Friday, January 11, 2013

Belief, Faith, Scandal, and Credibility

This is a difficult post to write.

I have a lot of friends on Facebook for whom I have a great deal of respect, with whom I have ranted, commiserated with and discussed numerous controversial topics with throughout the election last year.  We have laughed, cried, ranted indignantly and collectively derided the right wing throughout that process.

We bonded.  We became a group of friends, most of whom have never even met in meatspace.

Quite a few of us are religious, and many of us live in Georgia, a very openly religious part of the country.  That makes this whole post hard to write and hard to put online, because I know that it will upset a number of you.

But it needs to be said, and this subject needs to be examined by every person of faith, especially in this modern atmosphere of religious contention.  Especially since so many Americans are, like myself, finally coming out and announcing our existence and the reasons for our disbelief.

So, in advance, I apologize if this offends anybody, it is not meant to be descriptive of any one person.  It is descriptive of a process people go through which allows us to believe stuff without serious examination or thought.  Yes, I know many of you study your religion.  You follow study guides, you go to bible study groups, you know a lot about what your religious denomination believes.

But you don't go beyond the lines.  You stay inside the boundaries the leaders of your sect have set and do not "color" outside those lines.  Like good students, you stay inside the lines!  You have been taught, from early childhood for most of you, to be the christians you are.  Your faith, I know, varies in strength and intensity from person to person, and even perhaps, from time to time.  Many of you probably don't quite go along with every dot and tittle of your church's theology - few Americans do!  We all have our own little "theology" we build up over time as we learn, share and discuss our beliefs with family, friends and fellow churchgoers.  It doesn't always line up with what our church leaders would have us believe.  No problem, of course - that rarely rocks the boat, clerics are used to that.

As long as you believe.   That is what counts.  That is what will ensure your entry into the kingdom of heaven.  Oh, and your money.  That helps too.

I, of course, am not one of the believers in that theology.  All of you probably know that, since you are here and have noticed the name of my blog!  I have written about my disbelief and the process of how I got here before, and will not belabor that point now.  I just want to talk about another point that I think needs to be examined.

As one learns things as a human being, beginning in early childhood, we gradually learn that older humans often have superior knowledge about the world around us.  Our parents tell us the stove is hot, and lo and behold, when we doubtfully touch it, dang, it does hurt!  It's a learning process we all know well.

So, when our elders tell us about their religion, we are already inclined to believe they know what they are talking about.  And, as I've mentioned before, since the proof is so far away from being available (which is being dead, after all), as young folks, we kind of let that slip.  (That stove lesson is kind of hard to forget.)

Preachers and priests are given such a high measure of respect in our society (and most human societies) and automatically get our ears, since, as men (and sometimes women) of god, they sure ought to know what they are talking about, right?  So the lessons are reinforced, we grow up and we go to church.

We believe.  Joyfully, nestled in the comfortable bosom of our family and community, happy in the support and friendship of that community, we listen, learn, and teach the kids we have on our own as we grow up and mature.

Yeah, I know that's a bit idealized, but bear with me.

The key to all this is the fact that with rare exceptions, as a child, a young adult and eventually as an adult, you trust those older than you and and those placed into positions of authority to know the subject.  To tell you the truth.  After all, you are talking about your immortal soul, right?  That is worth paying some attention to, if what we know is right.

But, what if it isn't?  Now, don't stop here.  This is an exercise in mental flexibility.  You don't have to believe anything to do this, but again, please, bear with me.

What if all of those adults who have been teaching you everything you know about religion have been, without exception, either mislead themselves, mistaken, or are out and out lying to you?  I know, that is an incredible thought.  In order for that to be true, every single adult throughout the history of the christian church would have had to have been similarly deceived, if not, simply kept quiet to stay alive. (That is not a derogatory term, as I use it here, merely descriptive - deception can be quite accidental, if passed on in good faith.)

Note that I do NOT mean dishonest.  There may be particular individuals who may be - we'll get to that.  But most could have been merely lead down that well described primrose path, and are themselves passing along information sincerely believed and held in faith.

At this point, I'm going to insert another trigger warning.  Some of the information I will link to here is regarding news about the Roman Catholic Church.  I am using it because it is current, relevant and (as read as a whole) very instructive, while being, in my opinion, representative of the entire religious experience worldwide.  No religion isn't faced with scandals like this, on a regular basis in this new world of instant information, easily disseminated.  None of this is meant to single out the RCC as being singular in this problem, but remember, the christian theology began with the RCC.  Everybody who is a christian today got that information originally through an historical connection to the RCC.

Take a look at these three stories.  Go ahead and read them before you read any more of this article.  They are directly relevant to my further remarks.  I'll wait....(you might want to go get a strong drink when you are done.  I think I'll join you!  A good strong Scotch.)

'We Kept Quiet about Sexual Abuse for Too Long'

German Catholic Church Cancels Inquiry

Bishop's Extravagant Behavior Triggers Uproar

Ok, finished?  Got that drink?  Cool, then, bottoms up!  Here's to life!  L'Chaim!

Now, where was I?  Oh, yeah.  The stories.

Shocking, no?  Three stories about the RCC and its refusal to do what amounts to one simple thing:

Obey its own rules.

Yep, that's what all that boils down to.  "Do as I say, not as I do."

According to the bible I grew up reading, Jesus told us to live simply, love our enemies, give to the poor and be honest.  Yet, to this day, the history of the christian church, both Protestant and Catholic, is one of greed, violence, classism, lies, deceit and sexual perversion.  The leaders of the church live in wealth and grandiose ostentatiousness - the pope himself sits on a golden throne.  Yet, his representative the bishop of Limburg, told his parishioners,
"Renewal begins where the efforts toward making due with less are made," he has instructed them. "The person of faith is dirt poor and rich in mercy," he once said in a Christmas sermon. And on the Assumption, he declared: "Whoever experiences poverty in person will discover the true greatness of God."
I don't know about you, but my mama told me very often as I grew up, "Your actions speak so loudly I cannot hear what you say!"

Taken together, the actions of generations of church leaders, of both Protestant and Catholic have not only shouted, but screamed, magnified by those generations into a pervading howl so loud their teachings are as quiet as a minnow's fart.

This issue goes directly to credibility.

Yes, I know, you read the bible.  You get your faith from reading its pages.  But who, exactly, wrote those pages?  Who has approved their message, their wording, the printing, dissemination and their teaching?  Those same church leaders who have spent centuries living in wealth, luxury and the hard earned tithes of the masses of poor christians told that in some measure, tithing 10% gets you an increased chance of entry to heaven.  (Do the words "conflict of interest" have any meaning any more?)

Generations of church leaders have refined that message, taught it to more generations of good, honest priests who have labored all their lives, often in tough conditions, to teach that word to those poor masses of humanity.  Very few of those priests got so high as to enjoy the luxury of Rome.

If you have listened to some of my rantings here, you will have read about Bart Ehrman, a biblical scholar who has written numerous books on the bible and its various quirks and its history.  He will tell you many things about that history which would surprise you.  Things like the four Gospels whose writers are unknown.  Yes, your local preacher will tell you they were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but HE was taught that indeed, the authors are unknown, and the names so assigned are there for convenience only.  But he won't tell you.

He won't tell you that all but probably four or five of the letters of Paul are forgeries, and their messages which shaped the modern christian church and its theology of today are vastly different from the ones they think were written by just one man, the one we call Paul.  He won't tell you that the church's message of misogyny is contained in those forgeries, as is the message of hatred for the Jews.

He won't tell you that the last book in the bible, the Revelation according to John, was written by a bishop, exiled on an island in the Mediterranean by Nero, who wrote that book as an anti-Roman screed and was considered mad at the time.  Nor will they tell you that it was not added to the bible until all the rest were already there, and some churches, like the Romanian Church, do not include it in their canon at all.

He won't tell you that, even though he knows - he was taught all these things in seminary.

Credibility.  "The quality of being trusted and believed in."

Truly.  Can you truly believe what you have been taught by people who have themselves been taught flawed and/or altered ideals?  Ideals which the very institution which teaches them refuses to adhere to itself?  Ideals which have been refined, altered and changed over 1800 years to conform with the  changing social framework of laws and values of the larger society for at least half of that time?

There are reasons why almost a fifth of Americans do not self identify as christians.  Many of them are newly coming out as not religious, and many kind of weasel themselves into the category of "spiritual", probably to avoid being seen as atheists.  There is a reason why as many as 50-90% of some European countries are no longer christian.

We are there because we can no longer believe the clerics.  We cannot believe things which are taught by people who cannot live according to their own rules and do everything possible to avoid being caught not doing it.

They are not credible.  Their stories are not believable, their holy books are not anything close to being holy, as changed, altered and often forged as they are.  We cannot abide exposing our children to the damagingly violent stories of the Old Testament with its themes of misogyny, slavery, genocide and rape.  We cannot abide allowing our children to be taught that they are flawed from birth, damaged by evil even before birth, and taught that they are only worth saving by being "children of god".  We will not allow our children to be taught that their lives are worth nothing if they do not worship this god.

We will not allow our children to be taught that they can only be good because they are taught to be good by this divine, invisible being, and that without this being, they would be evil, and without self control.

I know, a lot of Progressive churches do not teach all of these things.  But many others do.  The Evangelical movement is growing, and it teaches all of these things and worse.  It is exporting its message of hatred to Africa, where children are burned as witches and gays are being killed just for being gay.

We cannot allow our children to be indoctrinated into a religion whose tenets, running the gamut from love and sweet giving to hatred and torture, are being taught from the same book!

It is time to educate ourselves.  It is time to search our minds into why we allow ourselves to be led to believe things by people who apparently do not believe the very things they would have us believe, and whose lives exhibit ideals opposite from what they teach.

As human beings, we only have one life.  We have to make the best of that life we can.  We need to leave the world better than how we found it.  We need to teach our children that their lives are worth something, that the purpose of their lives are given purpose by what they do, by who they keep company with and how they conduct their lives.

It is time to grow up as a society.  It is time for us, as individuals, to take control of our own minds and our own destinies.

It is time to move this country forward.

Robert Ahrens
The Cybernetic Atheist

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