This is a very open-ended question, and to answer it, we need to narrow it down in scope. “Solution to WHAT?” is the first question. “Problem as far as WHAT?” “What church?” The answers will vary, depending on whether you look at social, political, economic, moral and other aspects. The answers will also depend on personal preferences, beliefs, biases and predispositions.
An organized Church is like any organization. It has its advantages (e.g. it helps to achieve social cohesion through central control) as well as disadvantages (the arbitrary nature of its control, subject to self-serving agendas, leading the followers to choices which may be disadvantageous to them as a whole). The Church in the sense of a “Religion” is, again, a mixed bag. On the plus side, it unites the like-minded collectives, but on the negative side, it marginalizes and potentially squashes the individualists. It also creates lasting antagonisms between different groups.
As you delve deeper into the analysis of the Church’s historical function, the matter only gets more complex. And the deeper you go, the more abundantly clear it becomes that the Church is NOT so much a “religious” institution, as it is an institution of social control. From that point of view, the church teachings (in MOST religions, though the Roman Catholic Church clearly takes the cake) aim not merely to instruct the followers in “how to live”, but primarily in “how to live in conformity with OUR vision and agenda.”
Church teachings about MORALITY serve the Church hierarchy more than they serve the believers. Morality on that level is, after all, the most sublime form of control. Where the individual morality is “live and help others live” the church morality is “live like we say or perish forever”. This is particularly true of Judeo-Christian religions.
The Church as an organization is frequently cited as the “builder of civilization”. This is difficult to argue against, since all undistorted historical records show that civilizations evolved around religious ideals and have been led by churches – of whatever denomination. But this is NOT to say that in the absence of the unifying and controlling CHURCH, there wouldn’t have been equally unifying and powerful secular alternatives. Thing is, that the power of this kind of Church-enforced unity tends to be so overwhelming so as to marginalize or even totally obliterate any kind of opposition! So even on this issue, the question remains open.
The historical unity of church and state is proof of the real function of the Church – and how little, in reality, it has to do with religion or morality. It is, undisputably, an instrument of political control above all else. Today’s “separation of church and state” is mere smoke and mirrors, when you think about it. Modern governments, though secular in nature, utilize much the same forms of social control techniques; so whether it’s a priest telling you what to do or a politician – at the end of the day, it’s the same thing!
There’s also a lot to be said for the dynamic between church and scientific progress – or lack of it. Contrary to popular (critical) notions, the Church wasn’t always anti-science and pro-blind-belief. As we already said, civilizations sprung up around the church, and a civilization without science and technology can not exist. But the Church also has a rich record of bending science to its needs and, when necessary, fighting it. In that, of course, it is no different from modern political agendas.
- There are certain social initiatives which the church is great at. Organized fundraisers, helping those in need after disasters, etc. Particularly the modern Church (especially the Catholic church, but most other churches/religions have demonstrable achievements in these areas as well) is able to claim the moral high ground on such issues. But, historically, it hasn’t always been that way, with examples too numerous to mention where quite the opposite was true, with the church turning its back on the most needy – or even aggressively attacking and eliminating them through its Holy Wars.
- Regardless of how one feels about religion, faith, spirituality – the Church has very little to do with either, except in words – but not really in actions. Virtually all the wars in recorded history have been either religious in nature, or have been supported by the church establishment. And there is practically NO doctrine in church which is so Holy so as not to have been institutionally subverted to serve the current hierarchy, at one point or another!
- The Church is, most clearly, a political power center – more than anything else. It’s just that its political influence is derived through different means. Or, perhaps, not so different. The Church wins through its control of the hearts and minds of its followers (achieved through its faith-based authoritarian brainwashing from the earliest days of the people’s lives), and the Church hierarchy resultantly becomes a political force not to be messed with too lightly. Even today, as we can all plainly see, countries like the USA (but not only) are so incredibly dominated by Church politics that it’s almost impossible to disentangle the individual political platforms from Church agendas.
On balance, the church – of any denomination, really, but most especially the Roman Catholic Church – is simply another form of collectivist control of our society, competing with political parties for your alliegance, and as such, its influence is a mixture of “good” and “bad.” And “ugly.”
The church is also the single most influential force in our lives which teaches us “magical thinking”. I do NOT discount spirituality and I respect everyone’s individual beliefs even when I personally disagree with them. I know many truly beautiful and spectacularly clever people who are also religious. But the problem of Church remains: teaching our children uncritical acceptance of divine authority can only be excused by the authoritarian mindset which assumes that we have no other path to morality and that CONTROL over the population is an imperative. Forcing supposedly divine instructions on the thus-duped populace achieves a willing conformism and a default opposition to free thinking which is hard to fully overcome as the individual grows and develops.
It can be argued that the influence of the church today is a positive counterbalance to the political factions in charge of our economies and lives, because it’s one of the few voices making anything resembling MORAL appeals (even when they’re not sincere!). But in the long-term, neither the church nor any other form of collectivist/totalitarian control are ideals we, as the society of individuals, should be striving for.
The above argument has NOTHING to do with individual religious faith. While I’m personally neutral on that (agnostic/atheist actually), I see no quarrel between individual beliefs and science or wisdom. But the INSTITUTION of Church – just like the institution of government – is a dangerous thing and a source of long-term DISUNITY in our society.
- The catholic Church – Builder of Civilization, by Tom Woods