The Unbundling of Religion

With the percentage of Americans who are affiliated with a specific religion continuing to drop rapidly, it was only a matter of time before these institutions attempted a structural shift in what they offer. Today in the New York Times there’s an article about churches which are attempting to host a myriad of other services on their grounds to entice young and middle aged people.

Now, this isn’t the same type of unbundling going on due to technology, but we can look at it through the same prism. Religion at its core has and never will be about true belief. Only a very small fraction of the population which affiliates itself with a religion truly does so because they believe they must adhere to the scripture word for word as it has been┬ádivined by some prophet or another. In some way I do respect these people for taking a stand and believing that they amongst the six billion other people on earth are part of the group that has the one true answer and is walking the one true path of piety. That takes balls, if not also being completely delusional, but balls none of the less.

No, most people engage in religion because for so long it has wrapped itself around so many other facets of life, from community, to charity, morality, family, and politics. This is why religion itself is so powerful, because it gives the religious authority the ability to say that they have the answer as to what you should do and believe because it has been divined from god. How can you argue against that? You either believe that the religious authority is the authority and listen or you don’t believe in the religion, there is no middle ground.

And that brings us to today. More and more people are realizing that these religious authorities don’t have any better answers than anyone else, and that their claim to having the right answers by way of decree from god is complete hogwash. When all of their authority is derived from that assumption, if you take it away, they have nothing.

This is the unbundling of religion. Just as will happen or is happening currently with education, you won’t go to church or synagogue for community, just as you won’t go to college to get a job. These important things are external to the institutions that currently harbor them. You go to college, supposedly, to learn, just as you go to church to pray, though for the vast majority neither of those two things really takes place anymore.

The best part of this is that religious authorities are at a massive disadvantage by attempting to rebundle even more things with religion. Do you really expect the best yoga classes to be held at your local church?

There will always be weak minded people who fall pray to the need for some religious authority to tell them that they have the right answer. But the trend in the data is going in the other direction, as we as a society become better education, better connected, and more wealthy, our need for religion declines and everything around it will be unbundled.

And this opens up so many opportunities for people to build new institutions that cater to those thing which will be unbundled, just as it is for education. How can we build charitable institutions outside of religion, how can we provide community to older individuals who yearn for a sense of belonging to something bigger, who will guide younger individuals through tough times and life lessons.

These are holes to be filled, but in the end we’ll all be better off for it as the new institutions will be there to serve the purpose instead of serve the growth or influence of the religious institution itself.

Building Congregations ARound Art Galleries and Cafes as Spirituality Wanes (New York Times)

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