Monday, October 29, 2012

Religions Fear Free Thought



Evans
A devout evangelical woman was told recently that she can’t sell her book titled A Year of Biblical Womanhood in Christian bookstores because – gasp! – it contains a terrible word: “vagina.”



“The entire Christian industry has been sanitized,” complained author Rachel Held Evans.

Given a chance, the whole country would be, too.

After all, ardent Christians the only ones pursuing that goal.  Mormons are right in there with them.  A Florida-based author recently decided to leave the church rather than be disciplined for his writings on MormonThink.com.  Apparently, David Twede’s views of the history of his church’s political involvement and commentary on Republican Presidential nominee and Mormon Mitt Romney didn’t sit well with the elders in Salt Lake City.

Twede
Good thing he didn’t use a taboo word like vagina.  Twede, a fifth-generation Mormon, might have had the entire Christian right on his tail.  

He did leave one comment behind: "I have simply come to the very sad realization that the church is not what it claims to be, that its doctrine is false and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not where I wish to be."

A spokesman for the Church insisted no one is ever disciplined for “having questions or expressing personal political views.”

Sure. LSD founder Joseph Smith was killed by a mob after being arrested for trashing a newspaper that printed comments that he didn’t like about his faith. That kind of history speaks louder than any spokesman.

In fact, censorship has been integral to organized religion.  It continues unabated, particularly in today's world where the Christian right and the Muslim right agree on only one thing: censorship would make everything perfect.  

Tertullian
Origen could have told you that.  Or Tertullian.  Baruch Spinoza for another.  All three famed religious leaders were excommunicated for daring to write something that countered the religious teachings of their day.  

Origen
Origen and Tertullian, both of whom lived in the second and third centuries, were among the earliest Christians.  Each was initially prized for intelligence and deep understanding of the faith. 

Tertullian is considered the founder of Western Christianity and even introduced the concept of the trinity.  By the way, that was considered a heresy in the 2nd century; it didn’t become orthodoxy until 100 years later.   Origin was a nonstop writer who outlived Tertullian by about 25 years.  He believed that everyone started with God and would be reconciled to Him at the end of the world.  

For such “terrible” ideas, both were forced to leave the Church, initiating a long line of people whose views clashed with religious authorities.  At least they weren’t burned at the stake, the fate of many dissenters in the Middle Ages, or massacred, another favorite way of silencing opposition.

Spinoza, a humble Dutch lens grinder, established principals that underlies biblical criticism and set the stage of 18th century European enlightenment.  At age 23, he was excommunicated from the Jewish synagogue and ended up buried in a churchyard.

Spinoza
The Roman Catholic Church even created a List of Prohibited Books in 1559 in an effort to ensure only the “correct” information.  It didn’t disappear until 1966.

The effort isn’t just limited to religious documents.  Many scientists have been silenced by religion. The best known is the astronomer Galileo for proving that the Earth did go around the sun.  However, he is hardly alone.  For example, the report on climate change produced during the previous administration was ordered change to match the religious views of President George W. Bush.

There is real fear behind such efforts, the fear that the illusions that religion has carefully crafted will be punctured.  As a result, even innocuous words like vagina become an anathema.  

That kind of censorship has its limits. The truth has a way of poking through such gossamer.   

Aquinas
Perhaps those who are determined to smother reality should consider comments on the subject from leading religious figures like John Wycliffe, who translated the Bible into English in the 1300s: “I believe that in the end the truth will conquer.”

Or Roman Catholic Church Father Thomas Aquinas: “As a matter of honor, one man owes it to another to manifest the truth.”

Not good enough?  Consider what the Bible has to say on the matter.   Here’s Saint Paul’s view: “Therefore, having put away falsehood; let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor ...” (Ephesians 4:25)

From Psalms (15:1-2), there’s this comment:  “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly, does what is right and speaks truth in his heart.”

If that’s too obscure, consider something more direct from Jesus:  “The truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32)  

Unfortunately, those are the last things organized religion wants: the truth or intellectual freedom.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1









Thursday, October 25, 2012

Who's Listening to God?



Mourdock

Indiana Republican Senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock is sure God wants children conceived through rape to be born.  They are “something God intended,” he said during a debate this week in the Hoosier state.

“I came to realize life is that gift from God,” he explained.  “I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

How does Mourdock know what God intends?  Assuming he doesn’t have a direct phone link, I’m guessing he is, too.

After all, God apparently thought it was all right for Greeks and Romans, among others, to practice abortion and infanticide.  He even seemed nonplussed by the early Roman Catholic Church’s initial decision to allow abortions of girl fetuses at seven weeks and boys at nine weeks.  That was only changed centuries later.

In fact, God’s most enduring quality His obvious patience.  The rest of us are developing shorter fuses.  After all, the suggestion that God recommended some course of typically horrific action is pretty commonplace these days.

Zimmerman
For example, George Zimmerman (left), who eventually found not guilty in Orlando for the death of an unarmed teenager, told police he regretted nothing because he believed “it was all God’s plan.”

Carlos Rico in Lubbock, Texas, told police that God told him to kill his son, Angel.  The boy survived.  No word on whether God will punish Carlos for failing to live up to orders.  After all, God disavowed Saul when the Israeli king refused to completely annihilate a captured tribe as ordered.  Any punishment should be equal, right?

Terry Mark Morgan, who killed a Southwest Airlines flight attendant in 2007, told police God called on him to “carry out a code of retribution” by killing a gay man because “sexual perversion” is the “worst sin.”  His victim, however, wasn’t gay.

More importantly, if God wanted to get rid of gay people – to paraphrase Tevya’s comment about the poor – why did He make so many of them?

God doesn’t always prefer corpses.  A Washington state man told police in June this year that he started a fire in his apartment with a marijuana blunt on God's orders.  Kevin Ellison was arrested on arson.  God has avoided all charges so far.

Cain
Politicians, of course, hear from God on a regular basis.

On a radio show, former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said his granddaughter sent him a text: "I love you Pa Pa. You're awesome." Cain was moved. "That wasn't playing,” he said.  “I think that God was speaking to me through my granddaughter."

He promptly ran for the presidency only to have media tell people about his alleged extramarital affairs and other problems.  God apparently overlooked those tidbits in His pep talk.
Santorum
Other would-be presidents who hear God’s siren call include Michele Bachmann, who may not survive her re-election bid for the House of Representatives; former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum; and Texas Governor Rick Perry.  They are all Republicans, who apparently believe God only talks to them.
 
Regardless of political affiliation, the people who claim God spoke to them all insist they are religious, but that’s clearly a matter of interpretation. 

After all, according to the Bible, He also said:

You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse His name.” (Exodus 20:7)  Leviticus (19:12 ) adds, “Do not bring shame on the name of your God by using it to swear falsely. I am the Lord.

Of course, no one is listening to that either.


Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1







Monday, October 22, 2012

Religious Truths No Secret



Scientology cross

A recent AOL video featured Janet Reitman, who called herself a contributing editor from Rolling Stones magazine, revealing the “truth about Scientology.” According to Reitman, the big secret is that Scientology is largely commercial.

Only people who pay around $100,000 or who dedicate decades to the religion, Reitman said, are finally introduced to the truth that the faith is built around a intergalactic figure from thousands of years ago, a character from one of founder L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction book.

Thank goodness Reitman has finally pried the cover off the top of this scandal.  Oh, wait a minute.

Moses on Mt. Sinai
Just for starters, Reitman is contrasting truth as she knows it with Scientology teachings. That’s wonderful if Reitman knew what the truth is.  How can anyone know if any belief is correct or incorrect?  Did Joseph Smith stumble over the truth in upstate New York, when he found golden tablets that he claimed told the bizarre story of Jesus coming to the United States to inspire the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel?  How about Moses, standing on a mountain amid the clouds and getting the laws for the Jewish people?

Sure, Scientology sounds a bit strange.  However, is it any more absurd than the idea that a person born in human form was really God who then was killed as a sacrifice for the supposed sin of a nonexistent Adam and Eve?  Or that a long-dead relative might be reborn as a cow?  Scientology fits right in there with that lot.

Besides, the truth of any religion doesn’t matter.  People apparently are willing to believe most anything.

As for Scientology’s economic considerations, all religions require financial support.  Jews pay dues to synagogues, for example.  We’ve all read of individuals who made huge donations to various evangelical preachers, only to complain later.  How about the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church?  That’s what helped precipitate the Protestant Reformation.   Scientology may be more or less greedy than some other faith, but it is hardly unique.

Nor does the fact Scientology has mysteries mean anything.  Mysteries are nothing new.  Christianity is the last of the mystery religions that once thrived in ancient times.  Every culture had them.  Beliefs in a god or goddess – Isis, Demeter and others – were augmented by hidden rituals available only to members and designed to create contact with the deity.

Communion wine and bread
Scholars today can only guess at those forgotten sacred and hidden rituals, because even ancient historians who were members declined to reveal them.

Christianity still maintains some of the secret rites, such as communion:  the eating of bread as the body of Jesus and drinking wine as his body.  At one time, that was a hidden rite available only to parishioners.  Paralleling similar sacred rituals in competitive faiths, communion was (and is) designed to bring the participant into contact with God.   Christian groups once fought over whether or not the bread actually became the body of Jesus or was only representative of the body.

Vatican Library
All religions also keep secrets.  In the 1970s and early 1980s, the Church of Latter Day Saints busily bought up what turned out to be forged early church documents and hid them away from public view.  The texts were embarrassing to the church and increasingly absurd in their claims.  The Roman Catholic Church has buried ancient documents for centuries.  Only recently has the Vatican library been opened to a wider audience, but some of the secret texts – there are an estimated 150,000 of them -- likely will never see the light of day because they likely cast doubt on official teachings

The real question then is why Reitman was allowed to make such a presentation.  I can think of a few reasons:  maybe it was a slow news day; Rolling Stone needed some publicity; or Reitman has friends at AOL.  More likely, Reitman’s comments provided the brief sound bite that helped fill space.

On the other hand, there’s a more sinister possibility.  With much of our population now undereducated and willing to swallow any claims without critical review – just think of the absurdities politicians are claiming in apparent sincerity –  and, as a result, drawn to the religious partisanship popularized by a variety of media figures, attacks on smaller sects have become more commonplace.  For example, anti-Semitism episodes in 2010 increased by more than 100 percent worldwide compared with the previous year, according to a report from the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University.

It’s an isolate-and-destroy approach that characterized Nazi Germany’s approach to ethnic cleansing.

I’m no fan of Scientology.  I think it’s a ridiculous hodgepodge of ideas designed simply to vacuum money from the pockets of dupes.  Nevertheless, I support the right of that religion or any religion to be as ridiculous as it wants to be without facing unwarranted criticism of its claims. Those who are attacking may simply be trying to guarantee that only their faith survives as the “truth.”

And that may be the real secret.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1