The 2 reasons why most religions are technically and organisationally flawed

The 2 reasons why most religions are technically and organisationally flawed

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I am not going to debate on the right and wrong of each religion. I am merely going to throw out a provocation about the  structures and underlying technology behind many religions. I am doing this not to trivialise them, but to provide a platform for a different kind of debate. If this debate progresses, maybe some big problems can be solved. Potentially amazing!

I understand that I may be opening a can of worms by confronting such an emotive subject as religious belief, but there is a huge amount of conflict and turmoil in the world created under the banner of religion. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot positives in the world, too, resulting from religious belief. But if we could just find commonality, we can start to deal with the greatest challenges that face us.

So, here goes. There are two fundamental issues with most mainstream religions. (click to tweet)

First, the primary platform of religion is based on a flawed communication technology – text. This may sound odd, because text is ubiquitous, but hear me out. Look at email and text messages. How many times do we misread intention, meaning and tone from text? How many times have you had to explain misunderstandings and misinterpretations? How many times have we read tone or intent into something, only to realise that we were wrong? Put another way, this is also why most people are disappointed by cinema adaptations – they believe ‘the book’ is usually better than ‘the film’. Our imagination takes over, and creates our own meanings. The film is someone else’s interpretation of the same text, which is where it becomes flawed. People create their own meanings.

Scholars have spent centuries debating the Torah, the Bible, the Koran, and other religious texts, which are open to interpretation – literally, since most are translated into the contemporary languages of those who follow their teachings. That’s without the argument that religious texts are generally not first hand accounts, but written centuries later, by scribes, from hearsay and oral tradition. There is a huge amount of opportunity for message divergence. You only have to play a game of Chinese whispers to understand this.

My point is, that if there is so much variation in how we interpret things, why is there so much literalism towards religious texts?

I often talk about the issues inherent in organisational hierarchies. The second problem is that most religions are administered using an organisational model that is flawed: patriarchal, masculine power structures create a lot of problems. They are unable to change or adapt easily, and they promote self-interest. Any other hierarchical organisation hundreds or thousands of years old would be pretty exposed in these modern times. As a business, they would have called in the consultants by now. Shouldn’t we question religious organisations in the same way? Surely they need as much help in change management as any other type of organisation?

If we start to question the organisational systems and technologies behind most religions, maybe we have a chance to find some common ground. If we challenge and end literalism and instead, focus on shared values and higher purpose (love, sharing, goodness, kindness, etc), we can start to move forward and tackle some of our biggest problems in the world.

I have to confess that I have never been a religious person, although I surprised myself with spirituality this year. My background is in science and engineering, and I’ve been brought up to challenge anything rather than accept everything. If I saw no evidence of existence beyond ourselves, I found it impossible to believe in any gods.

Ironically, this year, that all changed – during my first trip to Singularity University, which lies pretty much at the extremities of science and technology. You see, whenever I reach the extremity of what is possible, I start to question things.

I have spent a lot of my life challenging the status quo and investigating human strengths and  weaknesses at an identity and organisational level. I am interested in global issues and developments. But late night conversations at SU are not about the latest piece of tech that’s changing the world. Their subjects are: ‘Why are we here?’ and ‘What does it all mean?’ I hadn’t expected this! My experience challenged everything I thought about the world.

I now believe that the more you investigate such questions, the more the boundaries of science overlap the boundaries of spirituality. Once you explore the realms of quantum physics – and the fact that we are all energy vibrating at different speeds, infinitely connected – the concept of a collective consciousness becomes quite plausible. Some people would call this God, Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh, Great Spirit, the Universe, All That Is, the Great Unknown.

I have spent many months trying to rationalise all this, and have started to draw some personal conclusions. Maybe we are all looking at the same thing, but through frosted glass. Maybe, over time, we have simply developed different terminology or world views to describe the same phenomena?

If so, then somehow, somewhere things have gone awry. I don’t think the problem lies in the intrinsic values within humanity; the problem is how religious organisations have traditionally communicated and organised themselves.

If we return to the essence, instead of following the letter of the law and the power structures that keep people bound and divided, we might all live in harmony with ourselves and the universe. And the world would be a far better place.

I would really love to know your views on this. What are your views on this subject? How would you tackle the issues that accompany religious beliefs and their impact on our global community?

If you have something to say then please ‘speak your mind’ in the comments section below..

Take care.


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  1. Hi Marc. Interesting piece and enough to get me to put pen to paper, so to speak. I am not a religious man but speak regularly to my God, mostly to thank him for my blessings and to ask him to look after my kith and kin, those here and those who have gone before. In terms of beliefs mine are not relevant, nor should be those of others unless they start to impinge on the freedoms and well-being of others. No person has the right to force their beliefs on others or blatantly condemn the beliefs of others. What is needed is a common thread, a denominator that brings us all together under a set of universal rules that we all can agree on. Let’s call it for example – Blood Ties. Blood is something we all have, it has a common origin, we need it to live and we should respect everyone’s right to their own blood, in other words we should not take the blood of others. I am sure we can easily create a set of basic rules -let’s call them commandments – that everyone can respect and work within. The rules have to be something so basic that no-one can object to them yet be enough to draw us all together in a common cause. Those rules should further the rights of all and encourage the solving of the worlds problems as opposed to the creation of new divides. The big issue is how to handle those who don’t agree to the new rules. I am not going to solve the worlds problems here but there are enough good brains from all the worlds religions who given the chance could, I am sure, create a much better world. Imagine!!!

    • Thanks Tony. The big problem is fear of change. That sets off the worst part of our brain and is much easier for negative forces to leverage. I have some ideas around how this can be avoided but that is probably a coffee conversation!

  2. Hi Marc,

    I really enjoyed our brief ‘what is’ conversation at Singularity U. Much food for thought. And yes I have also been surprised at the shear volume of spirit amongst participants here at SU. I thought I’d share with you my spiritual background. I was brought up in the ‘Religious Society of Friends’ AKA as a ‘Quaker’.

    The main text of guidance is an evolving ‘crowdsourced’ book called ‘Quaker Faith and Practice’ which contains the diverse spiritual interpretations of many ‘Friends’ edited by the yearly meeting. In a meeting of friends everyone who feels moved to, can speak to guide the weekly meetings for worship (which are kind of hour long meditations). It is clear that we all have our own voice of god, spirit, or whatever you might want to call it within us and it is for the individual to explore their own interpretations. No hierarchy exists in meetings for worship. There is no priest or pastor.

    I rarely go to meetings (I prefer to spend my time either dancing or outdoors finding my spirit). But the values of the society do inform my daily life. These are simplicity, integrity, peace, community, equality, stewardship. I’m not so great on simplicity but probably balance it with banging on about stewardship for the planet!! Hey we’re all on our own path of evolution.

    Quakers have been instrumental in creating movements to end slavery and founding many NGOs. A key concept is of bearing ‘witness’ to events and shining spotlights on worlds problems. They have been active in raising awareness of Climate change and the society has divested their finances away from fossil fuels.

    Finally have you read The Great Partnership; Science, Religion and the search for meaning by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks? I really liked it.

    See you at the burn! Vive le diversite.

    • Thanks for this Lucy. I will look into it. Sorry I didn’t see you at the Playa. I dropped by Ideate a couple of times but you where not around! Maybe we should catch up online sometime? marc (@) marcwinn (.com)

  3. I needed to thank you for this great read!! I certainly enjoyed every little bit of it.
    I have got you saved as a favorite to check out
    new things you post…

  4. Hey Marc,
    I came to the exactly the same conclusions and could not agree more. I have more to say, but I would dilute this great article with secondary arguments only.
    But I am happy say now in 2015: we two and others are working on it! 🙂

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  6. Yacine adallal says

    Well there is a concept in about any religion that makes me asks a question,the concept of hell/paradise or infinite reward and infinite punishment.the question is :if a person does awful things in a finite time interval (you can add the bad effects on several generations after if needed) does this person deserve infinite punishment? That’s of course if we consider the judgement is fair or trying to be fair.

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