Thought-Provoking Quote

Lately, I have been reading Christianity After Religion by Diana Butler Bass.  I had heard about it and seen so many references to it that I figured it was a “must-read.”

There are many points in her book that are worth dwelling on, but this one in particular has caught my attention:

“Americans forget that religion was not always organized in the same way it is now. Until the Civil War, religion was typically the matter of small-town or village dynamics led by itinerant preachers and settled pastors who formed little congregations based on styles of prayer or preaching or liturgy…Most churches did not even think of themselves as part of ‘denominations’ until well into the nineteenth century.  Religious faith was not centralized; there were no national headquarters.  Faith life was organized locally and regionally, with slow communication between clusters of Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, or Catholics.  There were few seminaries, and most of the clergy did not have formal education, having been trained instead in a local church with a senior pastor who was likewise self-educated…As the United States became more urban, educated, and business-oriented after the Civil War, it faced increased social pressures through immigration, mobility, economic recessions, and technological change.  The religious nonorganization of the early republic no longer worked, and it began to make sense to think about religion in business terms…Denominations erected massive churches, established seminaries, built impressive headquarters, regularized education, and instituted rigorous training standards for clergy, musicians, and professional Christian educators.  It was a massive, expensive, and successful effort to restructure religion…By the mid-twentieth century, religion was a big business, having embarked on a ‘period of unprecedented institutionalization’ in the United States and elsewhere.  If North Americans and Europeans perceive ‘religion’ as ‘institutional religion,’ it may be because the denominations did this to themselves.  The perception is largely correct.  Churches may have a more altruistic product line than General Motors, but the history of big business and the big business of faith are intertwined.” (pp. 73-75)

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