The Religion Racket
by Norman H. Wells
Former Pastor, Central Baptist Church, Cincinnati
Now With The Lord
© 2005 James H. Dearmore/Gospelweb.net

The Late Dr. Norman H. Wells

[GospelWeb.net Globe]

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Chapter 22

Cures That Kill

It is extremely disturbing to watch as religion begins to fall. A lot of effort is always put forth to bolster a sagging religion. Many different methods have been employed to check the decline in religion. One of the most common methods used to strengthen religion is to combine it with something else. If religion won't stand by itself, join it up with another activity and this is supposed to give added strength.

Since real religion will have an effect upon every aspect of life and is closely associated with every activity, it is not too difficult to cement it to anything that is desired. Generally it is found that such a merger has disastrous effects. Religion continues to decline and that which it has joined, rather than helping, is consuming and destroying.

The result of combining religion with entertainment has already been considered. Whenever a religion begins to appear dry, dull, and lifeless it is logical to look around for something that will inject a little life. Too often religion will turn to entertainment and Gospel celebrities and stars will be brought into the services. Clerical comedians will be employed. The old hymns will be thrown out and "gospel songs" with a beat will be used. The latest singing groups are asked to appear. Religious movies become a regular service rendered. At first this combination of religion and entertainment seems to. work. Generally, the crowds will pick up in attendance and folks will seem to be enjoying the services. It will appear that it is easier to get the unchurched to attend this type of church service and usually more "decisions" will be made.

All this appears wonderful but somewhere along the line it will be noticed that there is less and less religion and more and more entertainment until finally entertainment takes over and religion is just a faint suggestion. The church will find itself in direct competition with commercial entertainment and in this field the church always comes out second best. The only thing it has to offer is cheaper admission.

It has been found that to join religion with psychology and psychiatry can also be a success ... for a while. There can be no doubt that true religion will reach into the realms of psychology and psychiatry, but to overemphasize these in order to strengthen religion can prove fatal to religion. It is a cure that can kill.

We are living in a time of re-emphasis on things which concern the mind and spirit. The effects of emotional disturbances, nervous breakdowns, maladjustments, etc. are well known. The jargon of the professionals in these fields has become common to all. Books on psychiatry, psychoanalysis, mental hygiene, etc. are also available to everyone. Again it needs to be stated that true religion, properly applied, is the answer to a great deal of the mental and emotional difficulties that plague this generation. It is also true that when religion overemphasizes this, it again is in danger of losing its identity. Our church services can degenerate into mental health clinics and our preachers can become nothing more than second-rate psychiatrists. That which is an important part can be allowed to grow until it assimilates all other aspects of religion.

More and more it will be noticed that religion is being joined to politics. The close identity of these two is very evident. Preachers have found that it gets a great deal of attention to comment upon political affairs. The liberal and conservative, the right and left wing, as well as the middle of the roaders all find their political philosophies being expounded from our pulpits. Religious leaders and their denominations are looked upon as potent political factors. It is not uncommon to see conflicting sides of a political issue each being represented by religious leaders quoting Bible verses to prove their point. It is soon found that marriage to politics eventually smothers religion. Church services become nothing more than political rallies and political indoctrination takes the place of religious teaching.

When the spirituality of a religion begins to wane the tendency is for the adherents to feel they must get busy and do something. This results in renewed emphasis upon the various programs of the church and the one getting the most attention is likely to be social work and welfare. The effort to secure clothes for the naked, food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, education for the illiterate, etc. is intensified. Certainly all of these things are good and should be done, but if religion finds that all it is doing is providing for material needs then it is again missing its purpose. Religion will find that it is still dying . . . spiritually. It is again swallowed up by that which is supposed to help. The result is the same, even if a "good work" has done the consuming.

In searching about for added strength, religion sometimes joins up with recreation. A successful religion today feels it must have good recreational facilities. Some of these have reached the proportions of having fine gymnasiums, swimming pools, bowling lanes, skating rinks, etc. while others have to be content with a ping pong table or two. Practically every church finds it necessary to sponsor teams in all the church leagues for bowling, softball, etc. The church is also expected to provide for the social life of the church goer and dances, card parties, and social activities of all kinds are used. This also results in failure. It causes people to attend church to play, not pray. Associating religion with recreation winds up with recreation taking over and becoming predominant while religion continues to decline.

Religion is always urged to join up with all civic improvement activities. Of course, these are important but should it become religion's main task to improve our environment? This is another cure that kills.

The erosion and decay these things can bring about in religion is subtle and hard to define. After all, what's wrong with good, clean entertainment? With religious psychology and psychiatry? With politics? Social work? Recreation? The answer, of course, is that nothing is wrong and real religion will have an effect in all these areas. But it is also a fact that any one of these things can so dominate religion so as to destroy. We can bury religion in an overemphasis of these "good things."

It is an admission of utter failure to even feel that religion must be joined to something else in order to survive. If it continually has to be propped up, then we are in bad shape. If religion does not have strength to stand on its own, then of what possible good is it anyway? The decent thing would be to bury it quietly and try to forget.

It seems as though very few ever think of the other alternative. Why not knock off all the barnacles that have attached themselves to religion and give it a chance? Why not quit trying to dilute it and let religion come on ... full strength?

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