For those just joining us, you can find Part 1 in this series by clicking here.
Real sign, fake words. Kind of like that church themselves.
The bigots over at Westboro Baptist church in Topeka Kansas have made a living off of their hatred. They are officially classified as a Hate Group and if we asked them were we were headed, they would assumedly take the position that we are all going to hell for our evil ways.
This from the pin heads that picket soldiers funerals, victims of hate crimes, called the Amish girls who were raped and killed a few years back "whores" and even protested in front of a vacuum cleaner store because they sold a Swedish vacuum cleaner.
Why you ask? Because Sweden jailed a hate mongering preacher like Westboro's preacher Fred Phelps. Oh, of course. Amazing, huh?
They get their money the old fashioned way too, by suing people with their very own law firm. A hate mongering church and a law firm under the same roof? Hell, they are a walking punch line.
And yet they are but one example of a church who has abused the privilege of being a church and who make other churches look bad. Like our commentary on Stepdads, the churches that share goodness, common sense and humility are probably out there, they just don't make the news, rent bill boards, print bumper stickers or deputize their followers to recruit the rest of us.
I Just Want to Be Wanted
Every parent, manager, coach, leader (and gardener!) knows this to be an inherent part of our existence.
From being cuddled after a eating as an infant, to Red Rover Can Sally Come Over on the playground, to acceptance into a fraternity, to being invited to after-work-hoops, humans respond to inclusionary overtures. We want to be included. Hell, our need to be included contributes to our feeling of self worth. Maslow even told us this. And just as powerful as being wanted lies our ever present fear of being cast out. Fire and brimstone leaders prey on this human condition to get their needs - not our needs, their needs - met. As a brief aside, there is a book on my recommend list (see right panel) called the Gift of Fear and it's sequel, Protecting the Gift. Fear has its place, but in the context of this article, fear is created out of utter malarkey, then shamelessly abused.
Here is a common dialogue between the doubter and the devout.
Claim: "I don't believe in God"
Reply: "Well, you may not believe in Judges either, but they can still sentence you to jail."
I will assume - regardless where you are the faith continuum - that you can see that even the simplest application of logic makes this common refrain absurd.
Further, there is an assumption among these religious-ites that we all - and I do mean all - live under the shadow of the 10 Commandments. No, not the spirit of the commandments, not the common sense application of the commandments, but the actual, biblical, burning bush commandments. So that candy you stole from the Brach's candy display as a 4 year old? You're going to Hell. That busty gal or handsome buckaroo that caught your eye? Your lustful soul will burn for that too. The time you fibbed when you told your English teacher that your homework is in your desk at home? Hell awaits you heathen! Unless of course your pre-pay your fine by giving your soul over to Jesus as your savior. That, they will tell us, is the only way to avoid the eternal flame of hell. Never mind that there is no actual truth - by any measure - to support that claim. Fear is a powerful message to those people that want to be safe. And we all want to be safe, right?
Like the smarmy car salesman selling the insurance policy that pays off the car in the event of your untimely death: "You DO love your family don't you?" "You DON'T want them to become homeless after being straddled with your debt do you??" Yes, disproportionate fear without reason is a powerful tool for salespeople.
Collectively, we are afraid of being afraid. That is why we tune in by the millions to the news every night as the fear inducing teasers instruct us to hear about the man eating shark (in another state), the deadly fires (in another state), the child abductor (in another country) and the food poisoning cases (in another country). The media and their mirror image organizations - the churches - need us to be afraid otherwise we will tend to go blissfully on our merry way without them. Gasp! The culture of creating disproportionate fear in the citizenry runs deep, as we talked about here.
Again, regardless where one stands on the position of faith, it is helpful to point out that the biggest enemy of faith based arguments is the simple introduction of logic and truth. What's left is merely a believer's Objective Reality and the more they try to pass that off as Truth, the more ridiculous and transparent their position becomes. And the less viable their faith becomes to an increasingly information driven society.
Is there anything wrong with faith? Of course not. In the working dog world we see new handlers tell their dog to sit, and wring their hands in hopes that they will actually sit (faith). In reality, they will only sit reliably when they have been taught to sit reliably and have a history of sitting reliably. That handler wastes everyone's time because they spend too much time hoping the dog will perform reliably instead of paying the price by actually, physically building the behavior. So is there anything wrong with a) passing off faith as a worldwide edict of fact and gospel? Simply put, yes.
The Band Marches On
My daughter Emily is starting Junior High School Band in the fall at a new school, among a much larger - and older - school population. During instrument tryouts, she selected the French Horn. The instructor was quick to point out that among the uncertainty of a new school, new culture and new expectations, that her fellow French Horn players would be instant friends. A kindred spirit bound by the one thing they had in common, not in the hundreds of things that they may not have in common. And the instructor is probably right.
In Part 4, we spoke about the connective element of religion. Publicly and privately I have heard from some of you that it is the community aspect of church that gets you out of bed on Sunday morning and not the doctrine itself. Encountering and being immediately accepted by "people like me" was a common description.
So it prompts one to wonder....if these 'people like you' were not in church and were instead in a park gathered under a tree, would the same feelings of community exists? And if not, then what else in church is attracting 80% of the population to associate with one?
In this series we have explored the origins of religion, the use and misuse of religion and the current state of religion. But what happens next? Where do we go from here?
The Cookie Crumbles
From everything we have come to know, this seems to be the future of organized religion:
An empire crumbling under the weight of its own pressure.
Statistically, fudge factor included, most of you go to one of these churches (or temples, or whatever your religious gatherings are termed). And not surprisingly most of you consider yourselves to be religious. I'm not being flip or dissociative, I just don't currently fall into that category.
Through thoughtful comments, research and yes, common sense, we have also learned that religion to many is not much more than a form of institutional companionship. Perhaps like chumming around with other French Horn players?
A quick check of recreational activities available reveals nearly 100 advertised community events in a large city near me.
If one likes to juggle, there are juggling chapters nearby. If one likes to knit, play video games, garden, race cars, Frisbee golf, take pictures, storm chase, even Blog...there is likely a chapter or an event consisting of like minded people nearby.
One reader even compared the benefits of going to church to the benefits of going to a whorehouse. Not sure I am ready to make that case, but if I was, I bet I could.
Should I be perplexed that some of the most annoying, selfish and arrogant pricks I know are avid church goers, while some of the most solid, trustworthy and kind people I know have never stepped foot in a church? Does church make us as the scriptures instruct? Or do we make the church? And if we make the church, why are all of the rules written by people in ancient times that dictate our behavior?
What role should the church play in building communities? If the communities they build reflect who they are, what will that community look like? What kind of citizen will it produce?
I See Dead People
The reasons leading to religious wars have been discussed earlier in this series. Wars that were fought with lions, swords, dungeons, gallows and poison. Unfortunately, yet predictably, those same reasons still exist, we just fight those wars with airplanes, bombs, IED's, pickets ... and ballots.
By some accounts, over 11,000 terrorist attacks have occurred worldwide since September 11th, 2001 by Islamic Extremists. And by most accounts, those attacks are increasing against non-Muslims with the same proportion as the increase in the number of Islamic practitioners. Regardless who is in the White House.
Similarly (yes, the comparisons are intended) the Christian-fed Religious Right, named for their political leanings (clue!), has built their existence on biblically based positions including among other things: divine creation (
There are churches that openly preach what can not be described as anything other than intolerance and bigotry (which frankly takes little more than opening the bible). Intolerance and bigotry against heretics, as defined by Christians anyway. Intolerance and bigotry against gays, other religions and whatever else doesn't fit into that church's view of the world. These institutions exist and will continue to exist, will continue have an audience to influence and will continue to have a medium to influence that audience as long as people fill the pews. (Just like when BETA video tapes were no longer being manufactured after people quit buying them, by the way).
Go to church for the friendship and not the message? Filling the pew because one likes their pew mate but doesn't like the message is still a filled pew. I am challenged to see that as anything other than a tacit endorsement of the sponsoring organization.
Blah, Blah, Blah
It is difficult at best to author this many words and not show my own predilection like a case of head lice after my first summer camp. I did however try to relay my findings on religion in a factual manner so that you - the reader - could decide how much objective reality you wanted or needed to apply in order to swallow (or spit out!) what I am offering.
There are and will be those that will cling to their religious traditions because that is what they do. Then there are those that will take the good parts of religion and discover a healthier way to include it in their lives; and at the end of the day, there will assumedly still be two encampments of believers: Faith / Objective Reality based and Fact / Reality Based based. The discussion will continue adinfinitum and we will all be exhausted from advocating our position so tirelessly.
Perhaps we should meet and de-stress at the Y.M.C.A.?
So, what say thee??
The floor is open...
So this series finally comes to a lingering end. (I can hear a collective Amen! from some distant lands). Perhaps too soon for some and perhaps not soon enough for others.
To my readers (active and you lurkers out there): We'll visit a few lighter topics for a bit and then I will roll out my next series about the national catastrophe some call Immigration. It is aptly called "Root Rot" and will be coming to newsreaders everyone soon. Grab you RSS Feed or email notification, tell your enlightened friends and don't miss a moment.