There was a time when audience members would throw rotten tomatoes at lousy stage performers. In Christianity, we sort of have a metaphorical reverse of that concept where the ones on the stage throw proverbial rotten tomatoes at members of the audience who dare challenge The Narrative.
Question policy? You’re a nuisance.
Question methodology? You’re a troublemaker.
Question doctrine? You’re a heretic.
I am constantly confronted by the religious (particularly those of the clerical caste) about the need for, nay the duty of Christians to be loyal to the pastor and to the institution. Now I place a high value on loyalty; but as a smart man once told me, “Loyalty comes above all else except your personal honor.” What he meant was that loyalty doesn’t come with an intrinsic obligation to blindly support someone who is doing the wrong thing. Yet Western Christians are so heavily invested in their religious institutions that they feel obligated and obligate others to be loyal to the institution. This really shouldn’t be a surprise because institutional survival becomes the automatic highest priority of every institution.
This is a major reason why the Sunday “worship” performance is the central focus of every church. This is why programs that pass themselves off as “ministries” are pushed so fervently. This is why church marketing is so business-like. The performance, whatever flavor it takes on, is geared toward satisfying a human need for amusement, absolution, or preferably both. The programs are advertised to meet other needs, but offer little of substance. The marketing effort is probably the clearest evidence of a corrupt system. Rather than being a family, Christianity has become a religious commodity brokerage, with churches the businesses that base their success on how much of the market share they capture.
This mania for building business-style religious institutions has even led to the development of actual businesses that are geared toward church marketing. There are even companies that “plant” churches on behalf of individuals—for a fee, of course. I point this out because this business-model epidemic is beyond absurd. But let’s not for one second forget that a less-commercialized religious institution is still a hierarchical, religious, human-centric, religious institution. And the all-consuming institution unabashedly demands absolute loyalty in order to remain viable.
Although it is to be expected, I do find it funny that religious folk feel that loyalty must be compelled. How many times have you heard expressions like these: “You can’t love Father God if you don’t love Mother Church [Mother Church???]:” “The pastor is the Man of God, and he deserves your support;” or “It’s our duty to be in God’s house every week for worship”? The list could go on and on, with those who are bound by religion clamoring most loudly for blind loyalty to the institution. Somehow, they’ve overlooked the remote possibility that if an observer (either outsider or insider) doesn’t like the institution, perhaps the fault isn’t with the observer.
The way I see it, if you must demand loyalty, you probably don’t have anything worth being loyal to. Yet I constantly hear those who dislike going to church for many legitimate reasons being denigrated by the religious crowd. The “nones” or “dones” are portrayed as being rebels, malcontents, or just plain, stubborn reprobates.
Even insiders are not immune from drawing the ire of the clergy and the die-hard fans. Churches, notorious for crushing dissent, generally take a very dim view of those who question doctrine or practice. Whether their views are right or wrong is immaterial. What is material is that they are challenging the institution, and that cannot be allowed. Any dissent is met with Spirit-quenching, soul-crushing opposition. The dissenter is cowed into silence or evicted, and the clone factories keep churning out vacuous carbon copies of Christians.
The friendly fire from those who claim to be the keepers of the truth is yet another devastating effect of the religious enterprise that uses Christ’s name as a token of authority. As long as an institution (the building, the business, the hierarchy, the ritual, the cliquishness) takes the place of spiritual life, those who are beholden to it will continue to throw rotten tomatoes at the audience. This is yet one more reason why those who truly desire to follow Jesus and have a beneficial effect on this world must do so outside the bounds of religion.