NightedChrist Church of OxfordOver the last couple of weeks I’ve been turning my thoughts to the idea of institutions.

NightedBy institution I mean an organization, establishment, foundation, society, or the like, devoted to the promotion of a particular cause or program.  They are usually set up as an answer to some sort of problem or question in society. Most churches are institutions;  institutions initially devoted to the promotion of the Christian message and Christian life.  Goverments are institutions, or in many cases, collections of institutions ostensibly devoted to the promotion of a country’s or a society’s way of life.

Given enough time an institution becomes that other type of institution: a well-established and structured pattern of behavior or of relationships that is accepted as a fundamental part of a culture.  When that happens, one of the main aims of the institution becomes to maintain itself.  After all has become a fundamental part of culture.  If the institution disappears, the culture will collapse.

This is something that has been bothering me though. This seemingly ubiquitous tendancy for institutions to become self devoted organisms.  At some point, given enough time, or given enough size, an institution’s primary devotion becomes sustaining itself.  Sure it’s stated aims, it’s mission statement, it’s goals, etc all point towards what the institution WANTS to be known for, but ultimately it’s primary goal is to keep running, and in many cases expand, so that it can be around to attempt those stated aims.

But what happens when the culture moves on?  Even though an institution may become a fundamental part of culture, culture is a democratic animal.  Everyone who participates in a culture has the power to change it in small ways.  In fact everyone who participates in a culture DOES change it in small ways just by being a part of it!  What happens if the culture changes so much that the institution is no longer fundamental?

What happens if a particular institution is now answering a question that is no longer being asked?

What happens if technology changes society and culture so much that a particular institution is no longer the only, or the best, answer to the question it was set up to answer in the first place?

What happens if the institute has been around for so long, and has gotten so big, that it takes vast resources to keep it running and some people rely on it for their own lively hood?

What happens if an institution begins to cost more in resources, personell and time than it is worth to those who it is supposedly supporting?

In other words, what happens when the problem of the loss of an institution is more  about that the institution will be affected, rather than that the cause or program the institution was supposedly for will be affected?


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