The thin line between Religion and Institution

OllowDear readers,

I am glad to share with you all today another interesting topic, one that many of us have to deal with on a regular basis. I hope you all are faring well.
In one way or another, many of us subscribe to one faith or another and we may also refer to it as a religion if we please. We pray in a certain fashion, fast on certain days, worship in a certain mode and even dress in specific ways. Over and above all, we try to follow the precepts of our religions as best as we can or as we should. This in itself is laudable and we try to instill these very morals in those we are responsible for.
Over the years and for centuries, religion has affected the lives of many people, positively and negatively. We may choose to ignore some of the real and glaring facts however burying our heads in sand doesn’t make the problem disappear, rather we must look at it decisively and take action adequately.
An institution on the other hand is a body founded for a specific purpose, be it social, business or even spiritual. One interesting feature about an institution which we may already know is that it survives on bureaucracy; a system where by decision is taken by some selected members and not by everyone. In itself, it can function and survive quite well, however when intertwined with religion the dynamics isn’t always the best. Let us look at some very practical examples, today Islam has spread the world over with a large number of followers through various means such as jihad, conversions, members having many wives and offsprings and thus growing strong also from inside out. Every country has a its own chief Imam and they act mainly as guides in the country. There is no main or central body that gives laws for all muslims the world over, because the Quran is their centre of reference. Even though they may disagree on some of the interpretations given by different sects of the faith, the general idea is when there is a disagreement or opposing views on an idea, they all turn to the Quran.
In terms of growth, we all must agree they have been successful. (Please note that when I speak of Islam and muslims I in no way include the radicals who hurt people in the name of religion, I speak only of those who follow their religion peacefully).
Christianity has also spread through out the world by various means such as the crusaders, colonialism, conversions, evangelism and above all the ability of every church to operate as an individual unit, separate and distinct from every other church in the world. Now we all know the catholics still operate a system where the vatican is the governing body for all catholics, however we also must honestly admit that the pentecostals have risen and grown more that the catholics because they have a greater filed of operation with less intrusions from an institution that creates laws which may or may not necessarily be applicable in every field. What do I mean? For example, Joel Osteen as a pastor runs his church and all affiliates according to a system he feels best, and similarly T.D Jakes naturally does the same. The only thing they both have in common is they preach from the Bible and proclaim Jesus, but there is no institution or body whatsoever that controls them, gives them laws or tries to meddle with their internal affairs. Now in as much as central coordination has some advantages, in religious matters and at least in Christianity, churches have risen more because every pastor has a large autonomy on how he runs his church. Are they successful? Yes!
We may define success by various parameters but when it comes to outreach and members, we must give kudos to our Christian brothers.
In this light if those who practice gaudiya vaisnavism want to have a huge impact on the world, they must first start by de-institutionalizing the religion. When bureaucracy mixes with religion, you have a system that is almost similar to dictatorship, because those in the administrative part of the religion may and often misuse their power. In a normal religious circle, advancement should be judged by how much a person has lived his life in total surrender to God’s will and instructions, in a religion that is institutionalized, often times advancement or progress is judged by how soon one can climb the socio-spiritual ladder, and how many positions you have.
Local leaders who manage centers do not have any autonomy because at anytime, someone sitting at a place thousands of meters away probably in another continent can pass a law that totally disrupts the local preaching. A local preacher may find himself subject to the laws and dictate of a leader who is high on the institutional ladder but junior in spirituality, because in the light of things position has a heavier weight than spiritual advancement, thus he is bound to comply. Someone may argue to the effect that administration in itself is not a hindrance to the advancement of any religion and in fact helps it grow. In this regard need I mention that in almost all major religious texts of Islam, Christianity and Hinduism, none of the great saints and prophets ever felt the need to establish a religious body governed by circular administration. Jesus didn’t build a church talk less of put anyone as a general overseer neither did Caitanya Mahaprabhu establish any Temple, and install anyone as president. Rather all the past saints advised people to grow spiritually and thence encourage others to grow following their example.
If religion must grow truly in its pure and undiluted form, it has to do so without the interference of circular management. If a religion must spread rapidly, then the preachers must believe they are part of the religion and are accountable for their preaching endeavors and not subject to “powers that be”. When preachers feel encroached on and incapacitated in using their own discretion and judgement in matters that concern their local preaching, they gradually begin to hold back and with time they don’t give their best any more. Why should they anyway, when one man or a group of people can over turn it all in a blink of an eye.
As usual I shall give you all sometime to soak this up and we shall deliberate more on this matter latter. It is four days to valentine and I wanted to do something on Love but I guess I shall postpone that till next week.
Till then do read, internalize and follow this blog space for more amazing articles. You don’t want to miss anything.


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