Tag Archives: theocrats

Uses and Abuses of Religion

My youngest son has a simple formula for comparing and evaluating religions. According to him, whatever their other differences and similarities, religions fall into one of two basic categories: those that encourage adherents to engage with the questions (good), and those that hand believers fixed, inflexible answers (bad).

It’s a handy guide.

Just this week, that distinction came to mind twice. Once, when I read about Governor Pence’s fundraising; evidently, one of his major donors is the owner of Hobby Lobby–the man who went to Court to protect his “right” to impose his religious beliefs on his employees. Our Governor is quite clearly in the camp of those who are sure they have the answers, that they know exactly what God wants (and isn’t it nice that God hates the same people they do!), and who give no evidence of ever having engaged with the questions or wrestled with moral ambiguities.

Fortunately, there is another kind of faith community, and it was on beautiful display last Sunday at an Interfaith Vigil for Nondiscrimination. The Vigil was held at North United Methodist Church, and hosted by the Interfaith Coalition on Nondiscrimination, Freedom Indiana and the Reconciling Ministries Network of Indiana.

When my husband and I entered the sanctuary, I was struck by the size of the audience. My husband estimated attendance at a thousand people, most of whom appeared to be middle-aged or older.

Program participants included Darren Cushman-Wood, Pastor of North Church; Rev. Danyelle Ditmer, pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church; Rev. Linda McCrae, pastor at Central Christian Church; Whittney Murphy, the student body president of Christian Theological Seminary; Rabbi Sandy Sasso, Rabbi Emerita of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck: and Philip Gulley, Pastor of Fairfield Friends Meeting.

If there was a “call to arms,” it would probably be Rabbi Sasso’s declaration that people of faith would not stand by and allow religion and religious language to be hijacked and used as a cover for hatred and discrimination.

If there was a summing up of the sentiments of those in the sanctuary, it would be these words of Phil Gulley’s–a small part of his extraordinary and moving speech. Gulley reminded us of “the America of the open door, its hand extended in friendship.

“It is the land of the kindly neighbor, the generous friend, the liberal heart. It is the America welcoming the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. It is the people with nothing to fear but fear itself, the nation conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal. It is the America made wiser by our differences, the America committed to justice, dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, who measures its strength in its citizenry, not its weaponry.”

To which we might add (with a nod to my son’s categorization), it is the America in which thoughtful religious citizens are grateful for their constitutional right to explore questions of meaning and transcendence for themselves—an America that understands the importance of extending that same intellectual and moral autonomy to everyone, that rejects the profoundly unAmerican theocratic urge to use religion in the service of their own dominance and privilege.

Both the Governor’s fundraising report and the Interfaith Vigil remind me that, like so much else in life, religion is neither an unalloyed good nor an unremitting evil. It can be used or it can be abused.

My own test is actually simpler than my son’s: if your beliefs make you a better, kinder person, they’re good. If they make you a rigid, judgmental asshole, they aren’t.




Why I’m Losing Faith in the Human Race

The Guardian recently reported on a speech in which a senior Iranian cleric blamed “women who wear revealing clothing and behave promiscuously” for earthquakes.

If that sort of crazy were a feature only of theocratic or third-world countries, we might chuckle and ignore it. Unfortunately, however, the amount of lunacy right here at home suggests a wider problem.

A few examples:

A conspiracy theorist named Larry Klaymon insists that the fertilizer factory explosion in West, Texas, was an act of Islamic terrorism, and that the government under Obama (“the Other”) is engaged in a wide-ranging cover-up.

Speaking of Obama, in the wake of his re-election, Matt Barber of the Liberty Counsel explained that that the election result was a “communist takeover” of the United States, and that the IRS will start throwing pastors in jail, invading churches and shooting parishioners.

Then there was the Republican candidate for the Arkansas legislature who wrote a book about the proper biblical approach to child-rearing. And I quote:

“The maintenance of civil order in society rests on the foundation of family discipline. Therefore, a child who disrespects his parents must be permanently removed from society in a way that gives an example to all other children of the importance of respect for parents. The death penalty for rebellioius children is not something to be taken lightly. The guidelines for administering the death penalty to rebellious children are given in Deut 21:18-21:

This passage does not give parents blanket authority to kill their children. They must follow the proper procedure in order to have the death penalty executed against their children.”

Well, yes, I think procedural safeguards before killing one’s children as God decreed are probably appropriate…

Just this month, in the year 2013, the Missouri legislature voted to ban a sustainability program because sustainability is part of the nefarious plot that is Agenda 21!

The Missouri House of Representatives on Monday passed a ban on the United Nations sustainability plan Agenda 21 after a spirited discussion of space aliens and how Walmart could avoid zoning laws to build more stores.

The Republican-controlled House voted 110-40 to ban local governments from adopting the Agenda 21, a broad outline of planning goals and sustainability targets. Agenda 21 was passed by the U.N. in 1992, but has not been ratified by the U.S. Senate and does not contain the force of law in the U.S.

Agenda 21 opponents argue the U.N. document would seize private property and force people to live in walkable communities with a potential end to golf and scuba diving.

Your elected representatives at work, protecting your nine-iron….

I assume psychiatrists have theories to explain what seems to be a vastly increased prevalence of paranoia, hysteria and irrationality. Or perhaps there has always been a significant percentage of lunatics in our population, and the Internet has simply brought them to our attention–although I don’t recall a time when we have had so many elected officials who either inhabit an alternate reality or keep going off their meds.

How do you talk to someone who thinks short skirts cause earthquakes? How do you get lawmakers who actually believe that President Obama is a covert Muslim Communist and the Anti-Christ to focus on solving the nation’s problems? How do you get people who think Adam and Eve saddled up dinosaurs to understand climate change? How do you get lawmakers who think women’s bodies can “shut down” rapist sperm to respect women’s right to equality and autonomy?

More important: how do we get the sane folks who have thrown up their hands and withdrawn from the political process to wake up and reclaim the country?