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Hopeful Thinking: The training wheels of organized religion

Hopeful Thinking: The training wheels of organized religion
Hopeful Thinking: The training wheels of organized religion

Is organized religion meant to be a permanent part of our human culture? If so, in what form? Because the decline in participation in religion, not only in our country but throughout the world, shows no sign of abating.

Why might that be?

Statistics actually do tell us why that might be. A common factor among those who report upon why they’ve left their faith is that religion has failed us. They state that it has failed to live up to the very standards it claims to promote with regard to loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Of course, not all religious believers are examples of this failure. There are many devout and truly loving practitioners of religious faith. But they are not the loudest ones in the room. And those who wield scripture like a weapon are taking up nearly all the oxygen. They are turning away people in droves.

At a minimum, this leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the honestly faithful. At worst, it compels them to turn from their faith entirely.

For those who are believers in a higher power, is God allowing this to be? Is there a benevolent mechanism at work in this decline? Are we revealing ourselves to be advancing beyond the petty dogmas of religious faith that were designed around power rather than goodness? Is God sitting there eating popcorn watching this all play out?

Because I wonder if it’s not inevitable that religions, at least the most dogmatic ones, have a self-destruct mechanism built within them. One that God could see from the beginning but understood the benevolent process that would ultimately unfold as a result of them.

Perhaps there’s a purpose, or at the very least an allowance by God, that improperly designed faith systems gradually, and naturally, recede through an attrition of their own making. Even if it’s a centuries-long process.

I have always held that God does not prevent sorrows so much as accompany us through them. That the ultimately loving and benevolent purpose underneath sorrow is to engender a more compassionate people.

Which means that making mistakes, committing institutional sins, or turning a blind eye to failures within the designs of religious systems and dogmas is a self-eradicating process over time. And one which God not only allows, but perhaps even hastens in Its own way.

Faith systems that encourage diversity, actively apply compassionate action, and empower the breadth and width of human society writ large will prove themselves the victor in the race for good church.

I have said before that Humanism, which stresses the dignity, potential value, and goodness of human beings, is the likely end goal of all world religions. To some that may seem improbable, for why would a religion essentially design itself out of business?

But I think subconsciously, we want religion to fail in the same way that we look forward to taking the training wheels off our bicycles as we learn to ride them with balance and grace, unaided. Effortlessly finessing the centrifugal force of gravity as we seemingly float along the earth’s surface with ease. Balance achieved.

Training wheels, much like false dogma, are an artificially constructed pseudo-balance. We cannot use them forever. They are weak, poorly made to genuinely support the rider, and eventually, our own desire for freedom will make them obsolete if not outright fail and break away.

Is that the divine escape clause within religion? Is that the evidence that our divine spark understood the purpose all along.

Religion, via humanity’s increasing reaction to it as it enlightens itself, is starting to show signs that it is only a phase in the greater curriculum of the human learning curve. It is not the end goal.

I will state it here clearly though that I do not believe this is an abandonment of our relationship with God, or all forms of religion. It is only the beginning of it. I believe our entanglement with the divine is an eternal one. And we’re only just getting started as we steadily rid ourselves of poorly-designed artificial supports.

I believe the abandonment of old, outdated religious structures is a sign of our maturation, instigated by the very mechanisms designed to prevent it.

The levels of genius within that higher system are breathtaking. For how wise and patient must a parent be to understand that we would not only make mistakes, but that it would be inevitable our divine spark would eventually recognize them for what they are: lies which only serve to highlight the ultimate truth.

Wil Darcangelo, M.Div, is a Unitarian Universalist Minister at the First Parish of Fitchburg and the First Church of Lancaster. Email Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at