I routinely hear from people who are pissed off by the essays I post here, but–hey!–I’m retired, so I don’t have an employer’s reaction to worry about, and my long-suffering family members tend to agree with me. So let me set off the critics with today’s politically-incorrect post.
I think a lot of the problems we face (“we” being humans, not just Americans) are rooted in bad religion.
Religion developed as a method of dealing with two very human needs: first, as a way to understand the world we live in–why did stuff happen?– and later as a way of wrestling with the nature of morality. Science has undermined that first purpose (it seems disease is caused by germs, not God’s disapproval…) The clergy I respect are focused on helping people grapple with moral responsibility –they aren’t the multiple pious scolds issuing prescriptive fatwas.
America’s nasty politics is largely driven by the reaction of White Evangelicals (the fatwa issuers) to social and demographic change.
They are throwing a tantrum.
Robert P. Jones recently shared five charts that explained White Evangelicals’ embrace of MAGA politics. Jones is the head of the Public Religion Research Institute, and the author of The End of White Christian America.
He reports that White Christian Americans are facing a steep demographic decline.
As recently as 2008, when our first Black president was elected, the U.S. was a majority (54%) white Christian country. As I documented in “The End of White Christian America,” by 2014, that proportion had dropped to 47%. Today, the 2022 Census of American Religion shows that figure has dropped further to 42%.
All Christian denominations have experienced decline, but it has been especially pronounced among White Evangelical Protestants, who now comprise only 13.6% of Americans. The decline is likely to continue; 18% of seniors, compared with only 9% of young adults, identify as White Evangelical Protestant.
Hence the tantrum–what Jones calls “a desperate corrective for their waning cultural influence.”
While I held out some possibility in “The End of White Christian America” that white evangelicals and other conservative white Christians might accept their new place alongside others in an increasingly pluralistic America, their steadfast allegiance to Trump’s MAGA vision — actually increasing their support for him between 2016 and 2020 — and their unwillingness to denounce either Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen or the violence on Jan. 6 have dashed those thin hopes.
The question isn’t whether these folks will ultimately prevail. They won’t. They can and do cause unnecessary social upheaval, but their zealotry is already beginning to sideline them.
Americans–and all humans–are far better served by religions that focus on how we should behave, on how we should treat the other people with whom we share the planet.
I’ve previously quoted Phil Gulley, a Quaker pastor who writes columns for Indianapolis Monthly and for his local small town newspaper. In a recent column, Gully writes that he had
decided long ago that my commitment to the way of Jesus was not predicated upon miracle, myth, or superstition. His teachings are so demonstrably true, I have no need to resort to religious parlor tricks to defend them. In history, virgin births and bodily resurrections served only one purpose—to persuade pre-scientific people of someone’s unique importance, in this case, Jesus. But if tomorrow the bones of Jesus were found in Palestine, the value of his principles would not be diminished. I would still believe in justice, in compassion, in sticking up for the underdog….
He went on to note that, in many congregations,
One can dot every theological i and cross every orthodox t, but scorn the poor, deny others their rights, lend their support to tyranny, and still be thought a “good” Christian, when all they have done is believe a certain thing, however farfetched. Beliefs have supplanted the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness….
To accept the myths of religion as literal, historical fact is to insist our minds remain in their infant state, untouched by wisdom and insight. Religionists fear enlightenment and education, knowing the threat they pose to dictates and doctrines. They would rather keep us ignorant and compliant than intelligent and bold, which is always a threat to their power, since the uninformed and dim are not only easier to lead but also mislead. Thus did Voltaire rightly warn us that anyone who can make us believe absurdities can make us commit atrocities. So I will forego the absurdities and embrace truth, which truly does set us free.
As I told him, these are sentiments with which this very Jewish atheist agrees.
At the end of the day, theological belief (faith) without more is irrelevant–it is behaviors (works) that matter.
37 thoughts on “Explaining The Fury”
The first thing to understand about religion is that it was created by people to control other people. As such, religion was the first political system. Really not much has changed in all these thousands of years and I don’t expect it will in the next thousands of years. It’s simply part of the human condition…..like a bad virus that just keeps going around and for which we have no real cure and likely never will as long as we believe in magic.
Another thoughtful and relevant article. As an atheist I’ve read Phillip Gulley’s books with great enjoyment. He articulated in his book, “If Grace is True,” what I long believed “if”, and I emphasize, “if ,” there is a god. To paraphrase, God doesn’t keep a Nice and Naughty list.
Thanks Sheila. Beautiful.
Terry, I don’t think religion will continue for another thousand years. As I posted this week on my website, philosophical professors are predicting upstarts of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a high power – truth-seeking. It’s going to place a few more nails in religion’s coffin.
The Quaker pastor writes:
“Beliefs have supplanted the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness…to accept the myths of religion as literal, historical fact is to insist our minds remain in their infant state, untouched by wisdom and insight.”
I believe the “infant state” also reflects the “predatory state” Einstein discussed in his 1949 essay titled, Why Socialism:
“…most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.”
Uh oh… 😉
Perhaps, Sheila, one of your best, most logical essays, ever. Thank you
“At the end of the day, theological belief (faith) without more is irrelevant–it is behaviors (works) that matter.”
Our days begin with that same need for behaviors/works which will bring humanitarian actions to our daily lives. (I really need to end beginning my days with the CNN 4:00 a.m. Newroom.) The Bible has always been political in its foundation; one belief vs. another belief; the “good guys” vs. the “bad guys”, using God as the deciding factor. The history of the ill-named Christian religion is founded on violence, bigotry, slavery, thievery and sex; wars against opposing religions and between the countless Christian denominations are rife with it. Which Christian denomination is the MAGA party selling to its followers? The Catholic domination of congregant’s thoughts, actions, financial and sex lives has now become the guiding factor of the GOP and is seeking a return to control of the Executive and Legislative branches of government to uphold the currently controlled Judicial branch.
The GOP; meaning Trump’s MAGA White Nationalist party, with or without Trump; is no longer politically correct. The controlling bunch of Republicans today are also not Christian in nature and their Biblical connection can only be found in referrals to “wolves in sheep’s clothing”…those red hats are a predominant sign.
An aside; why is the full story of Sen. McConnell’s fall/trip and the need for rehabilitation due to a concussion so secretive? What is his true condition and is it being covered up to maintain his full control over the minority in the Senate.
Phil Gulley rocks the light within
Yet, one of the tax free entities in America hell bent on writing our laws.
One of your best Professor. Thank you.
If you really look at religion, it started, as Sheila stated, to explain the inexplicable and to guide heath matters. Kosher eating is a vestige of that system, as is hand washing and many things we take for granted today. The big problem is that, while the people of biblical times understood allegory and the use of parables to explain what happened, the people of today seem unable to accept allegory and parables as anything less than the absolute truth. How did we get here? I blame the snake oil salesmen in the guise of religious leaders.
Last day of winter, spring is coming. I get all the above. But, I also get that, for some people, religion has suggested a higher set of values/behavior from a higher source which was used as guidance for living. “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, “do unto others”, “honor thy father and mother”, “heal the world”, etc.
As all religions and religious observance fade, values and behavior are left to the individual or tribe. We see this every day in every way…IGIO
That Voltaire quote is one of my favorites!
This atheist, of Jewish parentage (they were atheists also) has not a single bone, Jesus’
or otherwise, to pick with today’s posting.
Religion can be seen as the first of the parasitic human-on-human ventures, with the priestly
class living at the expense of the rest. Banking is/was another.
Somewhere during the Protestant reformation, I have resad, the bible was first portrayed as
the LITERAL word of their god-thing.
We have people, here, “knowing” that TFG was Chosen to lead the U.S., and we had, maybe
still have, people in Brazil “knowing” that Bolsonaro was Chosen there…right!
And, as Christopher Hitchens has been quoted as saying “Religion spoils everything.”
Marvelous! Thank you!!
In the beginning, the priests of the tribal communities controlled the surplus grain. The shamans controlled the behavior of the tribes that produced the grain. When the shamans and the priests figured out what real control was, politics and economics were born and, as stated above, the mysticism was purloined to control the behavior so that more wealth could be made by those controlling the grain supplies.
I love it when Sheila goes to places like this. Just recounting the latest Republican barf pile gets tiresome.
If Phil Gulley was the pastor of a church near me I would consider returning to Sunday Services. His thoughts remind me of John Pavolitz, a former church-based pastor who left the confines of rigid religious dogma to spread the “weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness” that Phil Gulley mentioned. John also is not afraid to call out the gross hypocrisy of the many churches with leaders and constituents that claim to be good Christians while choosing to completely ignore everything that Jesus said.
Sheila, thank you for today’s post.
Lester, you wrote: “As all religions and religious observance fade, values and behavior are left to the individual or tribe.”
Many of us have left our churches and organized religion in general because we eventually recognized the hypocrisy within those walls. Personally, I don’t see the downward spiral of organized religion as a bad thing. It should be the responsibility of parents to instill good values and behavior in their children. Expecting a church or religious schools to instill good values and behavior does not let the parents off the hook.
I’ll quote Romans 3:19-27.
“Now we know that all the things the law says, it addresses to those under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and all the world may become accountable to God for punishment. Therefore, no one will be declared righteous before him by works of law, for by law comes the accurate knowledge of sin.
But now apart from law God’s righteousness has been revealed, as the law and the prophets bear witness, yes, God’s righteousness through the faith in Jesus Christ, for all those having faith. For there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and it is a free gift that they are being declared righteous by his undeserved kindness through the release by the ransom paid by Christ Jesus. God presented him as an offering for propitation, through faith in his blood. This was to demonstrate his own righteousness, because God in his forbearance was forgiving the sins that occurred in the past. This was to demonstrate his own righteousness in this present season, so that he might be righteous even when declaring righteous The Man Who has Faith in Jesus. Where then is the boasting? There is no place for it. Through what law? That of works? No indeed, but through the law of faith. For we consider that a man is declared righteous by faith apart from works of law.”
The apostle Paul actually explained it quite well. No one was declared righteous by the Mosaic law. And, since the Temple/ at various times the Tabernacle, and The holy of holies, The law of the covenant which rested in the Ark of the covenant. The various reasons for sacrifice, mostly for the forgiveness of sin. But also for thanks, they do not exist anymore. Why? Because the Mosaic Law has been supplanted by the law of Christ.
Hebrews explains this, concerning the blood sacrifice.
Hebrews 9:11 reads; “but when Christ arrived, high priest of good things that had come into existence, by way of the greater and more perfect tent, not man-made, that is, not of this creation, and not by virtue of blood of goats and steers but by his own blood, he entered the holy place once for all, achieving an eternal redemption.”
So, faith along with the works of Christ’s law, show the difference between true Christianity and what you see today. Those Evangelicals have not put faith in Christ, therefore, the blood of Christ is not for them.
Thank you for sharing.
Nancy, WADR…today’s parents are Millennials. Most studies of Millennial values suggest strongly they while they are strong supporters of gender and racial equality, everything else is “whatever you think is best” and they model it in their speech, behavior and parenting. They are not “your mother’s values”…
as a non believer,its sad to say theres many who,dont have a moral bone to help others. I was raised helping my grandmother live a normal life as normal as a invalid could at home. living in a decaying neighborhood where hungry and lack of a near life above poverty didnt exist. but i did have educated people around me who discussed why that poverty and who and what drives it. today we have more jobs than people to fill them.the rag that anyone is lazy and defiant in that regard they wont work,(how in hell do they make a living then in a capitalist society?)only shows how,the who,has demonstrated its need for abuse to fill jobs. the constant complaint of why everything is so slow at getting anywhere is designed to blame someone. our privlege has granted the hammer to those not happy with a flowing buisness income,after they tried to kill off a bunch of us in a pandemic they seen as issue with such cash flow. all i see is a pattern of moral decay in any sense by cheap words and rehetoric that is best dispossed in the vacation homes of those who deem us unfit to serve or make change in a world they have devalued for their own needs.
“But Southern Evangelicals having cited chapter and verse, successfully enlisted the Bible to unify the overwhelming majority of slaveholders and nonslaveholders in defense of slavery as ordained by God. The antislavery spokesman (sic) failed to demonstrate that the Bible repudiated slavery; primarily, they appealed to the ideals of the Enlightenment and the Declaration of Independence.”43 – p.9 – MARSE: Psychological Portrait of the Southern Slaveholder and his Legacy of White Supremacy: H.D. Kirkpatrick – Slavery days and today – VERY Similar – related to what you’ve spoken of!
thanks Sheila for the soap box,ive made many a point i believe here as a working person. thanks all who keep me posted,entertained and educated on the other side of the tracks. many here are not well off but well educated.the avenues you leave me with to further understand the issues and views of yourself,and how it is today. . i do at times kickitback, and my view i believe is in the intrests of people like myself,the majority who have taken it up the wazoo too many times. we have come to place and time where we find we can not control our destiny anymore.we have elected people who have no buisness running a buisness much less a ponzi scheme in goverment to provide to those who pay them. its a tough day when were saddled with more contempt by those who have money over those with moral obligations to do right when one is down,by those reasons. keep the eveangeligos away from my door, like a maggot,it will die in the hot sun someday.
Now that I have quoted what I consider pertinent scripture, it kind of addresses part of this wonderful thread, I’ll change gears for a moment. By the way, there was also verse 12 in Hebrews, oops.
It really doesn’t matter what humans see, because if they choose not to believe, or they choose to alter their perception of reality, they are free to do so.
Today’s religion and it’s been this way for millennia, religious leaders use the stick, the carrot has been abandoned long ago. They preach a penalty for disobedience that instills great fear, and they use that to extort their flocks. It doesn’t matter if what they preach is actually in scripture, they used their manipulation to enslave, extort, deny, and execute!
It’s not just Christianity, it’s also Judaism, and, Islam, because they actually don’t believe what they preach, because their God is actually financial in nature. Therefore as long as individuals contribute financially, their moral dysfunction is acceptable.
Back to scripture!
James brought this out into: 20, 26 which reads; “stop storing up for yourselves treasures upon the Earth where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break in and steal. Rather, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, they’re your heart will be also. ”
Matthew 6:19-21 reads; “The love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.”
Anyway, you get the picture, it’s not about God, it’s not about morals, it really is about money! It’s about riches! It’s about power over the masses!
You see part of this penalty beginning today, the Earth is in crisis, the political system is in crisis, the religious leaders have abandoned their faith, and the inmates of the various asylums are trying to control everything!
Timothy’s second letter extolled this very thing in the 3rd chapter 1-5; “but know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, hottie, blast femurs, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having an appearance of godliness but proven false to its power; and from these turn away.”
So, either you believe or you don’t, either you have faith or you don’t, either you have works or you don’t, I suppose we will all eventually find out!
I appreciate my friend Sheila allowing me to post these things, she is a magnanimous person even though I don’t always agree, she is the boss here! And, I deeply respect that.
Excellent points! I agree wholeheartedly!
And conservative Catholics.
Religiosity has been supplanted by political tribalism in the U.S.
Political dogmatic dictums are the new religion.
They used to say that politics was a contact sport. That thought though leads to an endless arms race. How can each generation of politicians assure that they can win each “contact”; be bigger and stronger and more willing towards violence?
It’s the same game played by street fighters in gangs. They know fights outside of rules go to the least inhibited fighter, the fighter most willing to inflict the most damage and pain. The last man standing. Often the first one to punch or stab or shoot.
The political answer is the propaganda path to extremism. Hire or create fans more extreme than any opposition is willing to get.
That’s how we went from there to here.
One other thing I would have to say in short, or what I consider short, lol, There is a line of demarcation between what is written and what is relayed by various pastors and ministers.
Scripture says do not go beyond the things written. Unfortunately, that is what most of the religious leaders do! They go beyond the things that are written. And that causes a lot of grief.
They tell people that they need to pray for relief, and then they offer to pray for them for a price! This is diametrically opposed to scripture. Nowhere does it require offering or receiving money for prayer.
But that doesn’t stop religious leaders from pursuing that very course. So, the hypocrisy of religion across the board is self-evident.
And it’s s the same in the business world or the educational field or maybe even politics, if one doesn’t go along with the parameters of their particular belief set, or the belief sets of the organizations that they hold faith in, it’s going to be a problem!
I mean in politics we always hear about the dinos and the rinos, and that their allegiance to those beliefs are just in name only. But they don’t actually believe what their chosen organization or party actually believes, by its laws and bylaws.
Religious leaders claim to give insight into God, but in actuality, they give insight and how they can get their hands in your pocket. This is no different than corporate America, or politics! Therefore, these religious leaders are hypocrites.
The point is, this will be allowed to happen until people completely revolt against organized religion as they realize en mass, it’s built on unscriptural dogma. The only thing about that, you have to realize the difference in what scripture actually says and what is actually being taught.
Is moral conduct today any better that it was 100 years ago? 200 years ago? What about when the belief was earth-centric? Today, the belief is human-centric or man-centric! Every age, every century, every millennium, has its own share of badness, every age bears false witness. When does morality reach its breaking point? Today we have no boundaries, everything goes, and so, society reflects that. Murder, rape, thievery, in every way shape and form are prevalent and continue unabated today. And it increases year by year. Scripture says that the groaning will be heard all the way to the heavens, sounds like we’re there already. Mankind decided to be its own God!
Also, forgive the typos, I’m trying to multitask which is not my strong suit.
Thank you, Sheila. If people get pissed….just ignore them! I love your articles and always learn something that I didn’t know before. Hugs
Some people believe that the only path to morality is through religion, usually their religion, whatever theirs happens to be. But values such as forgiveness, gratitude, generosity and compassion are common not only to people of widely varying religions, but to people of no religion. Indeed, these qualities can even be observed in other species in the animal kingdom.
As the Dalai Lama put it, “Just to pray or rely on religious faith is not sufficient.” “…in terms of seven billion human beings it’s not sufficient. No matter how excellent, no religion can be universal. So we have to find another way to promote those values.”
That way is education, whether by grandmother, pastor, schoolteacher, friend or other. The important part is not the source but the content of the lesson and, most important, the behavior being modeled.
In this day and age of conflicting schools of thought and information, search for truth is constant work. It’s important to stay with the facts since progress and democracy are based on working from them.
Joe Campbell’s study of myth over all time and many cultures shows consistency in the human need for answers to life’s questions. Studying religion in a scientific manner is enlightening and helps gain perspective.
Let’s take a moment to think about James 2:19
“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.”
So it isn’t what you believe that matters. It’s what you do.
The demons had correct theology, but they did not embody mercy, compassion, and justice.
Christianists might do will to consider which category they are in.
A friend once shared with me to be aware of three types of religions: 1. the religion that wants to DO Good (be of service, help people etc.) . This is the top category. 2. The second type emphasizes to BE Good. But the third category slips into a different perspective 3. as its emphasis is to Be RIGHT.
Very good Slipstream!
As stated in scripture, and mentioned above, “faith without works is dead.” You can have all the faith you want, but if you do nothing with it, in other words don’t apply any works, what good is it.
Another scripture states if you tell someone in need, to, “go and be warm, clothed, and well fed but do nothing to help provide that, of what good is it?”
And, I definitely stand by my comment yesterday on Sheila’s blog.
God bless Phil Gulley and like-minded people of faith and no faith. I used to think that it wasn’t necessary to be religious to be nice, but religion helped. Now I’m not so sure.
Thankfully my own church is very progressive and proudly welcoming to people of all colors, faiths, genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, and economics. The pastors encourage us to challenge our own and their beliefs and interpretations of scripture. They want us to learn about other religions, and they’ve cheerfully invited Phil Gulley plus clergy from Jewish and Muslim and other faiths to our pulpit and joint events. That education has been a wonderful thing. We’ve learned that we have so much more in common with these different religions than we previously thought.
I’ve often wondered if God created different tribes, religions, races, and cultures to see who of us would reach out to those different from ourselves to build bridges of understanding and friendship rather than walls of intolerance and judgement. In our gerrymandered state legislature, so many self-described Christians seem bent on the latter.
Religion created community of common purpose. Folks were altruistic, just, and charitable toward others with the goal of growing the religion which grew the community. Communities grew to become governments, some sacred, some secular.
Through sustained ignorance and community, religions can continue in perpetuity.
As science dispels the mysteries that led to a need for religion, conservative religious nationals are responding to that threat by openly playing favorites about who can benefit from their religious magnanimity and political power. Uneducated, unskilled, socially isolated, and angry folks are targeted to fund and fuel a dystopian future where they are not a minority.
Education is the greatest enemy of that future.
In a world of well-educated people, the extremism of these cabals/cults would make them self-limiting; adherents would quickly realize only a hardcore few benefit from the efforts of lower tier adherents.
A corallary is how the GOP has become so extreme. Well-educated, socially engaged centrists realized they are not served by the policies of DT and his ilk and left it.
But what is the future of local community without organized religion and without a universally well-educated population?
What idea or philosophy will be strong enough to allow altruism, justice, and philanthropy to flourish in free societies, limiting crime, poverty, and discrimination?
In the absence of organized religion and a well educated population, will personal conduct improve or deteriorate? Can “spiritual, non-religous” folks continue the community building that organized religion began?
A clue to those answers maybe in answer to: “Where do former Republicans invest their political energies in the absence of a Party that serves their interests? How are they recruited into mainstream political future?”
Can environmentalism, saving the Earth from humanity, be enough to create local, national, international community of purpose?
Is environmentalism enough to breakdown barriers of communication, competition, and needs between rural and urban residents? Is it enough to unite the purpose of consumers with the producers of goods?
Will environmentalism become the newest world religion?
NYTimes published March 26th. Adds some additional insight
Comments are closed.