The Church Is Not a Democracy….

We in the U.S. know that one of the primary foundations of our democracy is freedom of speech. That is being able to say something different from our leaders and not suffer serious consequences. In my opinion, this is what has allowed our country to remain so strong over the centuries. Many times criticisms lead to change and though we might not realize it at that time that is good for us. It makes us better; it makes us stronger. Without freedom of speech, I doubt our country would even exist today.

Anyone who has studied church history knows that it is not a democracy but instead has for most of its history a very vertical-oriented top-heavy organization. When the leadership of the church said something everyone was expected to quickly get in line with no questions asked.

Dissension, or some might say freedom of speech, is simply not allowed.   In the past, anyone who even hinted at a disagreement was quickly handled.  In the first few centuries of the church, many were proclaimed to be a heretic, which basically meant they didn’t agree with the leadership in some way or another. It usually followed that all of their writings, if they existed, were burned so their words would not pollute the church.  And some were burned along with their books.

Thank heavens at least in the last few centuries heretics are not so severely handled but that does not mean that they are now ignored. Many think only of the Catholic church when they think of the power structures. No Catholic, especially the cardinals and bishops would go against anything that the Pope proclaims.  But this situation also occurs amongst the Protestant denominations as well. Plainly speaking the leadership is to be obeyed.

If you even hint that you don’t agree with all the various creeds and statements can cause you to be disciplined or even thrown out. I know personally of a Lutheran minister who was brought back from an overseas mission and stripped of his sermon rights because he dared to join in prayer with other Christian groups, and years later I like him was shown the door due because I didn’t tow the line on how old the earth is among other things.

Many just can’t accept any questioning of their proclaimed doctrine. They claim that it would stain their institutional purity. About the only denomination that I am aware of that doesn’t do this are the Quakers. But since they are adamantly opposed to creeds, in general, that seems natural to them.

Sadly, there is simply no such thing as freedom of speech inside most church doors…

4 thoughts on “The Church Is Not a Democracy….

  • Why anyone would let a church control their thoughts and freedom of speech, as long as it is polite, is beyond me. Religion has gotten the world in a big mess for centuries. It’s all about control and power. All you have to do is read history and look around with an open mind.

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    • You are touching on the very depths of religion Mary. We all, or at least the vast majority of us, frequently question why we exist, what is our purpose for being here? Religion in its thousands of forms are attempts to answer that very basic question. To deny that religion has an important part of society is to deny ourselves and our quest for meaning.

      Having said all this, I do somewhat agree with your hypothesis that unquestionable acceptance of a particular version of religion to exclusion of all others is the source for many of the past and present woes. There are too many who adamantly believe that their version is the only correct one. That is really the source of the problem. “Coexist” is the notion that I hold that we can believe what we want about our origins and who controls things as long as we agree that others have a right to believe what they want.

      I am currently working on some posts about “The Vulcan View of Religion”. That is trying to understand the origins of religion in a logical manner. This study is giving me some unintended insight into this matter.

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  • I am going to disagree from a specific viewpoint. Of course religion is not democratic – it is not intended to be. If you join a group (pretty much any group) and you do not hold to their belief system or rules or whatever governing aspect they have why would you stay? Why would you even want to be a member. It really does not have anything to do with purity of ideas. It is their ideas are not up for discussion. Religion is not a “social club” that you join because you like the people or something. You join because you believe or are attempting to believe.

    If you happen to be in a leadership or teaching position in a group and you do not follow the rules or belief system I see that the organization has every right to discipline and if necessary ask you to leave the group.

    Religion does not control your thinking you join them because you either agree with them or you are open to believing after investigation. If not why would you stay? They do not control your freedom of speech so long as it is in pursuit of asking questions and investigating the belief system. If you become unable to believe, at least the fundamentals of the belief system, and you express that their belief is wrong or you disagree to the point your mind can’t be changed I see no reason why they should allow you to remain. You do not have “freedom of speech” in a private setting. Freedom of speech is only that the government can’t control it.

    At the same time there are churches that do not require you to believe “everything” to be a member or be included. There are some core beliefs that are typically expressed in a creed that might be necessary to believe to truly belong but then even some of those might not be essential to the faith. I can’t speak for other churches but the Catholic church will not ask you to leave if you struggle believing some of their [non-core] beliefs. There are a lot of “good Catholics” who disagree with the position on artificial birth control as an example.

    Also as another point there are many bishops and cardinals who do openly disagree with the current Pope. I reference the recent meeting of the US bishops where some are more or less refusing to enact some of his ideas. The pope, regardless of what is often thought, is not a monarch who must be obeyed in all things but the leader of the governing body of the Church. And like any leader is open to disagreements and refusal (with good reason).

    The very idea that religion is somehow at fault because they are not open to freedom of speech to disagree with their (core) beliefs makes no sense.

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    • First of all Bob, I never intended to include all religions in my comments. Of course, there are some that allow questions and sometimes agree to disagree. Maybe I am too much of a scientist to understand the take it or leave it approach especially given the history of the church as I know it. Much of the core beliefs you stated were generated centuries after Jesus left this earth and in fact have very little to do with his teachings. That is why I state “I am a follower of Jesus Christ but not religious.”

      We scientists are taught to question everything. You aren’t excluded for having opinions that might be different. That is how facts are separated from myth. As I said I was a Lutheran for 25 years and a Catholic for 20 and during all those years I never felt I could just blindly accept what was put in front of me. For the most part, I like millions of others just kept silent but not always.

      Yes, I think that Catholics are more tolerant of dissent than Protestants. I didn’t intend to put every 39,000 versions of Christian religion in the same bag. Every time there is a split it is usually over what you can core beliefs. But then again maybe that is the problem with religion, the take it or leave it mentality, too many leave and then make up their own core beliefs as has been happening since the very beginning.

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