It's been a while since anyone started
a new religion. It's not as easy as you think. You have to get a
believable number of people to believe that you have some special
insight into ultimate things. In recent times, we call these
clusterings “cults” (though, like so much of our modern English
usage, it is the wrong word), and they center around one charismatic
(also the wrong word) individual, who calls all the shots. They
generally do not last more than a generation. When the leader does
not survive, neither does his following.
Generally, a new religion does not
offer anything new. It is usually one of two things: a new Protestant
sect (both “Protestant” and “sect” are accurate words
heresomething that has reacted against traditional Christianity,
that is, the Catholic Church, and has broken away from the main body
of it, become a “section”), or it is a western variation of
eastern religion: vaguely pantheistic, vaguely Buddhistic, vaguely
interiorized, vaguely vague. It is derived from generalizations about
the transcendent or the other and, of course, the brotherhood of all
mankind. Or rather, the oneness of all peoples. Or all things.
What new religions lack is a theology.
A dogma. And of course, its constituents hold this up as a good
thing. It is the lack of dogma that has drawn them to the new
religion. It is certain dogmas they dislike that have driven them
from the old religion. But it is also that attractive lack of dogma
that will guarantee the demise of the new religion. Religions that
grow have strong dogmas, religions that wither have weak dogmas.
Generalizations do not satisfy. Platitudes do not provide permanence.
As G.K. Chesterton says, “When men worship the All, they produce
religion cannot be based on a mood. Ultimately, people want the
ultimate. They want the rule, they want the dogma. They want
definitions. They want answers to their questions. They will be
satisfied with bad answers before they are satisfied with no answers.
The new religions may soothe like a salve, but they do not heal.
Listen to this
amazing observation from Chesterton from almost one hundred years
ago: “The New Religions profess to be new; but they never really
venture beyond the most ancient and general maxims about the unity of
God and the fellowship of mankind. They profess to be bold and
innovating, but in truth they are too timid to trust themselves
beyond the most grandmotherly truisms. They profess to be skeptical
and inquiring, but in fact they never venture to ask any of the
controversial questions, any of the questions on which men have
disagreed and might disagree againCan suicide be noble? May sex be
abnormal? Is the Will free? Can the soul be lost? They follow
everywhere the line of least resistance. . .”
Following the path of least resistance
is similar to how Jesus described the broad road to hell.
Dogmas have to deal with what
Chesterton calls “the disputable matters”: sex and suicide, free
will and justice. The religion has to make definitions and decisions
about these things. If it does not define things clearly, the lines
blur between itself anything else.
And of course, the disputable matters
will be disputed. But to avoid them is to avoid God. And what is the
legacy of the new religions? What is the result of trying to do away
with answering the controversial questions? Today we face the
normalization of suicide, the bland acceptance of sexual perversion,
the shunning of responsibility because of the theories that leave out
free will, and the disregard for the eternal, especially the eternal
disposition of the soul. The things that the new religions would not
deal with are very things we cannot now talk about in regards to the
moral responsibility in the major matters of our lives. We certainly
do not talk about Heaven and Hell.
And as the new religions of the last
century quickly bloomed and quickly withered, what replaced them? Did
people return to the traditional faith? A few did. The sincere soul
who seeks will find the truth. But for the most part, we have seen a
movement away from religion altogether. We have moved from “It
doesn't matter what your religion is,” to “It doesn't matter if
you have a religion.” Because the false religions proved themselves
to be false, people gave up on religion rather than seeking a
religion that is true. They realized that a religion that more or
less approved their sins was not genuine, but it was easier to get
rid of the religion than to get rid of their sins.
A genuine religious revival begins with
a call to repentance. This explains the popularity of John the
Baptist. People flocked to hear an obviously holy man tell them turn
from their sins. He paved the way to Christ who provided the
redemption they knew they needed. It explains why we begin the way to
Easter and the promise renewal with a long Lent, a time of penance.
The Catholic Church is clear about sin, clear about the controversial
questions, the “disputable matters.” That is why it has outlasted
all the new religions.