If Religion Were The Key To Morality

If Religion Were The Key To Morality August 18, 2014

If religion were the key to morality

The above t-shirt came to my attention via Facebook. I certainly do want to acknowledge that there are some “mega-churches” which do in fact look like charities and not like businesses. Sometimes precisely for that reason, they won’t look like or be characterized as “mega-churches.” But are they the exception, or the rule? One can’t judge that based on anecdotal evidence. So why not share what information you have, and whether you think the t-shirt gets it right or not, so that hopefully we can all learn from the discussion?

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  • melayton

    There seem to be a few basic problems with this claim. First, there’s the question you raised – whether megachurches actually look like big businesses or not. I’m a poor judge on that front; I’ve worshipped at a megachurch maybe twice in my life and never been to a small group meeting. But I suspect it depends a lot on the megachurch. From evangelicals I know who worshipped at what I’d call megachurches, only the worship service was mega, there were small groups as well that functioned more like the mainline protestant model I’m familiar with. So I guess it could look like a big business or a collection of church ells after the house church model, depending on how you look at it.

    But as I said, I’m really out of my depths on that question.

    Perhaps a better question is, what is it about looking like a million-dollar business that’s antithetical to morality. I guess this will come down to just how they resemble big businesses. I’ll grant you, Walmart is hardly anyone’s idea of a moral paragon – but they got so successful precisely because they do something well that people actually need (or at least are willing to pay for, and figured out how to deliver this on a large scale. For Walmart the goal is to sell the most units at the highest profits – which is amoral by its very nature. (Treating workers, customers, suppliers, etc. morally only makes sense for them, you’d only expect to see it if it supported that goal.) But in theory, you could have a similar set-up driving to a very different goal. If your goal is to (say) maximize people making a first-time confession of faith coming out of any event, or to maximize the amount of time each newly-converted Christian has with a spiritual mentor (i.e. actually getting them involved in the church past that initial conversion experience) or whatever – I can see a megachurch’s (or church network’s) central office looking a lot like Walmart’s central office at a structural level, even using the same language, but driving toward something very different. So I’d question why a megachurch looking like a million-dollar business gets in the way of it being a good tool for morality.

    (I think in practice, in most cases the two don’t go hand in hand, but at the same time I think it really comes down to how they resemble each other.)

    Finally, I’d question the connection this meme seems to draw between Religion (TM) and megachurches on the one hand, and between morality and Religion (TM) on the other. Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet, as the Psalm goes, but that doesn’t mean any particular expression of what would become Judaism was morally useful. At least some of the sects of Jesus’s day seemed t have their moral problems, clearly. I’d say that religious revelation and a good relationship with God does help us to become good people, but that doesn’t mean that the most common form Christianity takes in contemporary America is actually the best or even a good way to work at this.

    So, yeah. I’m not all that convinced by this t-shirt’sclaims.

    • Jonathan Bernier

      Re: the cell group model. It has long seemed to me that mega-churches often run on a functionally episcopal structure. Just as in an episcopal setting you have a local bishop under whose charge there are various parishes wherein one’s primary spiritual needs are to be met so too under the mega-church you have a senior pastor under whose charge there are various cell-groups wherein one’s primary spiritual needs to be met. I think that a lot of the problems in these churches is a failure to frame the logistical difficulties that they face as a result of their size as a properly ecclesiological problem about which wisdom from past Christian centuries might well elucidate. Instead there is a tendency to re-invent the wheel.

  • Robert Longman

    This also makes presumptions about multi-million dollar corporations. I find those presumptions to be mainly true, especially so as one goes to the top. But they are presumptions rooted in a person’s socio-politics. Churches do much more than just charity, and moral formation is indeed one of the things they do – even if they’ve largely been co-opted. (Look around, so is most everything else.) *Churches need to look like what they do, and do what they are.* The real problem is they generally don’t.

  • Timmy Price

    I did belong to the 40th largest church in America for 4 years, and while they did support charities on a massive scale they also looked and operated like a giant social club or corporation… This was frustrating to and find quite a bit of merit in this statement… I also agree however, with one of the previous responders, the church does not solely exist to be a charity… It’s main function is proselytizing and broadcasting it’s moral and religious message… This is a tough one for me…

  • ashortt

    you become like what you worship! the right side of the brain is for
    worship, art, music etc.etc…while the left is for hard
    facts……..Which god do you worship? the god of sex? money? power? or
    the God who has created the world and calls all into allegiance with His
    kingship….the proper use of responsibility, resources,
    relationships??? Religion (a slippery word) or worship directly
    determines who you are…..that includes ethics!

  • Andrew Dowling

    I’ve argued on here before that morality exists beyond religion (and I generally despite mega-churches), but to make “mega-churches” a proxy for “religion” is sheer laziness . . .

  • Sean Garrigan

    The t-shirt seems to be founded on confusion over what has actually been argued by those who believe that morality — i.e. objective good and bad and our desire to act one way or the other — can’t exist without God. I’ve never heard any astute Christian philosopher claim that morality is impossible without religion, but many have argued that morality is impossible without God. Without God there’s just what we do as animals, and that’s it. That some things are deemed “good” and others “bad” is an unfounded human fancy.

  • John MacDonald

    The title of this post made me think of the reverse: what if morality was the key to religion? So, I did a blog post today (formatting it took a few tries) about Philosophy of Religion called Immanuel Kant Pointing To God: Not Deductive Reasoning, but Awe At The Moral Law Within. It’s here if anyone is interested in topics in the Philosophy of Religion: palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2019/06/i-most-persuasive-form-of-ontological.html