What's the point of a religion if it constantly updates to adapt to changing society?

IMHO, there are only two intellectually honest approaches for a religion to take when it finds itself at odds with an evolving society: Either stick to its guns (metaphorically, not literally,) or just implode and disappear.

I don’t want to use a real-life religion for the thread example, such as Christianity or Islam, because that will devolve into a long thread of nitpickery over the actual theology of an actual religion. So let’s go with a fictional religion instead.

The tenets of this fictional religion are:

  • Homosexuality is wrong.
  • Divorced people generally cannot remarry.
  • Slavery is OK.

Such a religion might be mainstream centuries ago, but now in the 21st century, all of its tenets are greatly at odds with modern society. So there is now pressure on the religion: Change, or else society won’t accept you.

But if this religion were to change its tenets so that they read: “Homosexuality is okay, divorced people can remarry as they please in all cases, and slavery is wrong” - then how would it be the same religion any longer?

As someone on Reddit once pointed out, a religion that tries to change itself to adapt to an evolving society is like a square peg (religion) finding that it can’t fit into a round hole (society), so it gets a knife and whittles itself into a round shape, then claims it was always a round peg all along. But then when society changes into a triangular hole, that round peg now suddenly gets a knife again and whittles itself into a triangular shape, then claims it was a triangular peg all along. And then so on and on. It would become a series of never-ending moving goalposts.

There are only two intellectually-honest paths for a religion:

Either it’s right, in which case it should stick to its guns and never change; or

It’s wrong, in which case it should implode and vanish and go away.

But if it constantly adapts and changes to society, then it is not only intellectually dishonest (because it’s contradicting its prior self) but it is also redundant. What is the need for such a religion, then? If it’s just going to move the goalposts to adapt to whatever society believes at the moment, then one might as well discard it and just go with…the flow of society. What benefit does it offer that society itself doesn’t provide?

Using a math example: If a math theorem claims something, then it’s either…mathematically right, or it’s mathematically wrong. That would be something for mathematical analysis to decide. But under no circumstances should the correctness or wrongness of that theorem be based off of popular public-opinion, as if if 80% of people feel that the theorem is wrong, it is therefore wrong. It wouldn’t make sense to say, “In the past, people believed that the theorem was correct, but now, the majority don’t, so the theorem needs to change.” If the theorem was wrong, it doesn’t need changing, it needs discarding.

Religion is not math.

Religion is man’s interpretation of the will of god.

I think you’re oversimplifying - very few religions boil down to a single digit list of points which are ‘if a then b’. Even if you focus on something as ‘simple’ as the ten commandments, that is but a small part of the Judeo-Christian ethos, leaving out not only the originating documents, the apocrypha, the thousands of years of commentary, etc.

I strongly suspect any religion that can be boiled down to a single paragraph or page have up and died as it is so narrow it cannot evolve or die. And unlike math, the main tenets of most religions are not verifiable or falsifiable, as no one in my experience has come back from the dead to ‘prove’ what the afterlife is like.

As a point in your favor though, most of the single/limited premise cults, such as the Heaven’s Gate group, tend to self-destruct when their main premise is falsified. Sure, such groups tend to try to adapt/change the dates, but mostly they lose whatever claims to success they had prior to whatever the critical event or prophecy may be.

Even more modern religions, such as Scientology or LDS which don’t have the cachet of thousands of years of information to pick and chose from in order to ‘adapt’ have the classic example of interpretation: G-d is perfect, humans are flawed is a nearly universal dodge. People ‘interpreted’ G-d’s will incorrectly, but we’ve got it right ‘now’ of course. And repeat every few decades/centuries.

Lastly though, it depends upon how you define the ‘point’ of religion. Most of us post/non-religious sorts want a religion to justify itself, whether by morals, deeds, or by truth (whatever that is, as opposed to facts, which are verifiable). But for most people, religious is cultural, or social, or inspirational - it’s point is that it supports the adherents, and provides them a sense of communal values, hopes for the future, or even the afterlife. And these can be very positive values, even if we don’t share or feel the need for them.

Not all religious tenets are equal. In any given religion, some points will be absolutely fundamental and unchangeable, while others will be less so. And even with the fundamental points, you can still get a new religion arising that’s just like the old one except with one of those points different.

You’re assuming that the “point” of a religion is derived from a perceived infallible god.

That only applies to religions which posit a deity.

Religion fills many functions in any culture. In a traditional culture, religion permeates every single aspect of life, from how leaders are selected to the kind of underwear you have. It forms the parameters of healing, sexual relationships, communal rites, friendship, how to hunt animals, cook food, everything. The original post is both naive and simplistic, and seems to assume that religion is entirely about obeying a few certain specific rules which purport to be laid down by a god, which if changed, destroy the whole premise of that religion. That just isn’t anything like the truth of religious experience.

As the OP is, I believe, a Christian and seems to be thinking of religion in a Christian-inflenced way, I will respond in kind.

Yout OP posits that man could ever know all the aspects of God. That he could never be mistaken. That he has no room to grow and has found all Truth.

Just like the single person constantly grows in their walk with God, so does humanity as a whole. To assume we’ve figured it all out is to make Man into God.

Were I still a religious person, I would greatly prefer to be part of a religion that continued searching for answers and a better understanding of its deity—assuming it has one—and its tenets. As was mentioned already, few religions would suggest that its adherents are infallible. Humanity should be able to continually examine itself and the world around it, and develop a clearer picture of what the Truth is. There are likely to be missteps along the way.

So long as the religion in question avoids the “we have always been at war with Eurasia” approach suggested by the OP, and instead acknowledges that prior concepts were wrong and have evolved, said religion needn’t become obsolete.

Simplifying what many have already said.

If you (@Velocity or anyone else) think the “point” of religion is a series of unalterable cultural / behavioral taboos and demands, you’re starting from a completely clueless POV on what religion is, what it does, and why it might be useful for humans to invent. Or for gods, if such really exist, to bother promulgating to their human subjects.

Real religion is pretty much everything except the useless cultural taboos and demands megalomaniacal humans have tacked onto them over the centuries.

I take these points, but to continue to insist that it’s “Christianity” is like insisting a butterfly is a caterpillar.

Re: Your whittling analogy: We can only hope they keep whittling down to fit into various holes until there is only a tiny splinter left which is easily swept away.

“God wants the best for all of us. What’s best for all of us changes over time.”

See Genesis 51, the Chapter of Abraham and the Stranger:

9. And at Midnight God called unto Abraham, saying, Abraham, where is the Stranger?

10. And Abraham answered and said, Lord, he would not worship thee, neither would he call upon thy Name; therefore have I driven him out from before my Face into the Wilderness.

11. And God said, Have I born with him these hundred ninety and eight Years, and nourished him, and cloathed him, notwithstanding his Rebellion against me, and couldst not thou, that art thyself a Sinner, bear with him one Night?

Are these the primary (or even the only) tenets that your fictional religion has? If so, it’s a religion that’s exceptionally, and unrealistically, narrow in the scope of its tenets, covering only a small portion of how people live, and having no connection to any sort of spirituality or belief system.

And, thus, given a religion with an exceptionally limited scope, in which the tenets are entirely linked to the “real world,” and to human behaviors which have probably never been universally either accepted or proscribed in human societies, then, yeah, if the society in which your fictional religion operates decides that its social mores are now diametrically opposed to the core of your religion, then said religion, as it stands, has no place in that society.

If there’s a god, he clearly has his favorites, as it is obvious he doesn’t love all races equally or even genders equally.

If True, God breathed, original, Christianity is not what Paul said in the King James Bible then what is?

What makes a religion a religion? What makes a tenet a tenet?

I know of no real religion that is based on assertions like these. Some religions have made such assertions—or would it be more accurate to say some religious organizations, or religious leaders, or religious documents, or attempts at codifying religious belief and practice, have made such assertions?

If they later decide they were wrong about some particular thing, that doesn’t invalidate the religion itself.

It gets a little more complicated if one of the fundamental claims of the religion is something like “what our leader says is infallible” or “our scripture is inerrant.”

Religions are a reflection of human thinking. Human thinking can evolve; therefore, religion can, and should, evolve as well.


You are correct. Religions codify extant social norms. When social norms move far enough from established religious tenets the religions adapt or become minor anachronisms.

What some see as a great falling away from religion in the US is actually a restructuring of religious belief. Established religions strive to adapt as new structures emerge. Consider Trump’s Positivity or Prosperity Theology or Scientology or whatever “Faith, Flag, Family and Firearms” means. Emerging religious structures put pressure on traditional organizations to liberalize their views in order to keep and attract congregants. We see that in the daily news.

We are experiencing the period of adjustment you describe.

To take a real life example, the religion splits into a faction that maintains the original tenets and one that embodies revised or “disproven” tenet(s). The example is Christianity splitting off from Judaism. Jewish tenet held that it was works and deeds that determined your place in the afterlife, eventually being corrupted by being able to buy your way into heaven. Jesus flipped that on its head by saying it was faith alone that saved you (or not). This was directly incompatible and required choosing one religion over the other. Throwing in something not kosher, the symbolic cannibalism of consuming “my body, my blood”, was a nice touch. There was no way to adhere to both religions and hedge your bets on the fate of your soul. It’s an interesting power play to wrest control from a dominant religion.