Changing times

How religion adapts and remains applicable in an ever-changing world.

How do religious institutions manage to draw in their congregations, week after week, when their devotees could be spending their time praying and worshipping on their own, or reading their religious texts, or taking part in other, more secular activities?
  • Select the best that their religion has to offer.

  • Supplement it with useful, recent information.

  • Discard elements that are unconvincing, irrelevant, and boring.
Not the fire-and-brimstone approach

Guilt is a recurring theme in traditional forms of religion- human beings are sinful by nature, and cannot escape the fact that even their best standards are paltry in comparison to God’s. Some religious leaders continue to preach about fire and brimstone, their talks laden with Old Testament metaphors.

Their congregations tend to be ageing, patient, and well-used to the idea of spending a morning each week listening these expositions.

However, not all sermons are focused on fire and brimstone. Many leaders avoid this strategy, and instead adopt styles that are more listenable and compassionate.

For example, many leaders explain to their congregations that sometimes, our human desires, which appear so at odds with religious perfection, are actually compatible with God’s will. Instead of wallowing in guilt, we ought to embrace our God-ordained human nature. This forgiving philosophy tends to attract believers who would rather find ways of dealing effectively with guilt, than engage in self-flagellation.

Updating and supplementing God

If you've listened to a sermon recently, or checked out the list of activities and classes offered by a religious institution, you may have had good reason to feel extremely impressed by the variety of enrichments on offer and range of topics covered (from marriage counselling to karate lessons to financial management).

Even taboo topics (such as sex, violence and aggression, and money issues) are sensitively tackled and interpreted within a harmonious, God-centred context, sometimes laced with down-to-earth humour. (For more on the types of activities offered by religious institutions, refer to the section on Community.)

Savvy preachers attain a reputation for being up-to-date, absorbing, relevant, and witty. They excel at interpreting their religious books with directness and immediacy, adapting their themes to the issues that lie uppermost in the minds of their members- whether that be the current economic climate, the latest natural disaster, or the political scene.

Advice about spending, building contacts, forging relationships, and choosing party candidates is neatly incorporated into readings of appropriately-themed religious passages. Many young people are drawn to their institutions because their dynamic leaders offer sound, detailed, practical advice. After all, one cannot reasonably expect to keep teenagers riveted to the pews with platitudes.

Although leaders emphasise, modestly, that they are inspired by God, and derive their sermons from religious teachings, the fact is that the new embellishments are the product of modern society, derived from human minds operating in present-day contexts.

While the gist of their messages may coincide with those from religious passages, the specific details, the highly-relevant scenarios and examples offered by the speaker from contemporary life, are nowhere to be found in the original texts.

Their relevance relies on the ingenuity of the speakers, who integrate their life experiences and knowledge with deft comprehension and passage-reading skills.

The fact that stories in religious passages lend themselves by analogy to situations faced by people today does not render the religious texts timeless and all-enduring.

Rather, it demonstrates that the human mind is resourceful and somewhat enduring. The texts require plenty of explaining and re-interpretation as it is, so imagine how it will be several hundred years into the future.

As time goes by, their relevance diminishes and they require ever-more supplementation and bolstering by agile minds that imbue them with meaning. Our natural human tendency to seek out novel information and experiences fuels the adaptation of various classes and activities to religious environments.

(See the section on Religious texts for a discussion of how religious texts stay relevant, and the section on Technology for more on how religious institutions use technology to reach out to believers.)
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