What Does it Mean to Have a Religion With No Priests?
By Mary Feronia
Libertatism is a religion with no ofﬁcial priests, no ofﬁcial rabbis. It is a religion with no ordained Bishops, no Popes, no patriarchs or matriarchs of any sort. But how exactly can that be, if it is a religion? It is on this subject that I have been musing for some time.
The ﬁrst thing we must do is shed our preconceived notion that religions require hierarchy. In churches with established hierarchies, there is an implicit implication that those higher in the ranks are somehow “closer” to God. With Libertatism, there is no hierarchy, and thus each person may be as close to God as the next. Each person, whether teacher or student, whether employer or employee, whether black or white, is equally capable of experiencing God. Each person, in short, is equal; none possess special rights simply by calling themselves “priests” or anything else.
In at least one sense, however, Libertatism does have priests or rabbis. After all, if the religion inherently deems all humans equal in the state of nature, does this not mean that, at least symbolically, all humans are priests and rabbis? This is not to say that all Libertatians are missionaries of one sort or another, but rather that perhaps there is no innate difference between being a priest and not being one.
The existence of a religion without hierarchy, therefore, calls into question not only the symbolism of rank of “closeness” to God present in hierarchical religions, but also the very nature of priesthood. Perhaps we could say that priesthood is itself symbolic, in which case the hierarchy present in hierarchical religions is inherently an artiﬁcial contrivance of the ruling orders maintaining perceived domination over said religions. If this is the case, then it would have to be said that religion truly is a personal thing.
It seems a regular occurrence that I ﬁnd people telling me, when discussion of religion comes up, that they do not so much have a problem with religion as they do with organised religion. I cannot say for certain how many of these people have analysed the ruling orders of hierarchical religions as I have above, but it nevertheless appears that rejection of organised religion is growing in popularity.
For, ultimately, why would a religion need a rabbi or priest?