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Global Religious Trends (Are we less religious)

On Friday, I posted about an article I found that suggested that intelligent people are less likely to believe in God.  With all the comments I received, it got me wondering about religious trends in general.  While none of this is conclusive, it is, however, interesting.

Using Google’s search trends analyzer, I found that search trends for religious words were generally down accross the board.  In other words, fewer people are searching on these words today than there were in 2004 (as far back as these trends go).  What’s more, all this in the context of an ever-increasing trend toward online usage.  In short far more people are online today than in 2004, usage and familiarity with search engines has climbed in that time, broadband and internet access in general has increased, yet fewer people are searching on religious terms.

Here’s what I found (more below the charts)…

Search traffic for the term “Christian

For the term “Christianity

For the term “Religion

For the term “God

For the term “Mormon

Searches for the term Faith, Church, Protestant, Catholic, Lutheran, and LDS were all down in general as well, some more than others (clearly there are myriad other search terms to look at – feel free to pick your own and peruse at will at http://trends.google.com).

Could this indicate a reduced global interest in religion in general?  Could it be another sign that as society evolves intellectually and scientifically, they push God away in general – trusting more in themselves and their own knowledge?

One possible alternative explination, is that churches in general have been slow to embrace the new medium and build up a suitable online offering.  In short, if pickin’s are slim, and search results find little of value, people will stop searching.  But is that just the optimist in me?  What do you think this means?

Rusty

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The commercialization of religion

In my first post in the miracles of Mormonism series, I touched briefly on something that needs further exploration.

Like it or not, we humans are economically driven.  From the very moment that Adam was cast out of the Garden of Eden and told that he would eat his bread only by the sweat of his brow, we became dependent upon the need for compensation.  Compensation allows us to live, survive, to feed and support our families, and to maintain a particular lifestyle.  We became inexorably tied to the laws of economics.

As mankind progressed, societies progressed.  Soon we outgrew hunting and gathering, began to farm and store our own food, trade, and specialize.  In the course of this specialization man began to look for all kinds of opportunities to make money.

It was only a matter of time before some would realize that religion, or the desire to believe in something, was a pretty fundamental need of mankind.  Where there is demand there will also be supply.  That’s how economics works; people will pay you for giving them what they want.

But there are lots of problems with this kind of commercialization when it comes to religion, and just as one could have predicted the emergence of the occupation of “preaching for money”, economics can also forecast some of the consequences of this model.

When you receive regular compensation for something, that something becomes your product.  If you are going to make a living off selling that product, then now you have to market that product.  In a very real way, you’re simply in business, and the basic rules of business and product marketing and management can now be extrapolated to you – even if what you’re selling is religion.

As a product manager myself, I can testify that once you start selling a product, you become very interested in selling more of that product.  After all, your sustenance depends upon it.  So you begin to naturally see how your product is received.  Over time, your product evolves. 

Soon you start carving out the portions that people don’t care for, or that are too “expensive”, and don’t offer sufficient return.  At the same time you start adding to your product things that you know your consumers want, things that will keep them buying your product, and things that will make your product more enticing to others.  You start to look at ways to expand your customer base and reach new market segments.

This kind of product evolution is inevitable and inescapable, and the economics are undeniable.  As long as one derives their sustenance from the customers they serve, they’re interests will be naturally shaped by their customer satisfaction.

A business cannot survive, after all, selling a product that nobody wants.

But when we’re talking about the commercialization of religion, where doctrine and teachings are the product being sold, then the evolution of that product becomes a scary thing, for the longer time goes by, the more that product begins to represent the will of the people, and not the purer, original version.

The commercialization of religion is a large part of what led to the great apostasy, or falling away, where the truth of the gospel could not be had in its fullness upon the face of the earth.  For the doctrines of man began to intercede with the will of the Father, and the original product of Christ – his true church, began to evolve.  Over time, unpopular principles began to fade away until they were gone entirely.  In their place came new principles that made the product more enticing to the people.  This evolution was sustained and propelled by leaders seeking increasingly to protect their own power and wealth than to maintain the purity of the gospel despite its difficulty.

The Bible tells us that straight is the way unto salvation, and few there be that find it, but broad is the way that leads to damnation.  But the commercialization of the doctrines of the church forced the opposite – they evolved to become widely popular, to appeal to the masses.  For the more customers purchasing the product, the larger the organization could grow, the more wealth could flow in, and the more power would be given to those who were already in authority.  Soon it would become an organization led by the profit of the world, and not by a prophet of God.

These evolutionary changes in doctrine over time are readily apparent to one who truly studies and understands the Bible.

Think for instance, on the doctrine that man is saved by grace alone, in spite of what works they do on earth.  If I derived my sustenance from my congregation, and my ability to appeal to the masses, what better doctrine is there!  Come to my church.  Be baptized.  Then, it doesn’t matter what you do, at least not in terms of your eternal salvation.  Act as you will, sin, it’s okay.  Just come to church!  What a marketable concept, even if the references in the Bible that speak to the contrary are clear, plain, and readily available (which I cover here). 

Does that sound like the path of God that is supposed to be straight and narrow, with few there be that find it (as described in scripture), or some man-made highway, manufactured to accommodate and capitalize on the greatest possible traffic?

What about baptizing infants.  Marketers today are learning more and more that they need to start early, marketing to toddlers, for if you can sell them on a brand while they’re young, you exponentially increase the likelihood that they will remain your customers as they grow older.  Is this a practice supported by doctrine, or by the commercialization of religion?

Is it heresy, or wisdom to ask such questions?  I submit that it’s our eternal salvation that’s at stake, and no matter how unpopular the question, if it needs to be asked, it should be, for none should trifle with the souls of man.

But such commercialization was not necessary, it was chosen.

One of the miracles of Mormonism is in its lay ministry.  It’s in the fact that none of the local or area leaders are paid for their work.  Missionaries aren’t paid for their time and labor.  They take two years out of their lives to teach the gospel, travel to foreign lands, learn foreign languages, and all at their own expense.  Bishops, teachers, priests, stake presidents, primary, Sunday school, and all those who are called to directly preside over and administer to their local congregations are entirely volunteer.  They did not ask for their positions, nor did they aspire to them.  They were simply asked to serve, and being willing, were called to sacrifice their own time and effort as the needs demand.  Such a notion gives even more context to the Mormon miracle I describe here.

So when the bishop gives guidance or counsel, or when missionaries exhort someone to pray and ask the Lord if the Church is true, if Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet of God, and if the Book of Mormon is true, there is no financial motive.  They have nothing to gain, save only an eternal friendship and the blessings that come to those who so unselfishly serve.

But in spite of a lay ministry, of an organization made up of volunteers, and not paid professionals, and in spite of the difficulty around being a Mormon, and being required to live and abide by the commandments of God, the church is flourishing.  The work of the Lord rolls forth, free from the grasp of economic principles that do not apply, and free from the evolutionary changes that corrupted the true gospel of Christ so long ago.  The church today has been restored in its fullness, back to the blessed “version 1.0” of the gospel of Christ, led not by the profit of man, but by a prophet of God.

I extend an invitation to all to ask such critical questions, to read the Book of Mormon, and to pray and ask God if it is not true.  I invite all to read and learn of Joseph Smith, the great latter day prophet who restored the church of Christ.  I invite all to discover for themselves the miracles of Mormonism.

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Rusty

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The National Spirituality Index

Economic indicators are key measurements that have proven particularly powerful at predicting the performance of the economy.  There’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), unemployment, consumer confidence, S&P 500 stock index, housing starts, home sales, manufacturing, the yield curve, inflation-adjusted monetary supply, orders for capital goods, and more.

But anew indicator, the National Spirituality Index (NSI – which, admittedly I just invented), has already proven far more accurate at predicting our economic future than any of the others. 

If you’re Christian, and believe in the scriptures, then you’ve got ample evidence of repeated economic meltdown following sustained periods of wickedness.  A recurring theme that shows a societies overall economic health is directly proportional to the cumulative level of that societies overall righteousness – their NSI.

As societies become increasingly wicked, they begin to experience all manner of tribulations.  Sustained tribulation begets humility and an acknowledged reliance on the Lord, people repent, turn to God, and “magically” things get better.  It’s happened over and over.

But the turnaround doesn’t take place until the individuals in that society realize that the change has to happen with them – in their own personal lives.  It won’t be fixed by any blanket policy from the government, nor by some $150 billion economic stimulus package (which is money that doesn’t exist anyway – it’s a printing press, merely adding to our already staggering deficit, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has already estimated will jump to $250 billion because of the economy – without the stimulus package).

No, the NSI is nothing more than the sum total of every individual’s PSI (Personal Spirituality Index).  So it’s not until we, as individuals, realize that WE have to change.  It’s always easy to think “I’m not the problem”, but that’s not how the NSI works.  Every individual contributes or detracts from the index, and every weakness we cling to further depresses the index as a whole.

But as individuals begin to focus on changing their own lives, increasing their own spirituality, and staying in tune, can we stay the course of spiritual entropy.

As individuals change, they have a positive impact on those around them (the spiritual equivalent of gravity, which I discuss here).  Soon you get these islands of expanding righteousness, and pockets of perpetuating virtue.

So Ben Bernanke can continue to lower rates (like his predecessor), but we should expect very little effect until the NSI begins to improve.  But it doesn’t start with the whole; it starts with the individual – with you and me.

 Rusty
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