Organized Religions Tend to Market Fear Instead of Love

Like most Filipinos I have been baptized under the Roman Catholic religion, the default religion in this country. It’s the religion my parents and their parents belonged to. They did not have to think about it or choose among many other options out there. There was no doubt in their minds that their child will be raised a Catholic. I can imagine it is more of a struggle for other families whose members have diverse religious beliefs.

The recent news involving the conflict within the ranks of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) highlighted the role of organized religion in the lives of people. I have always wondered what it is like to be a religious fanatic; to have this uncritical zeal and obsessive enthusiasm related to one’s own devotion to a religion. So I watch with fascination how this INC drama is unfolding.

I like how defined a religious fanatic as “someone who takes perfectly good creed and assumes that because they pretend to follow it, they are allowed to do anything they want even if they don’t really follow the creed at all and usually insisting that if others do not follow their ways, they will be damned.”

Organized religion, also known as institutional religion, is “religion as a social institution in which belief systems and rituals are systematically arranged and formally established.” There is an official doctrine, a hierarchical leadership structure, and a codification of rules and practices.

Although I am only familiar with the superficial details of the major religions, I have a feeling that among the organized religions out there, the Catholics are the least organized. And I happen to think that it is a good thing.

I always joke that if you want a religion where everything is allowed and you are not forced to follow the rules strictly, choose Catholicism. Don’t get me wrong. Catholics have an official dogma and sets of rules, they are not just strictly enforced the way other religions do. Putting it another way, the Catholic religion has the most number of hypocritical followers. And leaders, too, come to think of it. Based on my experience, we do not usually practice what we preach. And the Church cannot really make us comply.

Catholics may have first and second collections during masses, but giving is optional and you can give any amount. Your parish priest will not go to your house and ask to see your income tax returns and guilt-trip you into giving 10 percent of your income. But this religion still makes a lot of money. Because no one does guilt-tripping the way Catholics do. I am certain they invented the concept of “gaba” (loose translation: karma) as a form of controlling behavior.  Combine it with creative marketing of the sacraments and religious merchandizing, they get more out of their flock than the tithing model.

And there is really no means of checking your attendance in Sunday masses. Dress code is not really enforced. Children can roam around and play and make noise during religious ceremonies. Adults can come and go as they please even while the ceremony is going on.

For somebody who considers herself an independent thinker and a person who is not very organized and not easily organized, being Catholic works for me now. Because my religion has no means of checking up on me and ordering me to do things I do not want to do like vote for certain political candidates. That is why when people ask me what my religion is, I smile and say: “I am a non-practicing Catholic.”

Organized religions are authoritarian hierarchies designed to dominate your free will. They are very effective at turning human beings into sheep (that’s why its leaders are called shepherds and the followers are called the flock). They are powerful instruments of social conditioning. They use the word “faith” but what they actually demand is submission. Steve Pavlina calls it “engineered obedience training.”

Another thing that bothers me about organized religion is it practices conditional loyalty instead of unconditional love. If you disagree with the belief, you become a target. Either for conversion or for destruction. Instead of promoting love, they market fear.

In an increasingly diverse, multicultural, and multi-faith world, we have to move from suspicion and fear of the other to acceptance and respect. We need to work on cultivating a culture of openness and understanding.

But I am only talking about organized religion here.  Not God. Not faith. Usually, God gets set aside in our preoccupation with being right and having might. When that happens, I thank God that I am not so easily organized.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, September 3, 2015