If you follow my blog at all, you may have picked up on the fact that I closely follow data on the shifts in our culture, and specifically the changes that are impacting organized religion.
Historically, churches and spiritual centers have had physical space (buildings, property) and hired a minister and other staff as dictated by the needs of the congregation.
I remember when the role of Church Organist was a full time position in every church, unless the minister’s wife was a musician and then the compensation was often added as part of the minister’s salary package.
By the time I began working as an Organist (1991), many churches had begun to move away from the full-time Organist/Director of Music model to one where the Organist was paid to show up on Wednesday night to lead choir practice, and Sunday morning for services. It was a part-time gig with no benefits package.
This change came about due to the financial realities stemming from a decline in members, tithes, and changes in church attendance. Today, as the decline in religious participation has accelerated, we see these same changes impacting the ministry.
As I continue to ponder the fate of traditional organized religion in the United States, I have come to question if any of this should have morphed into the big business that it became and struggles to maintain today.
The principles of spiritual living are universal Truths, and as such belong to everyone. Ernest Holmes – ordained Divine Science minister and founder of Religious Science – seemed to understand this, never wanting his teachings to be packaged into a religion.
“… Ernest Holmes never wanted a church, and wasn’t interested in religion. He only wanted a teaching ministry. … Holmes resisted it as he resisted too much organization. “To evolve a higher understanding of the spiritual universe, humanity and the church must be free, open at the top.”SOM Archives
When the focus of a church or center shifts to finances, the mission becomes muddled. Instead of remaining “open at the top” and agile enough to evolve a higher understanding of the spiritual universe; churches and centers become obsessed with paying the rent/mortgage, funding repairs or updates, giving the minister(s) a raise (or paying them what was agreed to) and counting what gets put into the offering plate each week.
These organizations are not free and evolving higher understandings or open at the top – they are scrapping and scrimping to meet the payroll; worrying about their own survival and chained to very base financial realities of modern life.
Referencing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need, we know that an individual cannot evolve to a state of self-actualization if they are struggling with basic needs (e.g. survival). I can’t imagine that an organization – comprised of multiple individuals who are interested in the health of the organization – can evolve when collectively they remain mired in the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy.
This reality of financial turmoil then leads to feeling justified in charging money for classes that teach techniques for applying universal Truths, prayer work and more. And here is where I believe churches and centers have gone astray and where the wisdom of Ernest Holmes (e.g. no establishment of a religion) is so obvious.
The focus, I believe, needs to be on teaching interested seekers how to use spiritual tools to improve their lives, period. It should never devolve into maintaining salaries, rents and more. Easy to say; not so easy to back out of when almost the entirety of organized religion is up to their eyeballs in this money model.
A transformation is already in motion. Fewer dollars going into offering plates on Sunday morning; more church buildings are being put up for sale each month and difficult salary decisions being made every week in religious organizations across the country.
As I ponder the fate of the spiritual-not-religious teachings, I see the need for teachers and guides, but I don’t see the need for the role to be a salaried position. In fact, the very BEST teachers are those individuals whose lives are 3D examples of how the spiritual principles actually work in the real world. Don’t preach to me about what I should do – show me what’s possible by living your best life!
As Mitch Horowitz writes in the forward to Harv Bishop’s new book, New Thought (R)evolution, (See,… I’m not the only one saying these things)
“New Thought as an identifiably intellectual and spiritual movement, born out of the transcendental yearnings of the mid-to-late nineteenth century, has a less certain future.”
“New Thought, in its churches, books, and internal dialogues, has failed to mature.”Mitch Horowitz
My opinion on at least part of the reason New Thought has failed to mature in the latter 20th/early 21st century is that pursuit of fame and/or fortune has been the goal, and the sharing of spiritual principles has been the vehicle. The (anecdotal) evidence of this has presented in several ways.
If we look at the current crop of Hay House speakers, we can see that none of them are generating the same excitement, crowds or best-selling books – even though they are in essence, teaching the SAME THING that Wayne Dyer and Louise Hay taught and found extreme success in teaching.
In less lofty circles, we see multiple examples of ministers who go into the ministry do so with the hopes that it will give them a platform to speak to the world, not to necessarily “do the work” that is in front of them – serving their fellow humans – regardless of fortune or fame.
The problem here is not with the teachings, but with the goals of the teachers and organizations. As a global movement, we would be wise to recall the wisdom of Epiucurus:
“The love of money, if unjustly gained, is impious, and, if justly, shameful; for it is inappropriate to be miserly even with justice on one’s side.”Epicurus ( 341–270 BCE)
History has shown that these principles will survive. Whether the modern-day organizations built up around them will survive is uncertain at best.
If there are to be heroes in this saga, they will be those who see the importance of the teachings as more critical than the maintenance of the hierarchy, and who work to usher in a new model – one that will support the evolution of a higher understanding of the spiritual universe and humanity; and that is free and wide open at the top.
I may not ever be classified as a hero – and that’s OK, but I plan to be (and am working now) on the leading edge of this transformation.
And so it is.
(C) 2019 Practitioner's Path