Two Kinds Of Religion

A number of articles published during the heat of the midterm campaigns explored Trump’s steadfast support from Evangelical Christians. A connected inquiry looked at the antagonism to immigrants and immigration displayed by this particular voting bloc–an antagonism Trump exploited (and probably caused to increase).

“Who’s organizing the massive caravan on track to hit the US Border, just in time for the Election?”

That was just one headline last week on the website of the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Pat Robertson-founded evangelical media powerhouse that has become, in recent years, a de facto mouthpiece for the Trump administration.

As the Vox article quoted above noted, the ramped-up and distorted coverage of the caravan was part and parcel of Trump’s Nativist message. The question was, why did that message resonate with followers of a man whose message was to welcome the stranger? Why, for that matter, have polls consistently shown that a staggering 75 percent of white evangelicals enthusiastically support the federal crackdown on undocumented immigrants  (only 46 percent of Americans overall support those measures).

According to a Pew Research Center poll in May, 68 percentof white evangelicals say that America has no responsibility to house refugees, a full 25 points over the national average.

Here’s a clue: a July poll by the Public Religion Research Initiative (PRRI) found well over   half of white evangelicals willing to admit to feelings of “concern” about the declining percentage of Americans who are white.

I’ll leave scholarly explanations of the disconnect between these well-documented attitudes and the purported religious beliefs of those who hold them to the theologians and sociologists, but one of my sons has a theory about religions in general that I think bears on the issue.

His is a simple formula: if a religion focuses on helping people wrestle with life’s important moral and ethical questions, it’s good. If it prescribes the answers–if it tells adherents what they must believe and how they must act and teaches that people who don’t agree are wrong–it isn’t.

There’s a fair amount of research on authoritarian personalities, and their need for “bright lines” and clear rules to follow. People who are deeply uncomfortable with ambiguity are drawn to more rigid and prescriptive religious and political beliefs. They aren’t interested in wrestling with moral dilemmas or finding the balance between competing visions of the good. Fundamentalist theologies–whether Christian, Jewish or Islamic–not only offer the certainty they crave, they promote distinctions between “us” (the “saved,” the good guys) and “them” (the infidel, the Other).

The Other is to be feared and/or hated.

So they cherry-pick and “interpret” the passages in their bibles that seem to counsel welcoming the stranger or helping the widow and orphan. And they cheer when an authority figure tells them that their skin color and their beliefs are superior and must be protected from contamination.


  1. Sheila,

    “And they cheer when an authority figure tells them that their skin color and their beliefs are superior and must be protected from contamination.”

    You can’t change them. All you can do, at best, is to scare them. Sometimes, that works miracles.

  2. From those hypocritical xians, those (migrant) people are coming to:

    1. get free housing, medical and food from “THEIR” tax dollars.
    2. don’t and won’t speak “English”
    3. sponge off the government for everything else that can get their greedy hands on because they are lazy.

    It’s not just America anymore, it’s in Europe too. Us vs Them. Think Brexit. It’s a sickness that is infecting the human brain again and we need to vaccinate against it. That is if you can overcome the anti-vax people.

    COUNT THE VOTES! We outnumber them.

  3. I re-read your son’s paragraph three times, I said “Wow,” and then I copied what he said onto an index card.
    What a son you begot, Sheila!

  4. I scanned your article looking for the appropriate keyword–CULT–couldn’t find it.

    Cult leaders tell their members exactly what they want to hear…GOD APPROVES OF YOUR BIGOTRY.

    Members send MONEY.

    It’s nothing more than a circus. And where is that caravan anyway? I’ve looked all over Twitter and it vanished. Not a priority for some reason. Oh well…

    Now Fox News is concerned about the GOP rigging elections in Florida. Sorry, they are interested in giving the mic to the GOP officials who won rigged elections so they can accuse those coming in to prove they were rigged that they’re the ones stealing the election.

    This is the USA–the beacon of democracy spread around the world by our $1 trillion military/surveillance state.

    “You need this democracy!”
    “We don’t want your democracy!”
    You’ll have our democracy!”

    It’s not about “democracy”…it’s ALL about capitalism.

    The media is used for manipulation in America. It was used for manipulation in Germany as well but the government ran the media in Nazi Germany. Why does our media serve the interests of the few over the interests of the many?

    Keep watching the TV for the answers to important questions like these… 😉

  5. “His is a simple formula: if a religion focuses on helping people wrestle with life’s important moral and ethical questions, it’s good. If it prescribes the answers–if it tells adherents what they must believe and how they must act and teaches that people who don’t agree are wrong–it isn’t.”

    It is so much more difficult to think for ourselves and wrestle with those ideas and concepts than it is to have the comfort of rules and guidelines clearly marked so that we are safe and secure in our choices. It is easy. No soul-searching (if there is one to search) or relativity to consider.

    The priest at our church recently repulsed me with his homily dictating the doctrines of absolutism, decrying our country’s turn to “relativistic” thinking. He laid down the “rules” as the church sees them, handed directly to us by God. He neglected to include the fact that the rules came down to us from a patriarchal, exclusionary group who conveniently see themselves as the deliverers of faith to the unwashed and heathen, a position designed to cement their superiority and exclusive access to the power it produces. It is as old as time.

    Professor Kennedy causes us to think and question, to look for real consequences of the long term, to use our god-given brain to imagine and empathize. I silently thank her every day for this forum and find some comfort in the fact that there are others like me in the country. Sometimes it feels very lonely out here.

  6. Seems like “the Other” is barely avoiding a definition of Cult. A serious word for sure and all media is wont to use it.Co

  7. “According to a Pew Research Center poll in May, 68 percentof white evangelicals say that America has no responsibility to house refugees, a full 25 points over the national average.”

    We do, however, have the full responsibility to treat them humanely and not kidnap their babies and children…then lose them in Trump’s current misuse of ICE. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was formed as part of Homeland Security in 2002 by George W.; it’s responsibility IS to search out terrorists and extremists crossing all of our borders and seek out those bringing drugs and other illegal “customs” into this country. Trump keeps telling the lie that Democrats want to END ICE; we simply want them to do the job they were organized to do and allow Citizenship and Immigration to perform their responsibilities.

    I have seen NOTHING regarding the religion of those immigrants arrested, jailed, deported, separated from their children who were lost in the lack of system in Trump’s system of forcing his issue of building HIS wall across our southern border.

    “Who’s organizing the massive caravan on track to hit the US Border, just in time for the Election?”

    Did the Christian Broadcasting Network originate the accusation that Jewish multi-millionaire George Soros was funding them; thereby resulting in his name being on the list of pipe bomb recipients? And about those “middle-easterners” hidden in the caravan? Is the Christian Broadcasting Network familiar with the commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness” and have they read the 12th Chapter of Numbers? Do they understand either in their religious mania to stop all immigrants from coming to this country? The mania began immediately after Trump’s inauguration with that ban on Muslims already fully investigated and cleared to enter this country. Their religious mania continues to escalate with no sign of true Christianity in their accusations or their targeting all immigrants.

    I struggle NOT to be ashamed of being an American citizen or ashamed of trying to live a Christian life in the midst of White Nationalism.

  8. Some clinical psychologists say that we should reward behavior of people around us that do good things or follow prescribed rules or laws and punish those around us that don’t for us to be able to get along. The rules or laws are simply what our society agrees upon, our own religious beliefs weigh in as different religious sects have similar prescribed values. It is almost saying that if you have any religious beliefs you really can’t have any say in what should be adhered to in our society. The real problem is a disconnect in our society is to accept that liberals and conservatives need each other in order to run things. Some of the greatest ideas and inventions may be prescribed to liberal minded people who are inventive in trying to find solutions and conservatives are good at managing resources or for the management and accounting to do so.
    Even conservative minded individuals in the Hispanic community, up to 40% are thinking of better border protections.
    One of the biggest problems we face with immigration is our ability to educate our children currently as well as provide enough ESL teachers with those who don’t speak English well. Teachers average career is five years. As we cut title 2 funds to increase teachers ability to progress and increase the burden in our schools with more immigrants liberal and conservative minded educators agree that the extra burden complicates their ability rise out of the “failing school” identity prescribed to them.
    Discussions always arise today in how do we get better more qualified people in job openings as well as how do we just find people to even fill the positions we have open.
    A truck driver that I ran into yesterday noted that we lost a generation of drivers to the university and trade schools. Promises of employment after high debt can’t be fulfilled but these individuals with perhaps good reason think it’s beneath them even.
    Who are we responsible for? Our neighbors. Inner city people who need our time and energy.

  9. Your son’s observation is profound, and I believe correct as to how people believe and act within the bounds of their religious teachings and unforced within that religious community.

  10. Thank God for the 32% of Evangelicals who are not against immigration. God teaches love, support and care for others but humanity is not diety and God does have a right to give direction to His creation. We will never agree on every issue but let’s seek to use our words for peace.

  11. Robertson, Bakker, Fatwell, Swaggart, and all their brethren are nothing but scam artists/frauds and should be judged and adjudicated as such. To the gallows with them all.

  12. Money and power are the key words for today’s white fundamentalist preachers. They don’t understand most of the Bible anyway, so they interpret it to mean that they are God’s chosen. Unlike Mr. Wiesel, who (forgive me if I misinterpret) posits that being God’s chosen people means being chosen to bear the burdens of the world, they believe that it means that they should reap all of the rewards of the world. They are charlatans who make me wonder what message Jesus might have for them.

  13. I will give you a scripture mr. trump and his lackeys should heed: “Do not mistreat a widow or an orphan. If you oppress them with oppression and they cry out to me, I will hear their cry! Then will be kindled my wrath and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives will be widows and your children fatherless!” In studying the Hebrew of this passage – It hit me just how many times there is mention of the widow and the orphan; our government has been creating widows and orphans for some time now… they should know that there is a payback. I hope it comes upon them IN SPADES! We are now going on 40 confirmed seats.., the best payback I can see is the unraveling of the mismanagement and planting of ‘trump dummies’ in government offices! We don’t need to drain the swamp – we need to clean the SEWER! We need to fix this matter of the immigrant children and immigration in general – this nation is built on immigration! For crying out loud.

  14. The issue of “undocumented immigrants” is a problem that will not go away. The Reactionary Right, President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence take the view that undocumented immigrants are here illegally and hence have broken the law and are criminals and must be deported. This creates a clash with Corporate America which has relied on and exploited undocumented immigrants.

    A solution could be a legal method for undocumented immigrants, given a proper background check to become legal residents here in the USA. A path to full citizenship could be offered. The Dreamers could also have a path to citizenship.

    As far as religion is concerned a quote by Anne Lamott provides guidance:
    “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

    The Tele Evangelicals are bit too smart to preach out right hate, but they can and do threaten Hell Fire and Damnation on a regular basis. It is the old crap of Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin. If dancing is a sin, drinking alcoholic beverages, if same sex marriage is a sin, etc., then the usual next step is to “pray” for the sinner to be “converted” to the “Right Path”.

    The Right Wing Reactionaries and the Evangelicals see threats everywhere, fear is the motivator. President Agent Orange is well aware of how powerful fear is as a motivator, and he presses the fear button every chance he gets. This is where the Authoritarian Doctrine takes hold, to guard against these threats, you must follow your leader with unquestioning loyalty. There is no middle ground, critical thinking is not permitted, the ends justify the means.

  15. Monotonous,

    “There is no middle ground, critical thinking is not permitted, the ends justify the means.”

    I’m afraid they will change, just like the Germans did in 1945, after most everything was burned to the ground.

  16. Monotonous; how many years and how many administrations have admitted the immigration problem but done nothing to resolve any of them…other than President Obama’s attempt to aid those brought here as children? Trump has declared open war on immigrants and Muslims and escalated the centuries old war on Jews…except his “chosen few”…no pun intended as this is no laughing matter. Have you seen any report since he was nominated that he and his family attended any church of any denomination? And yet the christian evangelicals uphold his every word as gospel and condone sexual assaults and spousal abuse by their party members.

    The Right Wing Reactionaries and Evangelicals ARE the threats that are everywhere and ARE the source of all fear; they are adept at projecting the blame along with their claims of “fake news” onto the Democratic party and those they consider liberals. There is no “honor among thieves” and once Trump begins his downslide they will begin jumping ship like the rats they are…will we have to come to their rescue as Americans when or IF democracy, the Constitution and Rule of Law returns to OUR country?

  17. Wonder how much of the evangelicals/calvinists anti-Catholic beliefs also come into play?

  18. I tend to look at religion these days, the same way I look at going to the grocery store. If you go into the wine section, you can pick red or white wine then you can make a choice on the brand and the type. The soft drink section is the same.

    There is no science or mathematically correct formula that determines what choice you make in wine or soft drink selection. Like wise there is no logical choice or test for which religion is the true path.

    What we should have learned from organized religion in the vast majority of cases, once it has coercive power, toleration is not permitted. This is the case even today where in some areas of the world blasphemy is punishable by death.

    You have the Ten Commandments which seem simple enough, but then you have to add thousands of words further defining what “God” wants you to eat, or who you can slaughter and for what reasons. Now add in various “Holy Men” – they are almost always “Holy Men” to further tell us what part of the “Holy Book” to follow and which parts should be ignored.

    So arguing with Religious Extremists is a waste of time, it is like trying to convince a Coke Drinker, Root Beer is better.

    I can acknowledge these Religious Extremists, but trying to find some chapter and verse in the Holy Book to prove they are wrong is a waste of words.

  19. Stan,

    “Wonder how much of the evangelicals/calvinists anti-Catholic beliefs also come into play?’

    A few years ago, I attended a meeting at the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine. It covers most of North Florida, including Jacksonville.

    The subject matter of the special meeting was a lecture on the systematic removal of Catholic priests from ministering in the Florida State Prison System. However, I don’t know what the status of the situation is at the present time. I seriously doubt that there has been an improvement.

    As an aside, when I returned to Jacksonville in the early 90’s, the Ann Frank Traveling Exhibit arrived a few month afterwards. The Sunday after its arrival, the local minister of the First Baptist Church gave a “terrific sermon” which featured a list of local Jews who were described as “the Devil’s best.” He has since passed away. If he was living, I’m sure he would have been invited to attend the opening of our embassy in Jerusalem, just like the other anti-Semitic ministers in attendance.

  20. Sheila: Your son said so much in that brief observation. Thank him for all, or at least most, of us. His quote will be on more than a few index cards.

    JD: You’re figuring it out. Absolutism handed out by anybody is the danger zone. Beware!

  21. Why should religion play any role in deciding issues of right or wrong? Just because clerics claim that authority? Aren’t philosophers and ethicists who have no allegiance to any given set of answers more qualified to to lead the search for truth? Since all religion is based on a set of proven falsehoods – and in many cases ignores outright evil – it should be disqualified from stacking the deck in any discussion of right and wrong. Believing in magic provides no foundation for exploring life’s biggest issues.

    American fundamentalists, those who truly believe the tenets of their faith, now embrace racism, bigotry and even tribalism while ignoring pleas from the destitute and needy. Few atheists would ever go in that direction. Religion does have the virtue of encouraging people who know they are worthless to feel superior to the rest of us. That’s of some comfort to them, and should be left alone, especially in cases where it is their only comfort.

  22. I would suggest that much of the anti-Semitism in the U.S., at the present time, is deeper than the anti-Semitism that existed in Nazi Germany. The German Jews at least attempted to fight back. They created what was called the Central Verein (CV), led by two able Jewish attorneys. They tried as much as they could, but were no match for the likes of Josef Goebbels. Also, like in Germany, the virulent anti-Semitism has now mutated to include other vulnerable minority groups.

    Nothing comparable exists in the United States. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) when led by Abraham Foxman was beholden to the interests of the State of Israel, not to the Jewish community in America. This present day “PERFIDY” must be dealt with both inside and outside the Jewish community or we will all lose at the end.

  23. Are traces of the Aryan race still in our DNA? I come from the blood of a Teutonian tribe near Baden Baden on the northern reach of the Bavarian Forest. ‘Mixed marriage ‘ over four generations and migration to Canada and the USA changed the value construct of my family that now differs from origin in a small Bavarian village where we are considered deserters (outliers). When I read about Aryan beliefs and attitudes, a look in the mirror from time to time is an honest reflection my roots linger I yearn to resist and let go. When I hear language and behavior of folks during this last election cycle and especially our President, I cringe with recognizable tribal behavior and language of the Aryan people at the turn of the last century. Considering the history of our evolving species, that is frighteningly not too long ago. And the secret Kingdom of Bumajemanjani lurks in the shallows behind closed curtains at 1600. Fake news or just drumming I hear?

  24. Gandhi:

    “I like your Christ. I do not much like your Christians.”


    “American fundamentalists, those who truly believe the tenets of their faith, now embrace racism, bigotry and even tribalism while ignoring pleas from the destitute and needy. ”

    Gandhi understands the truth. Terry is lost in hatred as poisonous as that of the Evangelicals he decries. Evangelicals are led by charlatans; Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, et. al. and not by Christ. Just as Nationalism is patriotism gone bad, unfettered capitalism greed on steroids, and Fascism is Democracy gone bad, so is Evangelist Christianity despoiled.

    Condemning Christianity based on the perverted teachings of Robertson makes no more sense than condemning Socrates for Hitler.

    Do we want to solve problems? Do we want health care for all? Do we want medicare/medicaid/ACA strengthened? Do we want a humane outcome for those who seek asylum in our country? Then , damn it, FOCUS ON THOSE ISSUES! Screaming hatred at all Christians because some are assholes is unproductive at best at worst will drive those in the middle away.

    Let’s talk about how our law and international law governs refugees. These people ARE NOT ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS! They are refugees. They are entitled to protection and a legal hearing before action is taken.

    Too many of them? BULLSHIT! We are a country of more than 300 million. If we took in 5000 refugees EVERY day in a year the total would be less than two million–approximately .005% of our total population. Lebanon, a country with a population of about 7 million absorbed one million refugees from Syria–about .143% of their population!

    We don’t seem to mind slaughtering hundreds of thousands in phony wars and creating even more refugees across the globe, but we balk at helping even a minuscule number of them.

    Evangelical Christians are, as a group, clueless, heartless, and yes, some even evil. But that is not ALL of them–and their actions are not just a repudiation of Christ’s teachings, but of Christ himself.

    Terry writes: “American fundamentalists, those who truly believe the tenets of their faith, now embrace racism, bigotry and even tribalism.” He couldn’t be more wrong. Christians, by any name who embrace racism, bigotry and even tribalism do not believe the tenets of Christianity, but instead a perversion of them.

    He then goes on to state, ” Few atheists would ever go in that direction,” forgetting perhaps Stalin, Mao, Pot Pot, Idi Amin and many many more.

    Let me be clear. I do not relish defending “Christians,” but I relish even less allowing Terry, et. al., blaming Christ for their behavior.

  25. Wray,

    You have my second. It’s not all, by any means. One big problem is family cohesion. In many cases, Christians, as well as Jews, are fearful of speaking out because of the potential breaking up of family ties. I know that from personal experience.

  26. No doubt there is a ROOT CAUSE to our problems in America. I would strongly suggest NEUTRALIZING the underlying POLITICAL SYSTEM OF CONTROL, if we are looking for domestic tranquility. Pat Robertson would have very little power if he couldn’t use the underlying RACIAL SYSTEM to his advantage.

  27. Wray: I don’t recall feeling hatred since I was a teenager. The reason I denigrate religion is that it is a made-up fiction that causes people to focus on things that are not and never have been present in the world and that have functioned mainly to distract mankind’s attention from realities that we need to focus on. Like the mother of a slain student in Thousand Oaks said, ” I don’t want your prayers, I want gun control!” In other words, skip the pointless and mostly hypocritical mouthing and give me something in the way of results.

    Can you imagine a world that had remained on a secular, scientific track from around 500BC when the Greeks started talking about atoms rather than Adam? We’ve wasted 2500 years and some of the best minds discussing, essentially, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin when there were serious topics that needed to be addressed. I decry the waste the of time and talent that resulted, and the self-contradictory reasoning that dominates so many believers lives, and the hundreds of millions of good people lost in attempting to prove that “my illogical, fabricated mythology is better than yours.” What has it done for anybody except to build wealth and power? The head of one of the the world’s most powerful sects is currently wrestling with the problem of how strongly – if at all- he should condemn his minions for buggering countless little boys and raping little girls. If there is something admirable or even sustainable about such an institution, or something that justifies its existence, I have no clue what it is.

    I love the music of the church. I admire its ability to provide consolation to those burdened with sorrows. Its architecture is awesome. Most of the literature is trite but some is beyond awesome. Many who subscribe to its nonsense are among the finest people on the planet but have discovered ways to carry inherently paradoxical thoughts in the same compartmentalized brain. To me religion is, along with the innate corruption of much of mankind, the chief enemy of progress and clear thinking and cannot be forgiven for the negative results of its teaching (better known as “commandments”). In reference to Sheila’s son’s insight, are there any religions that do not prescribe their own set of answers? I think not, and there are certainly none that encourage questions.

    By the way, I agree with you completely on capitalism but differ with you on democracy. To me its most regrettable feature is its frailty. It needs better methods for dealing with criminally insane office holders.

  28. Your son is right on. Years ago, I was reading a book that challenged my traditional thoughts on spirituality and the after-life. I asked one of our associate pastors about it. He encouraged me to read a lot of things that challenged my assumptions so that I would really examine and think about my own faith. He explained that each person’s faith is a personal journey, not someone else’s. And it is a journey that is dynamic. It would take me to ever changing and deeper places His response surprised and impressed me. He would not tell me what to think.

    Years later, our senior pastor gave a sermon that VERY closely mirrored your son’s comments. Some folks just want the assurance of being told what to think without the messiness of struggling with ambiguity as you so aptly put it. My pastor – a Methodist – put it into Christian perspective. He said the 600+ rules of the Old Testament were replaced by two in the New Testament – to love God and love each other as ourselves. Everything else would flow from those two. A subsequent Methodist pastor put it in an Old Testament perspective. He said one of the definitions of “Israel” is “struggle”.

  29. First things first. We’re blaming the churches when we should be blaming the rotten oligarchs like the Koch Brothers, who control them and everyone else. If you believe in SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER, be honest and start at the top.

  30. Jo Ann Green I read and reread your comment; “The Right Wing Reactionaries and Evangelicals ARE the threats that are everywhere and ARE the source of all fear ” An amazing conclusion. Perhaps you were ill when you wrote that.

  31. Montonous wrote, “I can acknowledge these Religious Extremists, but trying to find some chapter and verse in the Holy Book to prove they are wrong is a waste of words.”

    That’s probably true if the goal is to change the beliefs of an extremist, but the words may affect the views of others who are listening. First, they may affect the views of people of faith who do not accept the views of extremist but might come to do so if they never hear a different view from another person of faith. Second, they may affect the views of religion held by non-religious people. I believe it is important for those people to understand that religious extremists are, in fact, extremists, and not representative of many people of faith. (In fact, I believe it’s not just many, but most. Even so, there’s no need to go out on that limb here.)

  32. Hate to be the bearer of bad news, white Evangelical Christians, but Jesus was a Jew in 1st century Judea. Jesus probably looked like a typical Judean of his time. Research on ancient skeletons in Israel suggests that Judeans of the time were biologically closer to Iraqi Jews than any other contemporary population, and thus in terms of physical appearance the average Judean of the time would have likely had dark brown to black hair, olive skin, and brown eyes.

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