Sunday, November 15, 2015

Should Your Religion or Church Have a Warning Label?


By Bob Ferris


At the beginning of the last century the drug industry was at a turning point.  On the one hand we had powerful developments in terms of disease control and the amelioration of suffering with chemo-therapy being one and aspirin another.  But we also had snake oil and other patent medicines that used ultimately harmful ingredients and addictive elements like tapeworm eggs or cocaine foisted on a gullible and unsuspecting public by those wanting to fill their own wallets and purses.   But all were called "medicines."  My sense is that we are at the same point now with religion and churches with some doing good work and others causing great harm and no real mechanism for sorting wheat from chaff.


Now some of you will start to think: But these are my beliefs and I should have freedom of religion in this country.  Well here are some of my beliefs.  I do not believe that religion should make you hate yourself or others.  I do not believe that religion should cause physical, psychological or economic harm to you or others.  I do not believe that religion should lead to your death or the death of others.  And I do not believe that religion should dominate politics.  Pretty simple and straight-forward beliefs, but unfortunately because “religion” is so ill-defined and not in any meaningful way regulated great abuses abound.


Karl Marx once famously said that religion was the opium of the masses.  He was not the only one to say something such as this but likely the best remembered.  So what if religions were overseen by an agency like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that came into being in 1906 in part to sort the bad medicines from the good?  And what if they did not regulate per se but simply created a labeling system that warned and informed.  If examined by such an agency would your church be required to have one of the following labels?
Caution: May cause you to be bitten by snakes (1,2,3).
Caution: Child molesters (1,2,3) or ritualistic rapists (1,2,3) may be members or leaders.
Caution: Could cause you to beat your children to death (1) or deny them access to needed medication (1,2,3) or education (1).
Caution: Your money is going to support grand lifestyles (1,2,3,4) rather than a religious mission.
Caution: Could cause you to hate and hurt others just for the color of their skin (1,2), lifestyle (1,2,3), religion (1,2,3), or position on abortion (1,2,3).
Caution: Your church is conspiring with others to capture political power and remove one of the founding cornerstones of this country (1,2,3,4).  
As one can see from the above numbered links abuse abounds in this arena and sadly this is not even an exhaustive list as this broadly defined and too-sacrosanct umbrella of church and religion currently gives equal shelter to saints as well as sadists and to charlatans as well as the most charitable among us.   And this good versus evil balance is really not helped by the cults that grant “blank check” forgiveness thus creating concentrations of serial sinners and enables the kind of monumental hypocrisy that former Senator Alan Simpson recently called out below.
“Hypocrisy is the original sin,” he declared. “It’s the guy who’s checking your moral values, like to ask for Jesus, you know — while they’re diddling their secretary. That’s not my idea of family values.” Former senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) 
Perhaps in light of the above this hypothetical agency could also issue “sinning” demerits so that serial offenders would lose their access to a sanctioned pulpit, moral high ground, or the ability to cast literal or metaphorical “stones” at others.  If you need concrete examples here think about the fact that Jim Bakker is still preaching and that Kim Davis is telling people how they should live their lives.

Monumental cultural change or understanding is generally catalyzed by catastrophe, collective weight of consciousness, or looming threat.  With this situation the catastrophes of Jonestown, the Branch Davidians (1,2) and Warren Jeff’s polygamous sect have certainly provided ample drama to catalyze change, but it has not happen.  Likewise one could not be aware of current events and not see a consistent background of abuses—little and massive—that should at some point override the privileged nature of religion.  But no number of child abuse cases, financial shenanigans, or adultery within the family values industry seems able to turn this tide and create change.


Our only hope as a nation in this regard and at this point of peril is that people understand that this prominence of religiosity in the candidates standing for president (as illustrated by the above blessing of Donald Trump with Paula White on his right) reflects not a religious resurgence in the populace—as the above graph shows just the opposite is happening—but rather a concerted effort by specific elements in our country who will do anything and say anything to destroy one of the most important founding pillars of our country: The separation of Church and State.
And these forces are hoping that your fear of ISIS and the Taliban will blind you to their own, very similar in-process junta or the danger of our armed militants just waiting for provocation.  I hope that we will wake up to this in time and be sensible enough to be able to sort out the differences between beneficial and abusive religious just as we once were able to do with these ground-breaking cures in the early 1900’s and the poisons in pretty bottles sold by swindlers and quacks.  As so much is a stake, I hope we do.

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