Tag Archives: Christianity

Dumbest Things Religious People Call “Satanic” (According To Reddit)

In the past, I’ve been very critical of organized religion and certain religious tenants. I still stand by those criticisms because I think they’re worth making. There are a lot of inconsistencies, injustices, and hypocrisies that motivated by religion. They should be pointed out, especially by those who consider themselves religious.

Even within those criticisms, I make it a point to say that most religious people are genuinely good people. They do not deserve scorn or denigration for believing what they believe. I have religious people in my family. They are kind, loving people and religion helps enrich their lives in so many ways. I would never want to take that from them.

At the same time, there are people who use their religion to justify absurdities, atrocities, and everything in between. Now, you don’t have to look far to find the atrocities, but those tend to be both depressing and overdone. Most people with an internet connection are aware of them.

With that in mind, I’d like to take a moment to focus on the absurdities, if only because they tend to be more hilarious. Specifically, I want to focus on instances where religious people take their doctrines so seriously that they condemn certain things they don’t like as “satanic.”

It’s not a new phenomenon. In fact, so-called “Satanic Panics” have happened many times before. Sadly, we may be in the middle of another one. They’re often taken way too seriously by all the wrong people. Eventually, it comes out that they’re entirely fueled by absurdity.

However, I don’t think enough people appreciate just how absurd it can get. With that in mind, I’d like to share a video that documents people who have seen religious zealots condemn something mundane as Satanic. It comes courtesy of the YouTube channel, OnTap Studios.

Some of these stories are hilarious. Others are disturbing. Also, Pokémon comes up more than once.

Whether you’re religious or not, I encourage you to listen to these stories and determine for yourself just how absurd these Satanic sensationalisms go. Enjoy!

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Filed under real stories, Reddit, religion, YouTube

Why Do Preachers Need/Deserve Private Jets? (A Sincere Question)

Televangelist Kenneth Copeland Defends His Private Jets: 'I'm A Very  Wealthy Man' - Flipboard

Whenever I talk about religion on this site, I try to be as respectful and tactful as possible. I don’t seek to offend or insult anyone who identifies as religious. I also don’t seek to denigrate certain religious practices, although I do believe a few warrant extra scrutiny. I’m sure I’ve overstepped those bounds in the past and for that, I do apologize.

All that being said, I have a serious question I’d like to present to those who are genuine and sincere with their faith.

Why do preachers need, let alone deserve, private jets?

I promise I’m not being facetious. I’m also not trying to make a larger point about certain religions. I would genuinely like someone who identifies as religious to explain this to me. Don’t just throw bible quotes at me. Explain it to me like I’m a child.

I know preachers having private jets isn’t new. However, recent events have made preachers and their spending habits a lot more noteworthy. Some make elaborate excuses as to why they have private jets. I still don’t get it.

These are not CEOs who run multi-billion dollar companies.

These are not heads of state who have to be able to travel the world at a moment’s notice.

These aren’t even celebrities who have achieved a level of success that affords them the option of some added luxury.

These are preachers who, for the most part, make their living giving sermons to adherents. I’m not saying that isn’t a noble profession. I went to church as a child. I remember the preachers and priests who led the sermons. They were genuinely nice people and they didn’t have private jets. One of them didn’t even own a car.

Now, I know these kinds of religious leaders are in a different hemisphere compared to the charismatic televangelists who have their own megachurches. I also know that more than a few adherents who utterly despise these people. One of them once told me, “That jet won’t help them escape where they’re going.”

Regardless of whether or not you believe that, I would still like someone to explain this practice to me. I get that charismatic people will attract crowds, money, and power. I get that those same people will abuse that power in one way or another. That’s just human nature.

What I don’t understand is how the adherents who believe, support, and send money to these people can accept this sort of thing and not have it clash with their faith somehow. Nearly every major religion has strict condemnations of greed and excess. How can this be justified?

Again, this is a sincere question. I hope to get a sincere answer because the absence of an answer is every bit as revealing.

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Filed under Current Events, politics, rants, religion

Dear America: Let’s NOT Have Another Satanic Panic

I’m a proud American. I love my country and I celebrate its highest ideals. I also believe most Americans are good, decent people who cherish these values as well. I don’t deny its flaws, nor do I deny its mistakes in the past, as well as the present. I genuinely want America to be the best it can be.

That’s why I’d like to make a plea to America and all my fellow Americans at the moment.

Please, for the love of whatever deity you believe it, let’s not have another Satanic Panic.

This isn’t just about politics, although there are some distressing links. This isn’t just about culture, even though the imagery is certainly present. This is me, a proud American, urging his fellow Americans to not give into the temptation to start blaming demons and devils for their problems.

It’s not just absurd and idiotic. We’ve done it before. I’ve written about it. The lives of innocent people were ruined because of it. On top of it all, none of it turned out to be true.

There was no reason for the panic. There were no Satanic cults secretly torturing or abusing children. It was all made up. It was basically Christian Conservative fan fiction that people took too seriously. Much like the character of the devil they fear has no basis in Christian theology. It’s just a boogie man for adults.

None of it amounted to anything other than baseless fear and ruined lives in the 1980s. Now, it seems too many people have forgotten what a huge waste of time that was because concern about Satanic cults abusing children are back and more political than ever.

Much of that is because of a bullshit conspiracy theory that I won’t name or link to. You probably know who I’m referring to. They’re the one that thinks Tom Hanks is part of a Satan worshipping cabal. As it just so happens, this same cabal includes everyone who leans right politically absolutely hates.

If they’re to the right of Ronald Regan, they’re a Satan Worshipper.

If they didn’t vote republican in the last four elections, they’re a Satan Worshipper.

If they support position that doesn’t involve cutting taxes, ignoring racist policies, or overfunding the military, they’re a Satan Worshipper.

I’ve been avoiding this absurd, asinine, infuriating excuse for a conspiracy theory for years. It’s just too stupid to take seriously, let alone discuss in an honest, balanced way. However, thanks to the recent outrage surrounding Lil Nas X and his homoerotic, Satan-centered music video, I worry another panic is brewing.

Much of it is coming from the same part of the political spectrum as it did in the 1980s. This time, however, isn’t just a bunch of Christian conservatives with too much time and money on their hands. People who don’t even identify as religious are buying into this crap.

It’s not just about theology anymore. It all comes back to this age old belief that there’s a group of objectively evil supervillains who are causing all the problems in the world. Satan worshippers who eat children and deal in human trafficking is as evil as you can get. There’s nothing complicated or nuance about it. It’s the ultimate good versus evil match-up.

Except, and I cannot stress this enough, it isn’t real.

That evil conspiracy doesn’t exist. I could cite any amount of evidence, but I know that won’t convince those who ardently cling to it, even after its many predictions end up being wrong. Instead, I’m just going to point out one simple issue.

For any conspiracy of any level to function in any capacity, it requires that those involved are completely obedient, always keep their secrets, and never make mistakes. Since these conspiracies involve people and people, in general, are imperfect beings, they’re not just difficult to maintain. They’re impossible.

Human beings can’t keep secrets.

They can’t avoid simple mistakes.

When it comes to something as evil as Satan worship and child sacrifice, you’re just can’t keep that sort of thing a secret. Also, people that evil generally struggle to organize. It’s why most serial killers act alone. That kind of evil is an aberration. Building a conspiracy around that is like trying to herd a thousand cats all strung out on crack.

I’d sincerely hoped that after the events of the last election, the talk of evil Satan worshippers and conspiracies around them would die down. Sadly, I think Lil Nas X revealed there’s still a contingent of people out there who think the evil Satanic cabal is still out to get them.

That’s why I’m making this plea. My fellow Americans, this is not the way to a better tomorrow. Fighting invisible evil enemies will only ever succeed in making real enemies, both in our minds and among our fellow Americans. No good can ever come from something like that in the long run.

Moreover, believing and obsessing over a conspiracy of Satan worshippers acts as both a distraction and a delusion. Fighting something that isn’t there only keeps you from fighting actual problems involving actual people who are doing real harm, but not in the name of Satan.

It’s easy to think that there’s some centralized force of evil in the world. It makes the cause of all our problems seem tangible. It makes you feel like you’re a soldier on the front line of an epic battle, fighting alongside others who are every bit as committed as you. Unfortunately, this mindset is both dangerous and counterproductive.

There are real problems with America and the world. However, those problems don’t come from Satan, demons, or some secret cabal of lizard people. They come from other people. They come from your fellow humans, as well as your fellow Americans.

It’s complicated and messy. Just winning an epic battle against evil isn’t an option. We have to put in the work. We have to take responsibility. We have to operate in the real world with real people who have real issues. That’s how we do the most good for ourselves and our fellow Americans.

Once again, I urge everyone reading this to learn the lessons of the past and embrace the challenges of the present. Let’s hold off on another panic. Satan isn’t conspiring against us or our country or our fellow citizens. The cabal isn’t real, the conspiracy is fake, and Tom Hanks is a national treasure. If you really want to fight true evil, start by doing good by your fellow citizen.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, Lucifer, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, sex in society

How Conservatism, Christianity, And (Failed) Prophecies Created A Death Cult

When it comes to religion and religious people, I have a very simple standard for handling it.

If your religion gives you comfort and fulfillment, then that’s great. More power to you. I fully support you.

If being religious makes you a better person, then that’s great too. I fully support that as well.

If you sincerely believe what you believe and can tolerate others who believe differently, then that’s also great. We won’t have any problems. We’ll probably get along, as I’ve gotten along with many people who hold such beliefs.

However, if you use your religious beliefs to justify being an asshole to other people who don’t share your views, then that’s where I draw the line.

I’m willing to tolerate a lot of beliefs and theologies. I am not willing to tolerate that. Being an asshole is still being an asshole, no matter what deity, holy text, or preacher tries to say otherwise.

I make that disclaimer because there are certain sub-sets of every religion that does this. It doesn’t matter what they call themselves or what holy book they favor, they always seem to emerge. Assholes will find a way to be assholes. Religion just gives them more excuses than most and it’s incredibly frustrating. It’s one of the reasons I tend to criticize organized religion so much.

Religion can be a source of great comfort and fulfillment. It can also be a powerful tool for the corrupt and the power-hungry grifters who will jump at any opportunity to exploit people. Most of the time, it’s just infuriating to anyone with basic human decency. When religious zealots gain power, it becomes a serious concern.

However, there comes a point when serious concern turns into a legitimate, existential danger. It’s one thing for a group of uptight religious zealots to whine about a TV show that shows too many gay characters. It’s quite another when their policies and goals actively pursue the end of the goddamn world.

That’s not hyperbole.

That’s not even me taking their rhetoric out of context.

It’s true. There really is a certain segment of American Christianity that actively pursues a policy intended to bring about the end of days, as vaguely articulated in their holy book. They don’t hide it, either. That’s part of what makes it so scary, both to non-believers and other Christians who prefer the world not end.

This phenomenon is a dangerous and toxic convergence of extreme conservatism and evangelical Christianity. It centers largely around the nation of Israel, a country that has a way of triggering all sorts of extreme rhetoric. I won’t get into the particulars of that rhetoric. That’s not because I don’t think it’s relevant. It’s just impossible to talk about Israel these days without being accused of anti-Semitism.

There’s a reason why even Rick Sanchez got anxious when Israel came up.

All you need to know is that these end time beliefs rely on Zionism. Without getting too deep into the politics or the rhetoric surrounding this term, it’s a catch-all word for the creation and maintenance of a Jewish state in the holy land. Despite the historic presence of the predominantly Muslim Palestinians, these end times beliefs basically need Israel to be there. If it isn’t, then the prophecies in the bible can’t occur.

It’s the primary reason why this subset of Christianity is so dogmatically supportive of Israel, no matter what they do. It shows in polls. According to the Washington Post, half of evangelicals support Israel because they believe it’s important for fulfilling end-times prophecy. That continued support is a key political position for conservative politics. You can’t appeal to this brand of Christianity without supporting Israel.

Now, it’s one thing to dogmatically support another ally on the geopolitical stage. It’s quite another when your reasons for doing so have a basis in bringing about the end of the goddamn world. According to the prophecies that these right-wing Christians so ardently believe in, Israel has to exist in order for the anti-Christ to return and seize power.

Once the anti-Christ returns, the world basically descends into a massive glut of carnage and suffering. Countless people suffer and die. The world, as we know it, falls apart and becomes so objectively horrible that it’s basically indistinguishable from being in Hell. Anybody alive during this time, be they Christian or not, is left to suffer horribly.

Again, this movement wants this to happen. They, the conservative Christian evangelicals that so routinely vote for like-minded politicians, actively pursue policies that bring this suffering on. They’ll justify it by saying Jesus will come in the end and save everybody, as their holy text prophecies. Never mind the many times biblical prophecies failed to come true. These people are willing to take that chance.

It is, by any measure, a death cult. It helps explain why these same conservative religious zealots seem unconcerned with preserving the environment or facilitating peaceful relations in the Middle East. To do so would mean delaying the end of days and they don’t want that. They seem both eager and determined to bring about apocalyptic destruction their holy book depicts.

It would be one thing if these individuals were just another fringe cult in the mold of David Koresh and Marshall Applewhite. These people have legitimate political power. They have an entire political party in their palms. When they’re in power, they have access to nuclear weapons and military force. For anyone who doesn’t want the world to end, regardless of their religious affiliation, this should be troubling.

Death cults are dangerous enough, but one with this kind of influence is especially concerning. As someone who sincerely doesn’t want the world to end, I find this movement very concerning. Like I said earlier, I can respect anyone’s religious beliefs, but when those beliefs prompt you to support ending the goddamn world, how can anyone of any faith honestly respect that?

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Filed under Current Events, philosophy, politics, rants, religion

How Mixing Politics And Religion Ruins Both

Some things just aren’t meant to go together. Whether it involves putting pickles on a peanut butter sandwich or wearing a bra with a tube top, certain combinations are just inherently incongruent. At best, it’s messy, unattractive, or unappetizing. At worst, it does legitimate damage to everything that went into it.

In terms of volatile mixtures, religion and politics is probably the worst. There’s a reason why it’s a general rule of etiquette to avoid discussing either in a civil scenario. Both have a tendency to bring out that sense of blind tribalism that’s still hardwired into us and both have inherent flaws that keep even the most reasonable people from having a productive discussion.

That’s not to say religion and politics can never be discussed in a civil, respectful manner. It’s just exceedingly difficult, especially in these very polarized times. However, I am confident in stating that it’s practically impossible to mix religion and politics in a way that fosters greater civility. If anything, it derails any related issue beyond the point of absurdity.

I say this as someone who tries to be reasonable whenever discussing religion and politics. That’s not easy because I’ve made my criticisms of organized religion and certain political leanings quite clear. I don’t deny that I have my biases, but I make a concerted effort to see things from the other side.

When politics and religion mingle, however, I can’t justify that effort. From my perspective, there’s just no way to mix either without them becoming hopelessly corrupt.

It’s not difficult to understand why they become intermingled. Both are powerful institutions with immense influence over large swaths of people. They’re either going to coordinate or conflict with one another and coordination is almost always more productive, regardless of goals.

On paper, it almost makes sense. If you’re looking to strengthen your political position, adding religious elements that resonate with a significant segment of the populace can only help your effort. Even if those same people are skeptical of your rhetoric, they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt if you subscribe to the same theology.

When put into practice, however, it’s the logistical equivalent to mixing nitro and glycerin. It doesn’t take much to trigger a volatile reaction. More often than not, that one reaction triggers many more like it. Before long, the corruption isn’t just extensive. It becomes entrenched, so much so that it’s seen as entirely normal.

The best and most relevant example of this is how the religious right effectively entwined itself with conservative politics, especially in the United States. In recent years, even as religious affiliation has declined considerably, the link between religious conservatives and conservative politics has only gotten stronger, much to the detriment of both.

The history of the religious right in the 20th century is well-documented. While there had been previous efforts to effectively codify Christian dominance in the United States, it had always been a fringe position. In fact, there was a time when churches discouraged mixing religion with politics because politics was seen as a dirty business wholly concerned with worldly affairs.

Then, after a combination of major social upheavals and significant scientific advancements, organized religion became more reactionary. The rise of fundamentalism, which was not exclusive to Christianity, prompted certain religious organizations to do more than preach a more rigid form of theology.

To some extent, those organizations had no choice. There’s only so much you can do to convince ordinary people that they should be more devout, denying themselves comfort, novelty, and fun. In order to have greater influence, they need political power. However, gaining that kind of power almost always requires some level of corruption and at that level, corruption is a two-way street with many potholes and blind spots.

That’s not just an opinion held by cynics and casual observers, either. There is plenty of historical precedent that demonstrates what happens when religion and politics cooperate too closely. A cursory glance at the history of the Middle Ages offers plenty of documented evidence alongside absurd, yet historically accurate anecdotes.

It may be difficult to imagine for those who have grown up in secular societies, but there was a time when the Catholic Church was the only game in town and every political entity had to acknowledge that. They were basically a secondary government that could levy additional taxes, except they called them tithes. As an organization, their wealth was beyond measure.

On top of that wealth, the Pope could essentially make or break kingdoms by approving or denying marriages. If you said or did anything that offended, undermined, or in any way inconvenienced the church, they could do more than just condemn you. They could legally kill you and call it holy.

Regardless of the theology involved, this kind of power made the Catholic Church prone to all sorts of corruption. In some cases, it manifested in the election of Popes with decidedly unholy behavior. At one point, the papacy was actually sold between Popes like a high-stakes auction for gold and land.

While stories of organizational corruption can be comically absurd, other types of corruption did real harm. Like any powerful organization, the church dedicates a considerable amount of time and effort to preserving that power and isn’t always reasonable about it. That led to church-supported atrocities that included witch burnings, war crimes, and even animal abuse.

Again, little of these activities can be justified on a theological basis. There was nothing in the bible or the teachings of Jesus that promoted an all-encompassing organization that blurred the line between religion and politics. Most of that occurred through a convergence of various unholy forces that range from political ploys to theological debates. Conveniently, God was always on the side of whoever won out.

After centuries of corruption, other forces more powerful than any prayer or Pope eroded the influence of the Catholic Church. Some would argue that losing the power to make war and influence kings helped get the church in touch with the core teachings of Christianity. I think that’s a tenuous argument, given how dogmatic it is on certain outdated traditions, but I do see some merit in it.

Even with this historical precedent, the religious right keeps making a concerted effort to wield the kind of power that the Catholic Church once did. You need only compare the Republican Party’s platform in 1912, which contained no reference to any deity, to the overtly anti-demographic policies espoused in contemporary Republican talking points.

It’s in that blending of policy and theology in which both ultimately undermine one another. From the religious side, there’s nothing in the bible that demands tax cuts for the rich or bans in stem cell research. However, thanks to being entertained with conservative politics, this somehow becomes entwined with their theology, even if it means ignoring actual teachings of Jesus Christ.

From the political side of things, it means policies don’t even have to have a logical, pragmatic element to them anymore. They can only be viewed in the context of whether or not said policies get or maintain the support of religious adherents. Even when those policies are objectively bad for the environment and the poor, they support them. They’ll even support policies that require a big, bloated government by default.

In a sense, for religion and politics to function alongside one another, both require significant levels of hypocrisy. A religion will have to support policies that run counter to its theology and a political organization will have to support measures that run counter to its principles. The only way to make that work is to make excuses, which only invites corruption.

These aren’t minor complications. These are flawed processes that ensure neither religion nor politics can benefit without undermining themselves along the way. Anything they accomplish must come at the expense of principle or ideology. For conservative politics and religious dogma to pursue their goals, it must in turn use the same draconian tactics of Big Brother, even when it directly contradicts their highest values.

From that perspective, should we really be surprised when politicians with the backing of the religious right turn out to be utter hypocrites?

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, politics, religion

The Fall (And Hypocrisy) Of Jerry Falwell Jr. And Why It’s Both Fitting And Infuriating

I don’t like talking about religion. I think I’ve made my opinion on organized religion and the extremists it enables very clear. Then, a story comes along that I find so distressing and infuriating that I just can’t in good conscious ignore it. That tends to happen when the same ugly religious extremism is mixed with outright hypocrisy. It’s happened before. It will happen again. That’s just the nature of organized religion.

This time, it involves Jerry Falwell Jr.

Now, if anyone follows religious hypocrisy as closely as I do, the name Falwell should be painfully familiar. Between this guy, and his grifting, theocracy-loving, power-hungry snob of a father, that name is associated with the worst parts of the religious right.

Think of the most regressive religious doctrines you can imagine. From killing homosexuals to subjugating women to racial discrimination to promoting creationism to draconian abortion restrictions, these people are for it. They see the repressive government in “The Handmaid’s Tale” with envy. There is really no difference between them and the Taliban.

They see religion and religious values as a means of gaining power and influence. They use it to the utmost and dare to claim they represent truth, virtue, and order. They are hypocrites and frauds of the highest order. I cannot belabor that enough.

If you are a Christian who sincerely believes in the values it preaches, you should be disgusted by the Falwells. They embody a form of Christianity that’s both perverse and backwards. They don’t value the poor. They don’t value truth. They don’t even believe in loving they neighbor if they don’t live, vote, and believe as they do. They couldn’t be more antithetical to Jesus’ teachings.

Now, Jerry Falwell Jr. is embroiled in a lurid sex scandal that forced him to resign from his position at the indoctrination center/college that his father founded, Liberty University. In terms of sex scandals, this is hardly the kinkiest. This doesn’t involve sex with gay prostitutes while on meth. It mostly involves extra-marital affairs with Jr. and his wife, along with some light voyeurism.

In terms of juiciness, this is pretty tame. That doesn’t make it any less hypocritical. Remember, this is a man who once ran a university that had strict rules against any kind of pre-marital or extra-marital activities. It was so repressive that they even had rules against extended hugging, R-rated movies, and dancing. Again, these aren’t that different from the rules the once Taliban enforced.

Falwell Jr. and his supporters all imposed these rules and enforced them, justifying their draconian nature with their religious dogma. It wasn’t just for show, either. I actually been to the Lynchburg area. I’ve met people who have attended the poorly-named Liberty University. These rules are taken seriously. They’re enforced, too. The only way to avoid them is to never get caught.

Well, Falwell Jr. couldn’t handle that last part. He committed the most egregious sin of the religious right, which is to get caught and exposed as a hypocrite. By day, he preached fire and brimstone for anyone who dared to have sex with anyone who wasn’t their Christian spouse, but put in the minimum effort to live by that same doctrine.

I want to say it’s fitting. This scandal did cost Falwell Jr. his job and his credibility among his theocracy-loving cohorts in the religious right. However, it’s hard to take much satisfaction in his downfall.

For one, he will not suffer significant consequences from this scandal. He won’t go to jail. He won’t pay any fines. In fact, by resigning from his indoctrination center/university, he received $10.5 million severance package. That’s right, this wannabe theocrat who protested and condemned any sexual relation outside a 1950s sitcom is getting $10 million to step away from his job.

Even if you consider yourself religious and a bible-believing Christian, how is this justified? How does anyone justify being rewarded for resigning from their job because they engaged in the same sexual relations they so gleefully condemned? Seriously, what kind of mental gymnastics does someone have to do in order to say that’s right on any level?

Now, if Falwell Jr. sincerely sought forgiveness, and I don’t think for a nanosecond he will, he’d donate every penny to charity. There are plenty of charities, both religious and secular, who could do plenty of good with that money. It would be the most Christian thing you can do, given how much Jesus himself preached helping the poor.

However, there’s no way Falwell Jr. will ever do something that virtuous. It’s just not his style, nor was it his father’s. He’s going to keep preaching the same dogma, pretending he was “sick with sin” and now he’s healed. He’ll probably fight even harder to promote a repressive worldview that would see homosexuals murdered, promiscuity punished, and abortion outlawed.

If that weren’t bad enough, the same people who made him resign will probably still embrace him. There will even be a large contingent of right-wing Christians who will eagerly overlook his transgressions because his name is so closely associated with their movement. He might not have the same authority he once did, but he’ll keep fighting for the same repressive world that is so antithetical to American values.

On top of all of that, he’ll do all of this while living comfortably and luxuriously on his $10.5 million nest egg. Keep that in mind if you have even a sliver of sympathy for the man. Jerry Falwell Jr. offers absolutely nothing of the sort. He’s still a perverse manifestation of the kind of people who use religion to seek power, influence, and authority. He’s just a hypocrite on top of all that.

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Filed under Current Events, extremism, gender issues, media issues, outrage culture, politics, religion

The Catholic Church Got $1.4 Billion In Coronavirus Aid And That Pisses Me Off

Every now and then, you come across a headline that just makes your blood boil. It’s so frustrating that you want to punch your computer screen, kick the nearest brick wall, and bury your face in the thickest pillow you can find. In general, I try to avoid those headlines. There’s enough awful news in the world. Unfortunately, those headlines sometimes find me.

That happened once again this past week. I was just scrolling through the AP news headline while drinking my morning coffee. I almost choked on it when I saw this little gem.

AP: Catholic Church lobbied for taxpayer funds, got $1.4B

The U.S. Roman Catholic Church used a special and unprecedented exemption from federal rules to amass at least $1.4 billion in taxpayer-backed coronavirus aid, with many millions going to dioceses that have paid huge settlements or sought bankruptcy protection because of clergy sexual abuse cover-ups.

The church’s haul may have reached — or even exceeded — $3.5 billion, making a global religious institution with more than a billion followers among the biggest winners in the U.S. government’s pandemic relief efforts, an Associated Press analysis of federal data released this week found.

Now, whenever I talk about religion, which happens quite often, I always try to make a disclaimer. I respect peoples’ religious beliefs. I have people in my family who are devoutly religious. They’re wonderful, caring people who are enriched by their faith. I do not wish to disparage them in any way.

That said, I can’t say anything nice about the Catholic Church these days.

Never mind the fact that their history, as an organization, is wrought with absurdities and atrocities.

Never mind the fact that they’ve covered up and evaded responsibility for the systematic abuse of children.

This is an organization that has no business being bailed out of anything. They’re one of the largest, most powerful religious organizations in the world. They have their own sovereign country, for crying out loud. They pay no taxes and constantly seek exemptions from the law under the guise of “religious freedom.”

On top of that, this is the same organization that has blatantly and unapologetically opposed basic medical provisions for preventing the spread of AIDS in Africa. Even if they changed their minds, they refused to apologize for all the death and suffering that this wholly damaging policy had caused.

Now, they’re getting $1.4 billion in taxpayer money? Money that will likely go to paying off the millions they incurred by covering up scandals that involved the horrendous abuse of children?

Are you fucking kidding me?

Again, if you’re a devout Catholic, this is not directed at you. This is directed at the organization that simply uses your faith to make money, evade taxes, and avoid any kind of responsibility for the atrocities they commit or facilitate.

I know there are two sides to every story, but sometimes something is just plain wrong. This definitely qualifies. I could say more about this, but for the sake of my computer screen, I’ll end this by calling this an unholy justice of the worst kind.

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Superman, All-Powerful Gods, And What Sets Them Apart

superman

Superheroes mean many things to many people, especially at a time when superhero movies routinely dominate the box office. For some, they’re just gimmicks, fads, and marketing tools by big media companies. For others, they are akin to modern day mythology. It’s an apt comparison. Even contemporary heroes have a lot in common with the mythological legends of the past.

Some take it even further than that. Some will go so far as to claim that superheroes are filling the same roles as gods and deities. It’s not just the ones based on Norse or Greek mythology, either. In many respects, many iconic heroes fit many of the common traits ascribed to gods.

Superman is all-good.

Thanos wielding the Infinity Gauntlet is all-powerful.

Lex Luthor, Dr. Doom, and even Mr. Fantastic are so smart that they might as well be all-knowing to most people.

Such divine, god-like feats make for iconic stories that offer lessons and insights on everything from morality to justice to society, at large. While superheroes aren’t worshiped within organized institutions or granted tax-exempt status by governments, they utilize a similar structure to that of other holy texts.

The narrative surrounding superheroes revolves around good, evil, and the struggles that occur in between. Both the good and the evil in these stories takes the form of some grand, larger-than-life character who embodies these traits and implements them on a level that’s impossible for ordinary people to comprehend. That’s what helps make the message so powerful.

However, it’s the qualities that set superheroes apart from deities that offers the most insights. I would even argue those insights are more critical now than they were before Superman, Batman, or Iron Man ever showed up on a movie screen. At a time when organized religion continues to exert immense influence on society, we should be scrutinizing these discrepancies.

I hope it goes without saying that modern superheroes can only do so much to compare with the deities of organized religion. No matter how much money “Avengers Endgamemade at the box office, it will never exert the same influence that the three main Abrahamic faiths have imparted over the two millennia. For better or for worse, history, politics, and the entire species has been influenced by these religions.

The most notable and obvious difference between them and superheroes is that the deities of religion aren’t presented as entertaining fiction. To the believers of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and many other religions, the deities and the characters in their holy texts are real. They’re not myths or legends. They’re real people and real forces that have real effects.

Regardless of how true that is, and I know atheists will point out how none of those effects can be verified, this is the critical difference between superheroes and deities. Adherents don’t just believe that these characters are real. They place their trust and faith in them, believing that doing so will guide them in life and protect them in death.

I understood this difference as a kid. I was both a fan of superhero comics and surrounded by relatives who were devout believers. I knew they didn’t see their holy texts the same way I saw Superman comics. Superman was just another character. They knew who created him. They knew he was a licensed fictional character from DC Comics.

However, even back then, I found myself wondering whether those same relatives would see Superman differently if they didn’t know he was a comic book character. I imagine if there were old stories about him from centuries ago, written as though they actually happened, they might be less inclined to discount him as fiction. Some might actually be more inclined to place their faith in him over other deities.

It’s an interesting thought experiment, but it only scratches the surface of what sets superheroes apart from ancient lore. Aside from how real people think these characters are, and some take it much further than others, the standard superhero narrative reveals something striking about the standard religious narrative.

To illustrate, take a moment to contemplate how Superman goes about being a hero. As the gold standard of superheroes for the past 80 years, he sets the highest bar and embodies the highest ideals for a hero. On top of that, he has powers and abilities on par with many deities. At times, he has been shown as capable of destroying an entire solar system with a single sneeze.

Despite all this power, Superman seeks only to help humanity. He doesn’t ask for praise, worship, payment, or sacrifice. He simply does it because it’s the right thing to do. He’s the ultimate paragon, selfless and compassionate to the utmost. The people of Metropolis, and the world at large, don’t need to have faith in him. They just need to trust that he’ll keep doing the right thing.

Contrast that with the deities in holy texts. Many are every bit as powerful as Superman, but display qualities that aren’t exactly heroic. Certain versions of certain deities have been shown to be petty, jealous, and vindictive, sometimes to an extreme. A deity does often help or guide believers in a conflict like a superhero, but it’s rarely done out of pure altruism.

These deities, many of which are believed to have created humanity and the world, exercise a certain level of authority over people. It’s not always outright forced, but the nature of the story provides plenty of incentives and/or punishments to those who rebel or subvert that authority. Some become cautionary tales or outright villains.

Some villains are sexier than others.

In this context, the religious narrative builds an over-arching theme that has little room for heroics. These deities and super-powered beings aren’t necessarily there to save the day. They’re there to maintain the order that they helped create. They function as the glue that holds the universe and humanity together. Anyone or anything that goes against it requires recourse from both adherents and divine forces.

We often see this manifest in the real world when religious people argue that things like homosexuality, which is often condemned in holy books, are this bigger threat to the world. That’s why you’ll hear plenty of dogmatic preachers claim that homosexuality won’t just give people distressing thoughts. They’ll say it will destroy society.

Religious dogma, by its nature, depends on a strict adherence to what is the status quo for a particular place, people, and time. Defending it isn’t just seen as an act of piety. It’s akin to a superhero saving the day from evil forces. Whether those evil forces are demons from the underworld or a gay couple who want to get married doesn’t matter. It’s all about preserving a system.

Conversely, superheroes like Superman don’t limit themselves to a status quo. They’re less driven about how things are and more focused on how things could be. Superman doesn’t just want to save the day and help people who need it. He seeks to give people an ideal for them to aspire towards. This is perfectly reflected in his father’s message to him, as read by the late Marlon Brando.

It is now time for you to rejoin your new world and to serve its collective humanity.
Live as one of them, Kal-El
Discover where you strength and your power are needed
Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage
They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be
They only lack the light to show the way
For this reason above all, their capacity for good
I have sent them you, my only son

It’s in this defining message that the superhero narrative distinguishes itself from religious traditions. These superheroes, as powerful as they are, didn’t create us. They don’t hold any inherent dominion over us. They didn’t create the current situation, however flawed it might be. They still seek to help people, carrying out feats that others cannot. That’s what makes them heroes.

One fights to maintain what society is while the other fights for what society could be. These narratives can exist alongside one another and can carry greater meaning for certain people. There are critical lessons in both, but I believe the lessons of Superman are more relevant than anything offered by the stories of religion.

For much of human history, organized religion was part of that social glue that helped keep society stable. For a good deal of that history, society was only as stable as the conditions around it. People hoped and prayed that there wouldn’t be a famine, a storm, or some other catastrophe that they could not control. Survival, even among kings and emperors, was their primary concern.

Things are different now. At a time when food is abundant, poverty is in decline, and education is more widespread than ever, survival isn’t enough. For a planet of billions to thrive, people need to prosper. Doing so means aspiring to something greater than the status quo. That’s exactly what superheroes embody.

That’s not to say that the rise of superheroes is directly linked to the ongoing decline of religion, but the contrasting narratives reflect just how much priorities have changed. Superheroes don’t demand faith, sacrifice, and reverence, just to keep things as they are. They go out of their way to save a world that they believe is worth saving, hoping that it can better itself.

They can help, but they can’t do it for us. That’s another trait that Superman demonstrates, much to the chagrin of villains like Lex Luthor. Like deities of old, he doesn’t use his powers to achieve everything for humanity. He seeks to empower them to achieve those feats on their own. That process of aspiring to be greater than is often an affront to a religious narrative, but critical to the themes of superheroes.

Even if superhero movies stop making billions at the box office, the over-arching message will still be relevant. Faith in what is just isn’t as appealing as hope for what can be. The gods of religion offer comfort in familiar order, but superheroes can inspire hope in something better. Given the many flaws in this chaotic world, I believe that hope is more valuable than any ancient doctrine.

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How The Internet Has Weakened (But Not Destroyed) Organized Religion

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The current state of organized religion is ripe with conflict and mixed messages. On one hand, religious affiliation has significantly declined over the past 30 years. According to a 2018 survey from Eastern Illinois University, around 23 percent of the US population identifies as having “no religion.” For comparison, that number was only 5 percent in 1972.

In other industrialized countries, the decline is even more pronounced. Throughout Europe, more and more people are drifting away from organized religion. That’s especially true of young people, who are one of the least religious demographics in modern history. In terms of the bigger picture, organized religion is facing a generational time bomb that’s just starting to go off.

At the same time, however, religion still exercises an absurd amount of political power. Religious groups, particularly those who align themselves with conservative politics, have enormous influence. Its platform is tightly woven with that of a major political party. Many people in positions of power identify as religious. Many more rely on a religious base to get elected.

It’s a strange trend that seems counter-intuitive. How can something be weakening due to declining adherents, but still wield so much power? In an age where the egregious crimes of religious institutions have been exposed and more people are educated on the many absurdities of various holy texts, it feels as though organized religion should be on its death bed.

While there are many factors behind this situation, I believe that one particular factor is more influential than most. It also happens to be the same factor that has done the most to weaken religion while helping to sustain its political and social influence. It’s a force that has already radically changed everyone’s life, regardless of their affiliation.

That force is the internet and its impact on religion cannot be overstated.

I’m old enough to remember what it was like to talk about religion in the pre-internet days. You listened to your parents, relatives, priests, mullahs, rabbis, and monks. They told you the history and tenants of their religion. You might ask questions. You might not understand the philosophy behind it. No matter how curious or skeptical you were, you could only do so much to question it.

Most of the time, you just had to trust your elders that they knew what they were talking about. You also had to trust that they wouldn’t lie to you, which is often a risky bet. If you were really motivated, you might go to a library and do some research. Even then, you’d have an uphill battle a head of you, given the many complexities behind religion and why people believe in it.

These days, it’s exceedingly simple to fact check an absurd religious claim. If someone were to claim that a 900-year-old man built a 300-foot wooden boat that housed two of every kind of animal for 40 days during a global flood, you wouldn’t have to spend years in college to learn why that’s absurd. You could just pull out your phone, do a few simple searches, and find out why this claim is completely wrong.

Even a kid who has only taken a basic science class can look up any of the stories their priest, mullah, rabbi, or monk tell them to find out whether they’re based on real history or embellished folklore. Religious institutions, parents, and schools can fight to control the information their young people receive. Many organizations do engage in activities that are outright indoctrination.

However, as demographic trends show, the effectiveness of those efforts only go so far. The information about the absurdities, inconsistencies, lies, and agendas is still out there. It’s widely available to anyone who can access a smartphone or a computer. There’s only so much anyone can do to prevent someone from accessing that information.

As a result, organized religion will never have the same sway it once did in centuries past. No matter how much conservative reactionaries complain, it’s impossible to go back. The combination of modern education and accessible information ensures that major religious institutions will never wield the power they once did.

Given the complexities of modern societies and the geopolitics surrounding it, it’s just not practical for a centralized religious institution to exist. The Vatican can still make statements about morality, ethics, and spiritual matters. It just has no means of enforcing them, as evidenced by how little typical Catholics follow their edicts.

Even without this power, the same internet that has permanently weakened religion is also the same thing that sustains some of its considerable influence. In fact, the internet might act as a catalyst that can turn certain individuals from nominal adherents to ardent zealots.

Think back to the young people sitting in churches, mosques, synagogues, or temples. While some might casually look up the religious claims out of curiosities, others might go out of their way to find information that confirms these claims. Even if they’re factually wrong, they’ll look for any bit of information that they can twist to make it seem true and cling to it.

This is why creationism still persists, despite extensive resources that thoroughly debunk it. If someone is really determined to find information that affirms their beliefs, they’ll find it on the internet the same way people find cat videos and knife-wielding crabs. There will even be unscrupulous people to exploit them, including those who are convicted felons.

Like it or not, there are people who sincerely want to believe their preferred religion and will cling to anything that strengthens that belief. Given the open nature of the internet, shaped by the whims of users rather than objective truth, it’s distressingly easy for someone to customize what kind of information they receive.

If someone only wants news and memes about how their religion is true while everyone else is doomed to eternal torture in Hell, then that’s what they’ll get. They can get their news and information from exceedingly bias sources while brushing off others as fake news. There’s nothing from stopping anyone from using the internet in such a manner.

We already see how this has divided people along political lines in recent years. I would argue that this has been going on with religion for even longer. The rise of the religious right and the prevalence of religious media has done plenty to tighten their grasp on ardent believers. While less people may identify as religious, those who do tend to be more dogmatic about it.

Since those kinds of believers can be mobilized and pandered to, they’re a more unified political force. As such, appealing to them means gaining power. That power may be tenuous and limited, but it’s still viable power that plenty of politicians exploit, sometimes to an egregious extent.

In a sense, the internet has made it easy for both the extreme zealots and the inherently skeptical. Those who might have identified as religious out of tradition in the past are more comfortable identifying themselves as non-religious today. It also helps there’s not as much stigma to being a non-believer as there used to be.

At the same time, those who were devout before can become outright zealots if they consume enough extreme content. In fact, their declining numbers in the general population might give them more reasons to become zealous. History has shown that small bands of religious zealots can do a lot of damage. The internet might hinder their ability to gain adherents, but it might also make them more desperate.

It’s a scary possibility, but one I tend to believe is remote. While I might not be a fan of organized religion, I still have many friends and family members who are religious and wonderful human beings. The internet hasn’t changed that. In the long run, I believe that basic humanity that binds us all will win out in the long run. The internet won’t always help, but it’s certainly a valuable tool.

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The Lying God Paradox: An Inherent Flaw Of All-Powerful Deities

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In general, I believe that arguing with religious people is a waste of time. While I’ve made no secret of my distaste for organized religion, I prefer not to discuss it. As I’ve noted before, I have people in my family who are deeply religious. They are wonderful, loving people and they get genuine fulfillment from their religion.

There was even a time in my youth when I went out of my way to debate religion. At one point, I genuinely believed I could convince people of the absurdities of religious dogma. That was before I learned just how strong these beliefs can be and how far people will go to hold onto them.

I now accept that there’s no argument I can make or fact I can list that would ever convince someone that their religion is wrong. For the most part, people have to change their own minds. The most you can do is get them thinking about their dogma and let them make up their own mind.

For that reason, I still find it helpful to share my thoughts on certain aspects of religion. It’s not always possible to engage in meaningful discussions, but I think it’s worth pursuing. I find that the more you connect with people who don’t necessarily agree with you, the more you humanize them and vice versa.

That being said, I have a feeling that this latest thought is not going to win me many friends from the religious crowd. I know this because I’m about to make a statement about gods, all-powerful deities, and an inherent flaw that comes with incorporating them into any theology. That would encompass the three major Abrahamic faiths, as well as most other monotheistic religions.

This statement is a simple explanation for why there are so many different religions, each of which can have many denominations and sects. It also assumes there is an all-powerful deity with the ability to effect human affairs. While I know that’s a lofty assumption, especially for the non-believing crowd, it still exposes an important flaw in the theology and dogma behind religion. It can be summed up in two simple words.

God lied.

I know that idea may make many believers recoil in disgust, but I urge those people to take a moment to contemplate the implications. We’re not talking about a miracle or some divine act that breaks the laws of physics. This is something that ordinary people do every day without the need for immense power. If simple mortals like us can do it, then why can’t an all-powerful deity?

An all-powerful being can literally do anything. Lying would be one of the easiest, least strenuous ways to effect change, especially among a species like ours that is prone to believing lies. On top of that, when you take a step back and look at how religion has manifested over the centuries, a lying deity makes more sense than any other deity.

It explains why there has never been a single, unified religion.

It explains why there has never been a concept of divinity that every human society shares.

It explains why there are so many different religious texts that vary considerably in terms of theology, morality, and practices.

Simply put, God lied to everyone. Whether by prophecy, revelation, or divine inspiration, it was all a lie. It wouldn’t even have to be an elaborate lie. An all-powerful deity could just present the ideas to a few select people in history and let them do the rest. If the goal of the deity was to create a wide variety of religious dogma, then that’s working smart rather than hard.

The fact that it helps make sense of all the disagreements and discords within religion also creates a paradox, of sorts. Religion, by its nature, is built around belief. Peoples entire understanding of gods, spirits, and the supernatural are contingent on how ardently they believe in a particular theology. However, if that understanding is built on lies, then the entire religion is a product of an inherent untruth.

It’s a distressing thought, the notion that such a powerful being could or would willingly lie. That’s why most believers of any faith usually scoff at the notion. They’ll often claim their deity cannot lie because their deity is all-good on top of being all-powerful. Even if their holy text contains some objectively terrible atrocities that a deity committed or condoned, they’ll still make the claim that their deity is inherently good.

However, that only exchanges one paradox for another. If a deity is all-powerful, then that means the deity can do anything by definition, regardless of whether it’s good or evil. If a deity is all good, then that means it is incapable of doing anything evil. As such, it cannot be all-powerful. A deity that can only do good simply cannot be all-powerful, by default.

A lying deity resolves both paradoxes. The ability to lie, whether it’s for good or for evil, is perfectly within the capabilities of an all-powerful being. Even if that deity is all-good, then perhaps it can still lie, but only for good reasons, which do exist. That deity just can’t be all-powerful.

Even with these paradoxes, I doubt adherents of a particular faith would accept the possibility that their deity ever lied to them, their ancestors, or their fellow believers. They may accept that lesser or evil deities lie to others who don’t share their beliefs. However, those same people could make the same claim about them and there would be no difference, in terms of merit.

Non-believers will often cite the vast diversity of religious beliefs, both today and throughout history. They all can’t be right, but they all can be wrong. That’s perfectly in line with the law of non-contradiction.

That won’t stop believers from arguing passionately that they have the right answer to these profound questions. Even if they don’t have a way of verifying that belief, they’ll still believe in what they see is divine truth. However, the paradox of a lying god further complicates that idea.

Even if there is an all-powerful deity that has interacted in human affairs, how does anyone know whether said deity lied? Being all-powerful, the deity wouldn’t even need a reason. Lying would just be another exercise of that power. In that case, a lying deity is indistinguishable from a non-existent one. Logistically, there’s no way to verify either.

I know making this claim isn’t going to win many arguments with the devoutly religious. I don’t doubt that even suggesting that their god is liar has offended some people. I understand that. At the same time, I think it’s an idea worth scrutinizing. Just contemplating the possibility that a deity has lied adds what I believe is a necessary wrinkle to religious dogma.

Religion is such a powerful force in peoples’ lives. For better or for worse, it guides society, politics, and culture all over the world. People believe what they believe with great passion and piety. Nobody wants to entertain the notion that such a big part of their life is based on a lie. For something this powerful, though, I believe it’s worth thinking about.

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