Every social architect has concluded that organized religion is a mirror of our cultural and social norms. It reflects and occasionally molds society. Often a dynamic leader, or a "Prophetic Voice", will rise up and actually make positive changes to culture and society. Nelson Mandella changed a nation as did Martin Luther King. Their lives, messages and power was derived from a rich "religious" background and spiritual underpinnings.
Martin Luther King was a preacher, who changed society in the USA. The "Prophets" are often silenced by violence, but his life made a huge difference in American culture, law and society.
But in recent years, a vast majority of "religions" have simply become mirrors of society, offering little progress or change. Passive pulpits at Mega Churches have learned that high salary jobs require a "go with the flow" methodology. They don't mold society, they simply imitate and support it. They are careful not to "rock the boat" for fear of losing financial support or membership.
On the other extreme we have the "ignorant activists", such as the small minded but big ego'd man in Florida, with 50 church members, who can rock the world by threatening desecration of "religious icons" such as the Koran and in the process manipulate the media as effectively as any terrorist. Actions like his are like the Taliban blowing up giant Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan, or burning Bibles. These types cause wars and conflict. They are so outrageous that they cannot be ignored, but all the more dangerous when they gain the attention of the world. Unfortunately, these people attract and energize a following of "Wing Nuts" who are sometimes dangerous, and often destabilizing to society.
Occasionally we see a church, religion or pulpit with a balanced role in society, that offers elements of support and improvement. They become centered in relevance to the lives, the very survival of their audience. Those religions, churches or groups typically grow and prosper. But all too often, churches have lost love, vibrancy, and cultural/social relevance. This is true in the USA, Europe, Latin America, and even in Asia.
It is no wonder that many in our culture have walked away from organized religion. A powerful business executive recently surprised me when he said: "The worst neighbor or property owner you can have are community churches. They are mean, ruthless and just bad people with their own control agendas." And this man gives millions to good projects, but never through churches. I have often wondered what event so impacted his attitude. Unfortunate, but all too often an attitude among many.
On the other hand, churches that are well led with balanced spiritual leadership become extraordinary because they are so rare. These churches have become the "Big 28", the Mega Churches that capture imaginations, and stimulate positive activity. They actually do sometimes make a positive impact on society. You can find one such church in Korea, one in New York City, one near Los Angeles, two in Texas.
Sometimes they rise and fall based upon one prophetic voice.
My book: FLOWERS FACING THE SUN documented 12 trips around the globe where I explored and interviewed countless "movers", "religious leaders", and "social architects". The social architects of our generation with influence are often in politics and big business, instead of religious organizations. But occasionally a religious leader pops up who has vision and is making a lasting difference.
There is a sub culture in our globe, I call it the "Connected Generation" of educated thinkers, who may hold an answer to peace and healthy development in our world. That "Connected Generation" is the new religion for many of the world's thinkers. Social media, such as FACEBOOK, exemplify the power of social media.The key, with the connected generation is writing, speaking out, from a million sources, to impact our culture in a positive way. These people stress what different cultures and religions have in common, and use those common factors to unite and bring strength. They recognize the integrity of different opinions and beliefs. But they focus on the central intent of the message, the ethics, the integrity, the love and compassion, the respect and dignity of all mankind. They might say, like the Baptist preacher I met, "We have never found a perfect individual, a man or group that has all of the answers, or a religious organization that is perfect and has all truth to be known." they don't have to judge and convert anyone who looks different from them. Like the Buddhist monk, the Dalai Lama's personal minister, told me one day, in Daramsala, India: "You are a Christian from a Christian culture. We don't try to convert you. We think you should grow in the garden where you have already been planted, and where you can do well. Do well as a a Christian in your culture." These globally minded, enlighted members of the "Connected Generation" are sometimes light years ahead of traditional organized religion. Their message of tolerance, respect, and intelligent moderation is having an impact upon the world. It is happening, just as my book: FLOWERS FACING THE SUN reported, 7 years ago. We are a part of it, by participating in this message.
Michael Jackson's song, "Man In The Mirror" has lyrics that demonstrate one person's attempt to encourage making a positive difference in life. Listen to this song carefully and enjoy it because it speaks to the better nature of the aspirations of the "Connected Generation".
If you are fortunate enough to be in an area or with communication ability to enjoy one of the "live religions" or churches that is relevant and makes a positive, meaningful impact on the world, you are lucky. You should engage and enjoy, be inspired, and move forward. Some religions take being near a "good group" so seriously, that they suggest that the "right location" of your life and home should be near a group of fellow believers, so as to encourage and support one another. If not, fortunately, for you there is a world of support, in the "Connected Generation". I trust that you in your life, and in your associates, can help make a meaningful and positive difference in society and culture. Our world needs it now as much as ever.