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RELIGION AND CIVIL SOCIETY

April 21, 2019

RELIGION AND CIVIL SOCIETY

We hear that people are born Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim etc. I think not; I think people are born people, Cartesian-like tabula rasa products in wait for a religious view their families and the society will impress upon them. I think of religion not as inbred but rather when an adult like joining up with a voluntary association, like joining up with the Masons, the Daughters of Isabella, the Rotary Club et al. Which Christian church to join, liberal or conservative synagogue, Sunni or Shia mosque, for instance, is shaped in the case of Christians by what slant a particular denomination may have on the story of this Palestinian Jew shaped for us by medieval monks and by historical differences among Jews and Muslims leading to their own slants.

I recall once asking an associate in the law practice years ago how he could be a deacon in a Christian church, and his reply was: “Well, Gerald, you just decide whether you believe or don’t believe, and I chose to believe.” I did not respond out of concern for the delicate subject matter, but thought to myself that those were not the only alternatives in such connection given all the shades of agnosticism available. I also silently concluded that while the First Amendment guarantees the right to choose and practice religion it does not give any religion the right to tell those who choose not to choose and practice a religion how to live based on such views; nor does it give any religion the right to take tax money from non-believers or different believers for public purposes (which we are seeing in today’s public schools).

Jesus would agree as one of the first believers in separation of church and state with his red letter admonition to “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” I have to wonder if church-going legislators both state and federal  have read and considered the implications of that statement or for that matter, others, such as his help the poor and the sick etc. – and that’s my Easter sermon this day before.     GERALD         E

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2 Comments
  1. Bradford Nelson Bray permalink

    Hey Gerald, A Happy Spring Equinox to you!

    As one who, for 40 years, “chose” to “believe” in the improbable (if not impossible) idea that 1) a presumed real and factual god/man existed in history and 2) this same god/man was destined, according to a few 1st century writers, to be slaughtered like a pig through Roman Imperial torture and execution and 3) this dead(?) god/man corpse came back to life (along with a rather large crowd of others from their graves at the same time) and rose like Peter Pan into the clouds/heavens (which we know lacks sufficient oxygen and is quite freezing/boiling depending upon one’s location in thus said vacuum of space) and 4) this ungodly, inhumane, grotesque execution and resuscitation from death writ large was all done for people like you, me and billions of others, past and present in all of recorded history, for “the forgiveness of sins” (i.e. merely being born a human) so that 5) we can avoid living/existing in an eternal and “everlasting hell and damnation” after our carnal deaths and enter, instead, some “heaven above” (again, in same vacuous space), both “places” presumably created by this god/man’s “Father”/god who, I guess, thought this plan for eternal hell/heaven was the best he (and he is a male deity after all) could do as long as, and ONLY when, before mentioned humans of mere flesh and blood would hold fast and dear to such a plan as being true/real/factual for his/her “salvation” from their human selves.

    And all that is just off the top of my head so it may be missing, if not important, then perhaps, somewhat important details of just what is in store for the whole of humanity in all of history all hinging on…..wait for it…….”Do YOU BELIEVE IT???”

    If not, well…have a good life….but be sure to dress very cool when they place you in the coffin in preparation for your eternal living arrangements guaranteed by your “loving and compassionate God”!!!

    Thankfully to God (pardon the pun), I was NOT indoctrinated and/or brainwashed with this “theology” as a child or I would most likely still be caught today within its sharp and effective claws.

    I came to all that so-called “Atonement Theology” as a young adult and was professionally trained (think dog and pony show and, indeed, regurgitation!) in a mainline Lutheran (can’t get any more theological deep and wide than that tradition!!!) divinity graduate school from ages 28-32.

    To keep some ounce of sanity and integrity as a “thinking” human-being through the four years of “higher education,” I was presented with (during) and sought alternative interpretations (after) of the god/man story. The one I latched on to for dear life was/is known as a “historical critical” analysis of, not only the god/man myth, but of the tradition from which that myth was born of: Judaism. This interpretive school of thought has been around for over 300 years. Indeed, it is a common practice for any historian or investigative journalist worth their salt today! And for over 300 years, the traditional theological schools have been at war to discredit (or at least water down) the very tools that science based modernity has given the human species, tools that, in other forms, have provided medicine and technology the ability to save untold millions upon millions of lives from premature death or lives of misery and suffering.

    In short, yet today, in the 21st century the war is very real and alive between institutions of “belief” in mythology and those that deal in reality and empirical facts as we know and experience them daily in the “laws of nature.”

    All to say, this is my first Easter not being behind a pulpit. No doubt there are more than a few folks who are tickled by that fact and probably hope/pray that it will continue!

    I am fairly certain that whoever has replaced me this fine Easter Sunday is preaching the “real gospel” that my adversaries (think brainwashed Christians) desire and want: the enforcement and support of the god/man myth and its Atonement baggage.

    Yes, that’s right. They prefer myth over reality. Why?

    I don’t presume to know why anyone believes in fairy tales to be true. But I do think Bertrand Russell (and other thinkers of history) have stated why people do. It’s out of fear. Primarily fear of death, but not just physical death, but non-existence. The same kind of non-existence we all had BEFORE we are born!

    Along with that, I guess, would be “purpose.” Some people think their religion has to be “true” because it provides some moral or ethical compass for living life. In that sense, it is more about philosophy of life (Buddhism for example), in my opinion, rather than believing in some doctrinal theological statement.

    As I sit here today, I would label myself more a humanist (or some marginal Buddhist) who still loves and admires the historical Jesus of Nazareth than a traditional “Christian,” most of whom in the world that have never had one day of historical critical study on the very thing they say they “believe” and “follow.” Irony? More tragedy and crime, in my opinion, as mainline educated ministers are presented with the modern scientific based tools of study to share with their flocks but choose NOT to for fear of being branded, at the very least, as a dangerous heretic or worse!

    Thanks for your wonderful blog and, as usual, keep up the good fight of facts over non-sense whether that applies to our political, social or cultural selves!!!- Your Friend and Admirer- Brad

  2. Niel Johnson permalink

    Jerry – Good to hear from you on Easter Sunday.  What is most influential to me in staying faithful to the Christian teachings is the message we get in the Ten Commandments, the two Great Commandments, the Golden Rule, the Beatitudes, and the “love” chapter, the 13th chapter of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.  All of the “higher” religions include the golden rule as an important doctrine, but we don’t hear it or see it in practice nearly as often as we should.  Hypocrisy is more often the rule.  It is especially painful to see how Prussian militarists and materialists, for instance, could put down “Christian” or “Lutheran” as their religion on a birth certificate and then practice the “blood and iron” policies of Bismarck, or the “master race” politics and hatefulness under Hitler and his fellow Nazis. In our country’s current politics, even with our freedom of religions, we see similar hypocrisy and even blasphemy in statements offered by those who consider themselves to be Christian.  We can understand how improbable it is to carry out the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, but they are something we should aspire toward, as Truman indicated.  Even the Koran, with its militancy, includes the golden rule as one of its messages.  One problem is that it is the extremists, like the zealouts of Jesus’ time, that resort to violence and brutality–as reflected now in the behavior of ISIS and neo-Nazis or the fascist-minded–that trigger similar reactions from those who have been victims.  The latter respond in self-defense but too often they have only temporary success, or they actually accelerate the infliction of revenge.  Except among pacifist groups, mankind appears unable to end the cycles of violence and brutality.  Moderating or ameliorating this behavior  seems to be the best we can hope for, and that requires unity among those who seek peace–as exemplified in the charter of the United Nations.  Somehow, we cannot give up the hope.   I admit this is a longer and more convoluted disquisition than yours, Jerry, but I know you are patient, so perhaps you will forgive me.  Your comments are on the mark; we have to go beyond the labels we often apply to ourselves and recognize freedom of will as a basic principle.  .   On another topic, would you update me on the current status of Robert and Christina, in their adventure?  Would you give me their phone number and give them mine, which, as you know, is 816-373-6347?  WE are looking forward to meeting them.   Later,  Niel  

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