Converting People to a Religion

Converting people to a religion might be regarded as being for their own good; it certainly increases a religious organisation’s power.

The education of children in their religion was discussed above (  Adults can also be persuaded to join a religious group, by being attracted to its message and to the offer of support from like-minded people.  They then accept its governance. Attending a religious service is an expression of obedience to a God, an affirmation of belief in a set of ideals, an expression of solidarity with fellow-worshippers and an opportunity for self-examination.  It also gives the religious organisation an opportunity to influence the behaviour and beliefs of its congregation.

Religious organisations have internal power structures which operate at several levels of subsidiarity, from the level of the congregation through to global governance.  All Roman Catholics recognise the authority of the Pope, for example.  Religious power structures constrain the freedom of individual congregations to vary from the collectively agreed doctrine and practice.

Converting people to a religion might simply be for the purpose of satisfying a hunger for power.  In religious organisations, this has enabled believers to be exploited and caused non-believers to be oppressed:

●  Missionary activity was conducted as part of colonialism. This caused enormous resentment, as described later (

●  Churches have amassed enormous wealth whilst their congregations have remained poor – as described for example in a Telegraph article, Wealth of churches vs the wealth of people, which highlighted the Greek Orthodox Church as owning property worth up to €700 billion (more than double the national debt) yet paying insufficient tax.

●  The Church attempted to retain its monopoly on power by preventing the Bible from being translated from Latin into English, as described in a Christian History article on John Wycliffe and the Dawn of the Reformation for example.

●  The Catholic Church committed genocide in France in what was termed the Suppression of the Cathars, an atrocity for which it was reported that an apology has been given: Bishop to apologise for suppression of Cathars.

●  According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Spanish Inquisition:

“…was ostensibly established to combat heresy in Spain. In practice, the Spanish Inquisition served to consolidate power in the monarchy of the newly unified Spanish kingdom, but it achieved that end through infamously brutal methods.”

●  People should have the right to leave a religion. The Islamic prohibition against apostasy in some groups is due to a confusion with treason, dating back to the early days of Islam; a text in the Islam Online Archive, entitled Major and Minor Apostacy, notes that “Islam does not call for the execution of apostates who do not proclaim their apostasy or call for it. Rather, it leaves the punishment for the hereafter if they die in the state of apostasy.”

None of these practices benefited believers.  They were carried out to strengthen the power of church leaders and to eliminate dissent.

Abuses of religious power have given religion a bad name, despite the fact that religious organisations have also sometimes been of service to society: they have cared for the poor; they have provided health and education services; and they have sometimes exercised a positive influence on politicians, as described later (

In some societies, religious organisations have a role in the Legal Dimension: religious law, as described in the next chapter (5.3.3).

Religion has sometimes been a divisive force, through identity politics, as described in the Political chapter (


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/4333a.htm.