and I!) both survived somehow…Congrats!

  8. Steve, this is the nature of man…to attempt to control, maintain, and ultimately “package” ‘the message’. It’s of course all well meant. Who wants young feable minds to be cluttered with too many questions when they are supposed to be upholding traditions and long-standing dogma’s tested and proven throughout the years?!?I still however cringe when you through this blanket over, what seems like, the whole church-as j pointed out. I’ll easily bite off at 80%…hell even 95%. But there are a handful of communities (be it in someones living room or converted shopping mall) who are striving to break free from these stigmatas. Do they deserve to be tossed in this same 2 Dollar bin?I’m curious if you are at all still church snooping, if only to see if in fact the entire church body is still beyond hope? I know you are working through some faith issues, but are you interested in what is really going on (ie. first hand) out there (not an attack, just wondering where you stand on this)?

  9. We’re all slaves to something or someone. We’re never free, we simply get the occasional opportunity to choose/change our master. You’ve simply replaced your slavery to churchianity with something else.Becoming a slave of Jesus Christ is the most liberating slavery of all! [Remember what it was like when you first received His forgiveness, grace, love … if not get around some brand new Christians].

  10. I lurk here. My church closed in December 2006. I was very active in the church, and I cried when I first learned about the closure at a leadership meeting.I got engaged after that, and life has been different. In some ways liberating… in some ways feeling like an important part of life was lost.Yet I haven’t found the energy or desire to find a new church home. I find that churches (and the hypocrites they produce) all seem the same. I see how “maturity” plays in this process. There was a time I felt completely lost without a church home. Then one day it clicked. (1) If I’m really following God, why panic when the person “walking between us” simply disappears? (2) The only person I must account for is me on judgment day. Not a single person in the church can give a reference that will change a d*mn thing. And (3) The time I used to feel obligated to give on Sundays and Wednesday (and other days) was spent on traveling with my young son’s bowling team and basically live life.

  11. Steve, I’m a long time reader and enjoy your posts. I have a question regarding clarification: Is it your opinion that the gathering of people for encouragement and study stunts the maturation process? I understand the use of exaggeration to make a point, but are you arguing that all church people are immature?joshua

  12. I agree. Church people are too dependent upon the institution. I attend because it’s an opportunity to hang out with some people with whom time doesn’t always permit me to make contact during the week. I don’t buy into the mission/vision stuff, and most everyone understands that. I’m not content with the way things are, but I don’t really have a solution that stands a chance of succeeding. Because, as Steve points out, if it did succeed, someone would write a book, turn it into a “model” and screw it up in grand fashion.The only answer I can come up with is to be with the ones you love (and who love you), and let the rest roll off your back.Steve, what do you think fellowship (for lack of a better word) ought to look like?

  13. Let me respond to the questions some have asked:J asks: <>Is it your opinion that the gathering of people for encouragement and study stunts the maturation process?<>I agree with the author of the text that says, “….there is a possibility that religion institutionalizes immaturity by encouraging believers to be dependent upon the religious institution and its leaders.”<>…are you arguing that all church people are immature?<> I am arguing that many church people are too dependent on the church and its leaders.Lowend says: <>But there are a handful of communities (be it in someones living room or converted shopping mall) who are striving to break free from these stigmatas. Do they deserve to be tossed in this same 2 Dollar bin?<>I think you meant “stigmas” or “dogmas” but anyway I get your point. I would say any “community” that you are referring to that appear to be “breaking free” are, in time, doomed to become just like every other religious group. They have no choice, because as you say, it is the nature of such things to occur. <>…are at all still church snooping…are you interested in what is really going on (ie. first hand) out there…?<>No I am not visiting any churches or attending church anywhere. And no, I’m not that interested in what is “really going on”. You might dismiss this as ignorance, but I am also not interested in visiting a scientology meeting to find out what is really going on there either. I have a good idea what is happening in both.Shieldsy: If you don’t mind I might make your comment another post. Well, I am not really asking, but I am just letting you know. But I was just thinking, what if you substituted the word “addicts” or “addicted” to the sentence you wrote. I just want to think through what you wrote b/c I do agree… I think it’s something to consider… the slave/addict mentality.

  14. I think it was Augustine who said, “The church is a whore, but she is still my mother.”J makes some good points. Even in its most authentic possible manifestation, the church is going to be as messy as spirituality already is.

  15. steve, thanks for the response, and btw, I never assumed nor meant to imply any ignorance on your part. I just wanted to know where you stand these days in that regard.Though the human element will always doom any well intended Christ-centered venture to failure, it does not necessarily gurantee it. I believe, and would venture to say that I am also currently experiencing, that a community that recognizes this fundamental fact/flaw and thus chooses to lean on grace, versus their own ingenuity, might just have a chance at sustaining God’s design of the church. Or a better way to put it, they learn to step aside more often and let the true head of the church lead.This model runs counter to almost every human characteristic, and thus we are called to struggle. Church isn’t just Bingo and pot-lucks. Church is making it through, together, one day at a time, beginning each day/step with grace and ending it the same. When grace becomes an action–a way of life–instead of just another church vocab placibo, we have the privelge of experiencing what God had in mind all along.

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