Why Religion Gets A Bad Name…

Polls suggest that the younger generation is far less religious than its predecessors, and it isn’t hard to see why. Religious double-standards are hard to miss; every day, I come across articles with titles like “Why Evangelicals Still Support Trump” and “Is Evangelical Christianity becoming a Cult?”

In all fairness, the (entirely appropriate) accusations of hypocrisy contained in these articles don’t apply to all Evangelicals, or to adherents of other religions, but the mismatch between what these “Christians” preach and what they practice is so obvious, so “in your face,” that it manages to besmirch the entire religious enterprise.

Case in point: Scott Pruitt. As Ed Brayton writes at Dispatches from the Culture Wars,

So far, 2018 hasn’t been a great year for Scott Pruitt, considering that the EPA Administrator has been lurching from one scandal to the next. Pruitt had already distinguished himself with his preference for opulent, non-secure hotels while on official travel; with his predilection for first-class flights on taxpayers’ dime; with his insistence that he receive a 24-hour security detail fit for a king, comprising up to 20 bodyguards; and with the plush DC condominium he’s reportedly been renting, for a veryattractive $50 a night, from the wife of a Beltway oil and gas lobbyist.

The embattled Donald Trump appointee is currently the subject of at least two ethics investigations.

Today’s Pruitt controversy concerns a commemorative coin that the wanted the EPA to order.

Pruitt’s preferred design would delete the logo of the EPA he is trying to dismantle, and would instead feature some combination of symbols “more reflective of himself and the Trump administration.” ( I will ignore my impulse to suggest that a jackass might serve as such a symbol…) Among his suggestions were a buffalo, to represent  Pruitt’s state of Oklahoma, and an unspecified Bible verse to “reflect his faith.”

Perhaps the verse that reads “Thou shalt allow thy donors to pollute the air and water”?

I am not religious, but I have several friends who are members of the clergy. Their approach to their various theologies have a number of common elements.  My Christian friends believe they should love their neighbors as themselves; my Jewish friends are obliged to refrain from treating others as they would not wish to be treated. Other traditions teach variations of this Golden Rule.

There is an old adage along the lines of “show me how you treat other people and I’ll judge the value of your religion.” To which I would add, “show me your moral code, and how closely you follow it, and I’ll evaluate the sincerity of your professed beliefs.”

There has long been a clash in America between the “live and let live” morality embedded in the Bill of Rights–the Enlightenment belief that government power must not be used to impose obedience to religious commandments–and the Puritans’ insistence that everyone needs to live by their particular interpretation of their particular holy book, that “religious liberty” means “freedom to do the right thing, and government must insist you live in accordance with what (our religion says) the right thing is.”

The Puritans may originally have tried to live in accordance with the rules they were trying to impose on everyone else, but these days, they don’t bother. Today, they just want to be the ones making the rules. What began as theology has morphed into a fight for political dominance.

For these theocrats and posturers, “love thy neighbor” doesn’t require respect for the rights of others, or for the planet. It requires fealty.

No wonder the kids are turned off.


  1. “What began as theology has morphed into a fight for political dominance.”


    I remember reading a book from a respected source, as I remember a Catholic, many years ago the observation that the Klan was the militant arm of evangelical Christianity. Before I’m jumped, I’ll offer the disclaimer that my statement doesn’t apply to a significant number of evangelicals. But maybe the truth should be more out in the open. Just maybe.

    Also, this goes along with Walter Cronkite’s statement as the spokesman for, as I remember, The Interfaith Alliance that “Christianity is being used as a MASK for White Supremacy.”

    What’s the problem? Can’t we just be honest about our feelings like the folks in Nazi Germany during the 20’s and 30’s? The answer is NO. They ended up a bunch of losers.

    Who in their right mind would follow a bunch of losers?

  2. As I mentioned the other day, the “Puritans” committed mass genocide against Native Americans and stole their land. I believe they called Indians “heathens.”

    Look at what the Jews in Israel are doing to the Palestinians. I could go on with one example after another of how religions have failed man.

    The Evangelical “leaders” are modern day snake oil salesmen and saleswomen getting rich off the gullibility of the meek.

    How can anybody keep a straight face when seeing pictures of Trump and Pence surrounded by Evangelicals praying in the Oval Office?

    When you look closer at the “school choice” laws, you’ll see the massive gifts being languished on religious schools and even colleges. Indiana Wesleyan can now accept government monies and discriminate against who they hire.

    Now we have the frauds from religious institutions entering our fraudulent government. It kind of makes sense in a sordid and twisted ironic sort of way…

    The citizens insisted our local council adopt a code of ethics and they were insulted. “I am a proud member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. I’m offended by your suggestion that I need to adopt a code of ethics.”

    Four years later, the FBI came to town and has been investigating several branches of government. One man indicted but he was helped by many others.

    So far, the FBI has uncovered close to $400K stolen from taxpayers. I contend they aren’t looking hard enough. 😉

  3. Marv; some eye-opening comments, especially the Walter Cronkite quote which is blatantly being proved to be true these days. Can’t remember where I read a description of the foundation of the KKK which explained that, their burning of a cross on the property of their enemies, both black and white, was to call God’s attention to them doing His work. I have always questioned why this was done in full costume, hiding their identity while performing work they should be proud to be known for.

    The evangelicals behind the Republican pulpit today have preached religious reasoning behind their beliefs, their actions and their laws while ignoring the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount…tossing out the entire Bible to do their dirty work. Many of the actions they are using in the name of religion to deny rights and endanger the lives of millions of innocent victims cannot be found in the Bible or the Constitution. The regulations they are repealing and the personal lives they are endangering are like repealing criminal and civil laws necessary to protect the majority from criminal action at federal and state levels.

    “But maybe the truth should be more out in the open. Just maybe.”

    While Trump is an undeniable tyrannical Fascist; maybe we shouldn’t be blaming an idiot for running amok when he has been handed the key to the candy store? The GOP, and those of us who have been paying attention for almost 40 years, have been well aware of who and what Trump is, was and will continue to be. I say again; we need to know why he was their “chosen one” over 16 other possible nominees for president. Trump, the Legislature and SCOTUS are an interdependent entity; espousing religion with no religious basis for their claims or their determined “deconstruction” of our government, democracy, the Constitution while destroying lives of Americans and America itself. What do they believe will be left for them to own and to control when their destruction is complete?

    Those millions of young people who organized and supported the “March For Life” can see this reality; they appear to also see there is no Biblical basis for the GOP claims just as they see this country was founded on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America, not the Bible.

    “When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another,…” We are currently involved in an American Revolution against Trump and his entire Republican party; let those few who may be against his actions but “go along to get along”, be collateral damage if we can rip the control from their hands. Meanwhile, Trump’s “…tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing…” as he struts upon his stage; continues unabated, escalating hourly.

    God help us!

  4. JoAnn,

    “God help us!”

    SHE/HE will. I’m reminded of the image of the Black Jesus which was more prevalent before the Civil Rights Movement became a reality.

    By the way, what gender, race, or nationality is God?

  5. I have always observed that religion was not a practice that united people, it was used to identify and sort individuals into believers and non-believers. The believers believed that “god” wanted them to convert every non-believer in sight into a believer, no matter the consequences.

    I have said many times before in this forum that religion is/should be about the individual spiritual experience and not about the industrial-scale, dress-up and sing experience that seems to be the core of evangelical “christianity”. If today’s evangelicals took some time away from politics and from conservative talk-radio and tried being quiet and reflective, they may find the experience rewarding and something worth talking about in a different context. Or they may have to face the reality that there really is no one speaking to them from the cosmos.

    Either way, it would be an improvement for the rest of us.

  6. Those same Puritans were burning or hanging witches. The concept is staying in power by giving the people somebody to hate. Sound familiar?

  7. Daleb,

    “I have always observed that religion was not a practice that united people, it was used to identify and sort individuals into believers and non-believers.” This is the single-most important statement with regard to religion in general and evangelicals in particular. It is more than just an indictment of a perverse form of Christianity, it is the explanation for the tribalism that is consuming our society.

    It hasn’t changed much over the last 100,000 years, or so. Humans still have to find ways to identify their tribe. It is ironic that the most abstract and evidence-devoid activity of the human condition seems to lead our social thinking still. Clearly, religion is a made-up lever to control people and establish power among the “clergy” who lust for it.

    Gosh. That sounds like a corporation.

  8. Old testament for those they don’t like, new testament for those they don’t like. I always found it odd that the Christian right was able to thread the needle so carefully. If “I” make a mistake, well forgiveness is God’s greatest strength. Come to Jesus and be healed. If “you” make a mistake, fire and brimstone, hell and damnation are all you deserve.

    It’s a pretty clever con really. You have to at least appreciate the way they’ve taken control of everything.

  9. It has occurred to me that no matter what name we put on what tribes it boils down to people to whom “freedom” means ability to do whatever is best for them vs people to whom freedom means whatever is best for us (the collective we).

    One thing that would drive that bipolar perspective are those who are comfortable in the world as it has evolved and will continue to be vs those who feel or are threatened by modernity.

    Sheila mentions the Faith practices of millennials, just a fact. That must threaten evangelicals like primitive native savages did those who took over their lands.

  10. Dirk; does the Catholic religion even require Jesus for forgiveness of sins? Am I wrong in my understanding that it only take a man who bears the title of “Priest” to speak for God and forgive all sins…with the requirement of saying a few “Hail, Marys” as punishment? I was also told that the basic belief of Jews in Israel is now the requirement of accepting Jesus for salvation. Are they still Jews? Sounds like Baptists to me, once a Baptist. I also read that Muslims believe everyone on earth was born Muslim; making the decision to accept another religion later in life, they become Infidels. And so it goes!

    For some reason; these religious changes reminds me of my friend’s brother who was gay and dying of AIDS; he lived out the few remaining months of his life being cared for by another sister. One morning he told her, “I’m not gay anymore.” She of course asked what he was talking about and he explained, “Well, I can’t get it up anymore so I guess I am not gay anymore.” She told him, “Get over yourself.” Sounds like good advice to the Republican evangelicals running this country today; they really do need to “get over themselves!”

  11. Todd is correct to notice how Jews are treating the native Palestinians…of course, such is not reported in his paper or Gannett. Most people are unaware of jew lies…from their beginning in 1948 or so. But, Israel is honest in declassifying everything after 50 years. America is dishonest and WWII “history” remains classified. Todd is also correct that $400,000 is peanuts for the FBI to find in their several years of camping out in Muncie. They could multiply that very many times were they to look into the government schools there. As for the Evangelicals, Mark Noll wrote a book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, concluding that there wasn’t much mind there but he didn’t say that they were loons since Martin Luther. A person who “is not religious” is in the position of an outsider looking it….not exactly much of a ground to stand upon, next to no ground at all.

  12. In my eyes religion (Christian, Judiac or Islamic) is all founded on the same principles from the same books – the Torah.) However as we know the whole thing has been worm-eaten for some time – It would cause riots and war if the people in general KNEW what exactly is in those five books of Moses. Islam is based on the third hand stories from Jews and Christians alike. And this whole ‘American Christian’ thing is the American bastardization of ‘G-d.’ they know NOTHING! (‘Oh as if you do!’ I heard that.., well then look on this: “www.colunga-hernandez.com” and ponder it well.)
    – Rev. Manuel Colunga-Hernandez

  13. In addition to the youth being turned off by religion there are also millions of adults that have chosen to leave organized religion. I finally left organized religion after 55 years and have not once regretted doing so.

    I physically bristle when others openly admire power hungry evil creatures such as Franklin Graham or other evangelicals who are the epitome of hateful rhetoric.

  14. I like the following quote by Mahatma Gandhi: I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unChrist-like.”

  15. The Puritans may have come here seeking escape from religious persecution, but that desire did not stop them from imposing their beliefs through civil law. They were also known to hang Quakers for their religious beliefs and expel others for theirs. Having been expelled for opposing Puritan control over civil law, Roger Williams founded Providence, later Rhode Island, which became the birthplace and model for religious freedom here. Puritanism wasn’t even a good model for a religion, much less a model for a fully functioning society. No religion is. Despite being unwelcome in the Old World for their repressive beliefs, the Puritans failed to learn from their own oppression and became oppressors in the New World. Hypocrisy and the pride that generally accompanies it are the greatest sins and pretty much the only transgressions Christ really condemned. And the religious leaders of his time were the most guilty of those sins. We all need to take care to avoid those faults because they are the basis for so much of what is wrong in the world today.

  16. Nancy, I agree. Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. are the most ‘unchristian’ public figures that I know. And like you I abandoned the pretense and hypocrisy of organized religion in my later, more knowledgeable years. In a way, I associate the cultural defect of America’s gun mentality with the big gap between Europe’s non-religiously and the evangelical fervor of our population.

  17. A great piece as usual Sheila, thank you!

    For me entering into the discussion of both politics and religion at the same time is tantamount to me detonating a low yield nuclear device in my living room. I normally shy away from such things since it’s something I cannot resolve and is been going on since Jesus Christ walked the earth and no doubt before then.

    However, there are individuals and organizations that run contrary to the bilge that is being propagated from pulpits, mega churches, and other sources of warped and mutated Christian doctrine, real Christian doctrine, throughout this country. I have to point out a fellow from North Carolina by the name of Rev. William Barber, a protestant minister that is been deeply involved in the NAACP since he was a teenager. He has an organization called the Repairers of the Breach which is aimed at exactly what you’re talking about but also and much more importantly aimed at helping people, poor people and reestablishing some equilibrium to what is supposed to be preached from pulpits as opposed to that which is intermixed with right wing conservative politics and just pure unadulterated hate.

    I encourage you to check out and both him and his organization. I see him frequently on MSNBC’s AM Joy where he talks about what is happening today and the failings of the church today and is a very vocal in regard to a lot of what is passing for Christian doctrine today as being blasphemy. As a Christian myself I have long wondered why the Christian evangelical community acts the way it does which seem so contrary to what Jesus was all about, quite frankly, elemental human kindness and love.

    I am working on the history of Riley Hospital for Children, an institution that I’ve been associated with for nearly two decades both as an employee and now as an archival consultant tapping into what I did years ago while working in the Indiana State Archives and on a number of research projects orchestrated by the Library of Congress via the Indiana University library system. In working on all this stuff I am reminded that when the hospital was dedicated in October 1924 one out of every three adult males in the state of Indiana were members of the Ku Klux Klan. This is also the time of the Great Red Scare and the heyday of Eugene V Debs and the American socialist movement. Way back then what was being proposed as to how the hospital would operate where pediatric patients would be seen free of charge with many of them being wards of courts throughout the state, many groups condemned the effort because they saw it as rampant socialism, including many physicians. They were just as frenzied back then as people are now blasting right past the fact that the whole idea was to help save the lives of children who were largely without access to credible health care in this state with infant mortality rates that were sky high. You would think that helping and saving children would be something that everyone would agree upon but it turned out to be far from that for quite a while.

    I guess what I’m trying to convey by digressing into what I’ve been poring over for the last 4 ½ years is that this state has a background that many people don’t think about deliberatively today but a background that has deeply influenced the culture of this state, particularly in rural areas, that is home, most unfortunately, to many of these extremist views that are being preached from pulpits throughout the state and by organizations that claim to the Christian such as the Family Research Institute that preach hate, condemnation, and division when they should be doing the exact opposite. Those views, just as the people that hold them, have over the last 60 to 70 years migrated to urban areas so the impact of these of these aberrant takes on reality can now be found virtually everywhere.

    So if I’m hoping that when I submit this post that my house is not overwhelmed by the overpressure of that low yield nuclear detonation but just as I’m finding as I review of historical documents regarding the hospital and its longstanding partnership with the Indiana university things are just complicated. We all have to work doing our best to be good citizens, being open minded and receptive of every one regardless of where they came from, what they look like, how they live, and where they worship if they worship and all. We’re all neighbors in one where another and we need to get back to thinking that way and also back to the modality of being willing and able to help each other and by doing so improving the lot of all Americans and those that see this country from their vantage point as a bright light in a place where they would like to immigrate too and live. After all, isn’t that what this country is supposed to be all about? Isn’t that what we were taught as kids? Isn’t that something that we should all work for?

    People that preach the gospel of Jesus Christ have a special responsibility to not be heretics which is what of many of them are throughout the country and it’s no wonder that so many people, particularly young people, see very well the difference between what these people say and what they do as being totally hypocritical. They’re not alone as I see it myself every day by what people say and what they do but perhaps as I shake my head in response to seeing and hearing this trouble it’s good for my spine in my neck. Nevertheless there a lot of people that act so high and mighty in their behavior are going to be in for a very rude awakening at some point and will have only themselves to blame.

  18. Dirk Gently @ 8:55 am, you expressed the hypocrisy rather well. At least when I went to Catholic School back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, if you were not a Catholic you went to hell.

    The idea of binding political authority and religious authority goes back in history to Egyptian Pharaohs. New Testament Christianity had philosophical ideas, but like most revolutions – A how to rule was lacking – How do you turn philosophical ideas into doctrine and dogma??? What is acceptable doctrine and what is not?? More importantly – How do you enforce it???

    Various ecumenical councils were convened about what were acceptable beliefs. We know about the early Christian martyrs. What is less well known is how once Christianity became the state religion in the ancient Roman Empire pagans and various Christian heresies were violently suppressed.

    As incredible as it seems blasphemy and heresy can still be punished into today’s world in some cases by death.
    Thomas Paine Quotes

    All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

    Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man.

    One good schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests.

  19. So did this whole thing as we know it in our Judeo-Christian society begin with Abraham of Ur and his affair with Hagar, the 12 tribes, a young rabbi named Jesus etc.? Are the Grahams and Falwells of America Abrahamic heirs of a male culture not that far removed from the cave which gives us today’s Trump voters irrespective of his sexual and other affronts to reason and order? Is religion a cover for male supremacy whether white or black or brown (depending upon the venue)? Male supremacy as the culprit is an argument made in an article I am emailing Sheila today and may explain why evangelical wives voted for Trump along with their evangelical husbands, all harkening back to some mystical Abrahamic code of male supremacy and female obeisance straight from the cave.

    However we got to where we are, here we are, so now what? Here’s what > Let’s reorder society to reflect the values inhering in a democratic society. We will not substitute worship of the state for worship of God, but rather worship (so to speak) human rights and democratic values. We may not have perfectly identified the theological wrongs of yesteryear or the pretended religious views of TV preachers, Falwells and Grahams, but we know enough to know that religion itself is in great need of reform if it is to survive whether it is real or delusion since the younger folks aren’t having it – and for good reason considering what religion is currently offering and the dying off of the old folks stuck in some medieval pope’s view not of the religion of Jesus but rather one about him, fashioned to fit the power structure of the day (as we are seeing in our country today).
    My guess is that religion will survive the millennial surge but that its adherents will be back in the catacombs (so to speak) and defined as cultists (as they were by the Romans before Constantine and canonization of scripture in 381 A.D.). Time (and what we do about it) will tell. Meanwhile, we must resist the Trumps and Falwells of this world who use religion as a cover for their assaults on our most precious of assets, our democracy.

  20. JoAnn, if I remember what I was taught in 2nd grade at St Henry’s In Chicago back in 1951, in order to be forgiven sins there had to be three things present. 1) acknowledgement of the wrong (confession), 2) sincere remorse and reparation (if possible), and 3) firm resolve to sin no more. The priest is not the one who absolves, Jesus, the Christ is.

    When viewed from a secular perspective, all three of those things make sense if the aim is to prevent harm to ourselves and others. Unfortunately, many of us use them as an easy out or a way to rationalize bad behavior as somehow easily forgiven.

  21. Re JD’s comment

    “Unfortunately, many of us use them as an easy out or a way to rationalize bad behavior as somehow easily forgiven.”

    At the high school I attended in rural north Indiana most of us who attended church were Protestants and we always laughed at the few Catholics when they spoke about Confession.

    They all used Confession as a way to feel better about themselves for bad behavior and felt like they were excused to go ahead and repeat the same bad behavior each week or weekend. As long as they went to Confession they were “forgiven” of their sins and they openly talked about how their behavior didn’t really matter as long as they confessed their sins.

  22. A theology professor who did a workshop at my church cautioned us not to let “the church”, it’s rules and personalities and inner politics get in the way of Christianity. Good advice.

  23. I can’t respect a religion that teaches, as Christianity does, that Adolph Hitler and Mahatma Gandhi are equally deserving of eternal conscious torment in the pit of Hell.

  24. You are welcome, Marv. As for Leon Dixon, he may be going the way of Goper if it ticks him off too much.

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