Have religions become populist social institutions?
From a strong major social institution in the renaissance period to an organization struggling to be as a recognized genuine support system, religions have significantly changed in the recent times. Membership statistics are just numbers and estimates of religious organizations to provide a clue of how could they be potentially influential in politics and in the society in general. However, the question remains is the church still influential in the advent of rise self-determination as a better alternative to church doctrines as a form of life guide for personal decision-making? Or have churches clinged to a populist stand to keep membership figures stay afloat in the midst of liberal modern times?
There exists extremist forms of various religious sects like the Islam's conservative groups in Iran and Saudi Arabia, Buddhism's total vegetarians, or Christian's modern day crusaders and monks throughout the world. However, the number of individuals claiming to belong to these extreme conservative religious groups has dwindled. In fact, this forms of extremism either are condemned or have been part of religious taboos.
On the other side, the liberal members of the church, who are blending church doctrines with scientific bases and progressive ideas. These liberals have significantly increased interestingly in the most developed nations of the world particularly in Europe and Northern America. These change has either threatened church doctrines to adapt to modern day changes or permanently altered long-time conservative doctrines. For example, topics on domestic violence, gender equality, freedom of choice, contraception, homosexuality, ethical scientific discoveries, and many others have surfaced into the discussion among church leaders and even are more open to or have been more inclined to support some of these issues within the church doctrines the church believes into.
As a response to this liberal movement within the church, church has initiated either restrictive-punitive or more liberal stance on these issues. In some Islamic countries, the religious followers have been subjected to a code of conduct to repress the expansion of more liberal ideas seen as threat by the church. On the other hand, in some Catholic-dominated nations, church leaders have tried to influence and meddle in politics to somehow dictate legislations to press governments to stay in the less liberal position on certain current issues. In this way, religion has in one way or another put a plug to an influx of progressive liberal views within its members. However, the threat still remains in the future. As an a option, religious churches have devised a master plan of gradually adapting teachings to the modern times, thereby moving to a more populist point-of-view while setting this populist position as a direct opposition to liberal perspective.
Nevertheless, populist perspective may not be totally be the antonym of liberalist perspective. The opposition seems crafted deliberately by religious organization to stop followers to further having increased inclination towards the liberal school of thought. Now, churches are more opened to more participation of women, although before it was prohibited. Ofcourse, there are still restrictions unto which role, maintaining the paternalistic structure of churches, thereby creating a hybrid style of women equality. Furthermore, people could decide on whether to use contraception or not, but only religious prescribed methods should be utilized. Many religious groups are not condemning homosexual individuals, but not their inseparable homosexual lifestyle which makes them one.
There exists several current forms of religious guidelines that were absolutely prohibited before but are partially accepted as before. It is just saying to the majority of their followers that their wrong doings in the eyes of the church could be tolerated as long as they fit to certain restrictions. Are these attempts for the church to be more relevant or simply an populist approach deviant to their doctrines itself, which is suppose to be the reason of the church existence.
The greatest challenge of churches is to come up with alternative reasons to scientific researches and findings explaining the origin and the evolution of life. These topics are perceived to be unfathomable to many that it is more convenient to relate this to God, who has created everything. Recent literatures on quantum physics and Big Bang theory have pointed out the possibility of life originating from nothing, devoid of time, matter and energy. The explanation that the first matter came from absolutely nothing is something incomprehensible to many, such that believing that God created the first matter and triggered changes to it to come up further with life would be a more acceptable explanation. However, this has been debunked by physicists giving proof that in the subatomic levels, matter disappears instaneously and then appearing from nothing in another like magic. The explanation is not due to a miracle made by God, but a scientific phenomenon to be accepted as it is, rather than refuted.
Religions throughout the world have made changes in their previous conservative stance on the origin of everything. There has been no prohibition on exploring on how life evolved, an great leap from a heretic judgment of churches in the medieval times. However, there still exist prohibition on asking on who caused the first matter to evolve, because in the religious position, it is only God who can do so. However, scientists are counteracting these with concrete evidences and proofs.
Now, what has happened is that who screams the louder and more understandable gets to be believed better and more people. For now, it is religious sects succeeding on this despite of scientific researches debunking some of the concrete religious belief pillars on these churches. However, what happens when science gives light to Islam's divination of prophets, Christianity's resurrection of Christ, Hinduism's reincarnation and similar beliefs? Would churches alter its explanation to suit with the changes brought about by these potential scientific discoveries? Would these explanations incline still towards populist stand, or be absolutely different? Only time can tell.
For now, the power of churches over human population has diminished significantly. The essence and importance of religion have been for the first time discussed openly. More and more people are asking, and it has become harder for churches to give a more relevant, acceptable and credible answer. The most convenient answer ofcourse is the populist perspective. What the majority thinks to be acceptable will be the new rule and guide of the new time. Would populist stance undermine the essence of religion? That is a difficult and perhaps another taboo question.