I appreciate the substance your questions have.
In all fairness to brevity, and even though the topic of the thread is broad by nature, I'm going to start with 100,000-ft. view statements.
The first thing that makes sense to me when talking about the topic is to be clear about whether we're addressing individual (religious) consciousness (experience), or things ecclesiastical. If the latter, we follow men, and their politics, like when we study any organizations. To do otherwise, we commit to, by default, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, for sure. The second thing is similar, but to distinguish whether we are looking at covenant- or creed-based religions. Both these are critical determinations.
The only specific thing I'd point out in your comments would be the ones regarding the pope. With that, maybe the most important thing to measure is how many Catholics buy into that, and at what level. The Catholic religion is going through some reasonably significant upheaval. One part of that involves the spread of what is commonly referred to as "liberation theology" (a lot of which has to do with the role of women in the church). Another part is the polarization of preferences that distinguish American Catholics from elsewhere- preferences that are theologically liberal. The church has to pay attention to all this, because meanwhile, the charismatic/evangelical churches are not only gaining market share overall, but they're coming out with "products" (mainly in 3rd world markets) that are overtaking the Catholics missionary/conversion work. Conversely, the Catholics are attempting to re-package their efforts to more closely resemble the evangelicals.
Does that look similar to the kind of action you see anywhere else in life? Sure looks like business to me. Business, and politics.
I don't see any reason why people become suprised to see this kind of organizational churn in the ecclesiastical world, as if it would play down that differently there. The main difference that I look at is the historical premise of religion's entertwinement (whether overt or not) in governance, and I think we all are on the same page with church/state.
Enough for now...
(Edited by Rich Engle on 10/25, 9:36am)