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Ever wonder what the limits of religion are in a free society?  Now I am not talking about faith in a God, or an orthodoxy of long established worship.  I am talking about the things we "say" is our religion or our interpretation of religion.  You see, unlike some other developed countries in the world, we do not recognize "official" religious sanction.  That is, we in the U.S. do not say.. "yes, the doctrine laid out by methodist or baptist is a "real" set of beliefs held on long established principles."  This is typically read by most Americans as "establishing" religions.  So in a real sense, any person can establish any set of principles and claim it is a religion. And what is more, the U.S. has created a marketplace of such interpretations and beliefs to suit nearly any need. Now I am not advocating that we sanction religions.  But this situation does lead us to an interesting impasse...

I saw a day or so ago, the advertisement for an "All White" ministers meeting to be held somewhere in the south.  With reporting what it is today, I dont know if this is true or not, but it really doesnt matter much.  The fact is that it could be true.  With a society that has become as polarized as ours and as mean spirited as ours, there are plenty out there that will fight for their "freedom" to believe what they want.  The ploy is to use the rather obvious tactic of claiming this is part of their religious freedom and that no one has the right to suppress it. We have seen this in play plenty over the past year...  Contraception, a concept that very few protestants have had a problem with previously, now infringes on "the church's right" to conduct their beliefs as they see fit.  Even if this means to be intolerant to different beliefs among others. They want the right to deny others the benefits.  More specifically, your "religion" could be to make the U.S. a religiously based legal and political system.  One in which tolerance of gays could mean the downfall of society due to the impending wrath of God on the tolerators. So the whole approach seems to be to wrap everything you hate up in a nice religious package and claim that God somehow demands this of you.  Making it the "freedom" to deny equal rights to those "other" than yourself, or a religious freedom to demand certain behaviors of others is very much like some religions I admit - like the taliban for instance.  But here in the U.S. we have a peculiar twist on this idea.  We allow ANYONE that has an axe to grind, to do so behind the veil of religious "freedom." We take the phrase "your entitled to your beliefs" to a whole new level because of its incredible breadth of intolerance. The KKK a religious organization?  Of course! What about other white supremacists? Why not?  If you dont like something - well then make it your religious interpretation of some religious text then there you go - "secular" society cant stop you.

Of course we have been doing this for some time.  Scientology - a "religion" completely fabricated on some guy's boat a few dozen years ago.  Vampirism - the new "fad religion" directed by Hollywood. And of course, you can always find a few that are willing to follow you - should you decide to hang out a shingle as the latest shaman.  But the surprising thing in U.S. religious life (to me anyway) is the role played by branding and marketing. The big power players now cast themselves as Christian.  We all know that the average American wants or needs their political leaders to be Christian.  So thats what we call them.  Even if the belief system being touted has no similarity to Christian doctrine what so ever. Now of course there was a time when the church would have branded this as heresy. But not today.  The church has seemingly learned an important lesson over the past years - that is give the public what it wants and those collection plates will be filled.  Maybe this started with the Bakers (Jim and Tammy) or perhaps the moral majority, who knows?  But for sure, it is the lesson of the day.  Instead of leading the masses to the loving and caring nature of God, rather let their pocketbooks lead you. It is a bit like Christ telling the young prince, "well it depends on how much you are going to put into the collection as to what I want you to do." This seems to be especially true of dominionism. Sure some of the words sound like Christian doctrine, but the interpretations are sure different.

Moreover, the game has now turned to hiding some of the more offensive aspects - the heretical beliefs of the systems, from all but the high "priests" of these particular "religions." And once established, they all seem to be turned to political outcomes.  As an example the very notion that our society - in the form of a government - might try to enact anything that helps to alleviate the ills of society such as poverty or access to health care, has now been cast in terms of religious freedom. There have been many posts with regards to why this might be.  But it is still a bit baffling to me. Afterall, the outcome claimed by these "Christian branded religions" is to meet the aims of a God-Centered society.  But isnt this what we are all shooting for in a way?  Equity, do unto others, peace, freedom for all not just a few?  Naturally I am asking this rhetorically, because it would seem as though this is NOT what such entities are trying to accomplish. Even the Catholic Church was willing to give up its "social justice" rhetoric for the few pieces of silver it would receive in doing so.  

Perhaps not so surprisingly, they are really after what most power worshipers are after - their right to dominate others.  The corruption of money and power has come to roost on those that would call themselves Christian - but I maintain it has done so at an awful cost.  In giving up their "call to God" they have also given up the morality that helped them to lead.  In doing so, many are turning to the likes of scientology, etc. When a belief system becomes nothing more than attacking what you dont like and denying your own responsibilities in the state of the world, well then what should you expect. There isnt much need for churches except to project the aims of your own greeds through politics.  This, is in my opinion, a sad end to a noble calling.  But as with so many sad ends, it has been brought on by the hypercompetitive race for money and power that has become American society.  It has been dished out to us since Reagan that our lot in the world is to rule all, and we have loved the message.  With this has come our right to hate, our right to deny justice, our right to seek only the messages we wish to listen to.

Of course I have painted with a broad brush here.  There are those that have received a message of benevolence and tolerance. But I maintain that their beliefs are being purged and their voices drowned by the priests of the new order. Even Mother Theresa has come under fire from the new religion. After all, handing out food to the poor just made them a "dependent society" and was an affront to God right?  And far too many believers stood back and let this happen. Maybe they were unsure?  Maybe they didnt want to make waves? But in some way those that believe allowed the Christian moniker to again become that axe that we love to grind.  In a real way we have become the Satan we all feared.  

I have no answers of course.  But I was just wondering if any one else out there feels as though religion has fallen a little short lately? Are we really going to be OK with being told that voting for Obama is against God's will? Is it really OK to let the pulpits that bear the title of Christian to preach against the poor? Is seeking to provide health care to all really an act of satan? And is it OK to justify the means with lies and hyperbole that is misleading just to achieve the end result of a government for the wealthy?  This really isnt a question of politicians, it is a question of belief. For those of us who are believers, do we really think that God will not hold us accountable for the deception that is todays religion?                          

Originally posted to CitizenKane on Thu Jul 05, 2012 at 09:49 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Mother Teresa deserves to come under fire (5+ / 0-)

    but not from new religion, but rather from all those who care about human rights, rationalism and humanism.

    Read Christopher Hitchens's work on her. Let me quote from a Slate article he wrote on her:

    She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been—she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself—and her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?

    or watch the three part documentary he did on her called Hell's Angel. Here is the first part:

    You can find the rest on YouTube.

    •  that is, if you believe Hitchens (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      G2geek, Statusquomustgo

      some find him a drunken jerk.

      •  I believe him on somethings. (8+ / 0-)

        I did not support him when he endorsed the war in Iraq or his support for Gitmo. But I believe he is right in this regard because, I corroborated his denunciation of Mother Teresa with other sources, such as those of political scientist Michael Parenti:

        Teresa emitted a continual flow of promotional misinformation about herself. She claimed that her mission in Calcutta fed over a thousand people daily. On other occasions she jumped the number to 4000, 7000, and 9000. Actually her soup kitchens fed not more than 150 people (six days a week), and this included her retinue of nuns, novices, and brothers. She claimed that her school in the Calcutta slum contained five thousand children when it actually enrolled less than one hundred.

        Teresa claimed to have 102 family assistance centers in Calcutta, but longtime Calcutta resident, Aroup Chatterjee, who did an extensive on-the-scene investigation of her mission, could not find a single such center

      •  he could be that, but had his moments of clarity.. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Shawn Russell, SoCaliana

        "It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment." *Ansel Adams* ."Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."*Will Rogers*

        by Statusquomustgo on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 04:27:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  "Religion" is what we say it is. . .let's remember (6+ / 0-)

    A religion is really, literally, what we want it to be.  Let's make a difference here:  the religions establishment (Catholic hierarchy, church elders, etc.) exists to build and to maintain power.  They own property, fight in wars, elect political leaders, suppress rampant corruption, etc.  

    Years ago, (read MIddle Ages), "Christian" clergymen could claim anything to be Christian, because no one could read the Bible (written in Latin, Greek, illiteracy notwithstanding) and church services were given in a foreign language--and only the powerful could understand.

    Today, much the same conditions exist--people can read, but they don't.  That is why people can claim to be "Christian" while promoting anything but.  All they have to do is present fervor to the masses and they will follow.

    Until we tackle education in this country, we will keep going  this way.  One good thing:  we cannot sink far for long.   We can and we will sink much further, but not for long, because, after the collapse,  the rest of the world will lead us out.  The Roman Empire, China, etc. lacked this saving communication.   There will be no more silent, lonely collapses followed by Dark Ages.  The Renaissance and the Enlightenment saw to that.

    Peace to all for as long as you can keep it.

    Old Hippies Never Give Up!

    by ravenrdr on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 01:29:13 AM PDT

  •  The flying (11+ / 0-)

    Spaghetti Monster told me to recommend this diary.

  •  This was thoughtfully written. (6+ / 0-)

    I'm an atheist and it makes me sad for those who would try to follow a religion based on Jesus' teachings.  You've been hijacked and that is unspeakable.

    Cats are better than therapy, and I'm a therapist.

    by Smoh on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 03:43:17 AM PDT

  •  Well written (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass, Fishtroller01

    Im not like you a Positive Atheist and comitted Anti-Theist and Secularist. So on a normal day Im content for you and your fellow faithful to get on with whatever you do....but when you and your buddies try in any way whatsoever to bring your faith into my and others public life I go to 11 on the ballistic scale.

    I find the best and sweetest irony of all that the US was founded by peoples who had had a skinfull of governmental intrusion into religion and looked to set up a country where the two were held separate to ensure that one could never pollute the other whichever way the intrusion went.

    Fast forward 200 years and..... what a mess.

    Have fun over there in Jesusistan, dealing with the fallout of the increasing intrusions into society carried out by your own Fundy Taliban. When you and your fellow moderates fnally have enough and riegn them in feel free to come along and join the rest of us in the civilised and secular west.

    Good luck mate....cos from this side of the Great Sanity Divide called The Atlantic Yoda says Screwed You Are.

  •  Yes, Americans like to "brand" religion. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Noddy, Joieau

    You very rarely hear the word "citizen" from media and politicians in this country. We're always referred to as "consumers". We worship our deeply flawed economic system because for so long our entire national identity was molded around reaction to Communism. We have elevated our economic system above our system of government and allowed Capitalism to dominate our government. Sadly, too many Americans understand neither system. But one thing we know: we like "brands". Why not "branded" religion?

    Many of the people who set up this experiment we call the United States understood the dangers of mixing religion and government. Can you imagine if they had set aside a fixed number of seats for clergy and bishops in the Senate, just like it is in the House of Lords? Of course not. They understood this to be toxic and a danger to liberty. They were correct.

    As for churches, churches with hierarchies are not necessarily bad. When they are made up of men and women who are elected by the members of the denomination, they help to protect against the wackiest of ideas creeping in. The United Methodist Church, for instance, just changed its stance on LGBT folks in the church. They voted on this. Some Methodists will be upset, but their process and church government prevents these people from crapping in the punchbowl. That's a good use of the "organized" part of organized religion.

    Churches without these kinds of checks and balances--these independent megachurches and smaller churches like them--can do what they want. They only answer to "god". This can lead to some really wacky ideas, and it's from these Christians that we see some of the most extreme ideas. As long as we think of religion as simply a "brand" we're going to have this problem. Frankly, no matter how pious some of these folks say they are, I think they make a mockery of religion through willful ignorance.

    Santorum: Man on Dog; Romney: Dog on Car. Mrs. Romney: Fraud on Horse.

    by commonmass on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 05:26:03 AM PDT

    •  Religions arose to fill a need, (0+ / 0-)

      and the need was governance, followed closely by education. By allying self-governance (spiritual morality) with social governance (rules and regulations), 'religion' of some description or other proved itself to be of useful survival value for the group/species evolutionarily speaking.

      It wasn't until religions got really big and powerful that competitors became threatening enough to launch hugely destructive wars. As a result, in the modern ('first') world religion has been effectively stripped of its most dangerous political powers, just as the royal houses of Britain and Europe have been stripped of theirs. That's a step in the right direction.

      Religion is authoritarian at root, and it was against that top-down authoritarianism that the Protestant revolution arose. Some denominations - Methodists, as you point out, Presbyterian, some others - remain "religion by parliamentary proceedure and vote." Others have become the very thing their forebears once rebelled against. Southern Baptists, for instance. The founders would spin in their graves to see how authoritarian the "priesthood of the believer" has become in this modern age!

      There are dozens of religions and hundreds of denominations people can choose from, and they do so based on their own psychological needs and beliefs. Authoritarians gravitate toward authoritarian churches. More egalitarian folks go for the less intrusive brands. And increasingly people are choosing 'none of the above'. They get their social and moral needs met in other ways, by other institutions and groups.

      Maybe that's an evolutionary thing too. Spirituality is not synonymous with religion. I doubt that humanity's spiritual impulse is going to disappear even if organized religions do. What was it He said?... oh, yeah. Wherever two or three are gathered in my name... [Matt. 18:20]

  •  The Klucksers use religon as a cover (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joieau, Fishtroller01

    as they have for their entire existence.

    Just as they used religion to excuse owning slaves.

    These examples and many more along with the discrimination and outright oppression I have experienced as a Transgender person has led me to conclude religion is not being used for good.

    Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.

    by Horace Boothroyd III on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 06:03:23 AM PDT

  •  Be happy that you don't have to cope with (0+ / 0-)

    religious conflict as your European ancestors did in the 17th century, or as post-colonial Indians did after WWII, or as Sunni and Shia do in Iraq of late.  We really know nothing of religious strife and hatred in the modern US.

    Where are we, now that we need us most?

    by Frank Knarf on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 07:10:26 AM PDT

    •  Try being an atheist in America. (0+ / 0-)

      The only thing that protects us from being run out of town on a rail is the Constitution.  It is the absolute basic nature of the Abrahamic religions to be aggressive and domineering, which is thoroughly supported by their texts.  That will never go away until religion is seen as an outmoded and unattractive way of thinking. Unfortunately,  the peaceful sides of religion are losing their power and influence rapidly.

      •  I know hundreds of atheists. None of them have (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ever expected to be 'run out of town on a rail'.  They're actually just fine with it, and talk freely about it.  

        Are you running around trying to de-Christianize Christians or something?  Because I've heard a couple of people on dkos express this horrible discrimination--as if they're living their lives cowering in a corner--but I've never seen it.  Maybe if you live in a megachurch or something.

        •  Not sure what you mean (0+ / 0-)

          I am certainly NOT trying to de-Christian-ize Christians.  I guess I would just say that it seems like everyone calls their religion Christian no days, but these are so very different even among themselves.  That in an of itself is fine, none of my business I guess.  However, I would like for the greater masses to realize that calling it Christian doesnt make it that.  And, while I am think of it, it is funny that Obama calls his religion "Christian" and many of the branders insist on not allowing this.  Hum...

        •  Sorry (0+ / 0-)

          Thought your response was to me...

        •  I live in the South. (0+ / 0-)

          May I suggest you read some of the issues of Freethought Today put out by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and take a look at the hate mail they get from Christians on a daily basis. Or read the letters about the teenager Jessica Alquist written to her after she asked to have a prayer removed from the walls of her high school.  She had to hire a body guard and drop out of her senior year in HS to protect her from the good Christians of RI. When people tried to send her flowers, the flower shops in her town wouldn't deliver to "the atheist house".  Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation also has a body guard for him and his family because of the hate mail and threats because he is perceived as an atheist even though his organization mostly represents Christians.  I requested the removal of the Ten Commandments from our local courthouse, and people wrote things to the paper that were not very pleasant, including suggesting that I leave town or get out of the country because this is a "Christian Nation".  

          As for "de-Christianizing Christians" you give me too much power.  If talking from an atheist view does that, then so be it.  I was a Christian before I became an atheist and I spent years figuring this all out.  I really don't expect that someone will suddenly throw off their faith because they read a post by an atheist, unless they were harboring doubts already.  

          In my view, religious opinions are no different than any other opinion.  If they don't make sense or have no facts to back them up, then they should be held to the same scrutiny and criticism as, for example, a political opinion.

  •  Question on the last question (0+ / 0-)

    put forth at the end of this diary.  Just exactly how will God hold believers accountable for the evil of religious institutions when it is the believers themselves who run the institutions?  Is there another sub category here called good believers and bad believers?  Who is who? And isn't it true that the biblical texts actually support the positions held by those you would condemn for their brand of Christianity?  Even Jesus condemned whole towns of people to hell for not wanting to hear his message.

    •  Good point, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Really just threw in that last question for dramatic effect.  My post can be taken two ways : good believers and bad believers wherein the good believers are right somehow. Alternatively it could be seen from the point of view that "true believers" (ala Eric Hoffer) are bad.  I tend to take this second perspective.  It isnt that Christ did or didnt condemn this group or that, it is that after so long and so many changes in the text, and so many different points of view, I can not know for sure.  

      As Learned Hand said: "The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right." -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944.  I would say "the spirit of faith...  "  

      •  One of the actions I took (0+ / 0-)

        on the path that led me away from Christianity and then from god belief was reading the bible cover to cover.  Like Thomas Paine, I found those texts upsetting and the god and the whole system of "salvation" basically immoral.   However, I am tolerant of those who believe.  I don't hold back if someone makes a statement that flies in the face of reason, but I do try to keep my challenges polite.

        Except for the acceptance of Mother Teresa as a role model for helping the poor,  you wrote a good diary.

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