Tag Archives: organized religion

Being Blessed Vs. Being Lucky: The (Major) Difference And Why It Matters

Picture, for a moment, the following scenario.

You’re at a prestigious awards ceremony. The nature of the ceremony and the award aren’t important. The only factor that matters is the awards are granted to only a few individuals who have achieved feats that few human beings have achieved. It’s an honor just to be nominated, but an even bigger honor to win.

With that in mind, imagine two different winners for two different feats. The first winner comes up onto the stage, accepts their award, and gives a heartfelt speech that’s something along the lines of this.

“Thank you so much for this incredible honor. It was a long, hard road to get to this point, but I’ve been so blessed with wondrous gifts and amazing support. To them and to the higher power that blessed me, I am eternally grateful!”

Chances are you’ve heard a speech like that before. We hear it all the time with athletes, celebrities, and major public figures. They achieve something spectacular and their first inclination is to say they are blessed. They don’t always thank a god for it, but it’s such a common refrain that most come to expect it. Some even joke about it.

That being said, try to imagine your reaction for the second winner. They come out on stage with the same immense joy as the previous winner. They also give a heartfelt speech of their own, but it goes like this.

“Thank you so much for this incredible honor. It was a long, hard road to get to this point, but I was just really lucky to be born with talent and amazing support. I like to think I’ve made the most of it. This award is just part of it. For that, I am so proud of myself and those who helped me!”

I doubt a celebrity has given an acceptance speech like this before. If they did, chances are it would either be a joke or an elaborate act of trolling, which some celebrities are known to do. For the sake of this little thought experiment, imagine the person was sincere. How would you feel about them? Would be different than the first?

I crafted this scenario as a way of illustrating the difference between being blessed and being lucky. These terms tend to get used interchangeably. In common language, they’re somewhat synonymous. Even though dictionary definitions have some key distinctions, the standard usage of these words carries a particular meaning.

Part of that meaning stems from the general discomfort we feel about the universe being so chaotic and meaningless. We’re wired to seek patterns and surmise order. It doesn’t even matter if the patterns or order is real or an outright trick. When people can make sense of the world, we’re better able to function. It’s a big reason why humans have been able to adapt and survive with such success.

The ideas being lucky and being blessed reflect opposite sentiments of a similar principle. We see luck as a fluke. There’s no meaning behind it. It just happens randomly and without any defined goal.

A kid is randomly born with talent that makes them a great athlete.

A person randomly picks the winning numbers to win a big lottery prize.

A person just happens to be in the right place at the right time to meet the love of their life.

None of these situations are inherently right or wrong. That’s part of what makes it so distressing on some levels. The people who benefit from luck do nothing to deserve or warrant their good fortune. It goes against that innate sense of fairness that most sensible human beings have wired into their brains.

Being blessed, on the other hand, carries a very different connotation. To be blessed implies that some person, deity, or sentient force chose to grant someone such benefits. It’s not random. It’s part of a larger plan. It may not seem like one on the surface. It may even be an outright illusion. That ultimately doesn’t matter. The semblance of a plan is enough.

To be blessed also carried with it a sense of humility. Someone who just says they’re lucky doesn’t come off as moral or gracious. Even if they’re entirely ambivalent about it, they won’t inspire respect or admiration for acknowledging their luck. If they say they’re blessed, though, it changes the context.

A person who is blessed with talent means their achievements have a greater meaning.

A person who is blessed with picking winning lotto numbers means their good fortune is part of some larger plan.

A person who is blessed with meeting the love of their live means their love is somehow pre-ordained by fate.

The difference lies within the meaning. Being blessed conveys influence from a source greater than the person receiving the blessing. To show gratitude to that force is to accept that it’s not just about you. There’s a larger plan and you’re just part of it. That sounds humble, but at the same time, it detracts from the true extent of an achievement.

Luck or no luck, it takes effort and dedication to achieve something of value. Whether it’s an award for world’s largest nose ring or setting a record for most pop tarts consumed in a day, an accomplishment still requires work. Even lottery winners have to go out of their way to pick the numbers, get the ticket, and claim their prize.

To call that process a blessing is to dehumanize the actions involved. It undercuts the countless other factors in play. Some are entirely controllable. A champion of any sport usually has talent, determination, and a willingness to refine their skill. Others are simply beyond their control, from the conditions of an event to just the general randomness of a particular moment.

To assume these factors as part of some over-arching plan is to assume there’s a governing force that consciously cares about these random happenings. Whether that force is a deity or some idea of conscious fate, people will consciously devalue their own worth to believe they’re part of something greater. It might not be real, but that’s beside the point.

It helps us wrap our brains around incredible achievements and improbable events. It shows in how people can resent those who are just deemed lucky. Again, just look at lottery winners. Those who have enjoyed that rare level of luck can attest that they are generally looked down upon by those who gained their fortune in other ways.

This isn’t to imply that the whole concept of being blessed is inherently wrong. There may actually be a higher governing power behind certain peoples’ fortunes, be it an all-powerful deity or the shape-shifting lizard men of the Illuminati. There’s no evidence of it now, but as believers and conspiracy theorists will often point out, absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.

That said, I believe the dehumanizing aspect of blessings over luck does more harm than good in the long run. Humility is an admirable trait, but there are better ways to encourage it that don’t involve assigning some arbitrary meaning to random events. In addition, saying someone or something is blessed has some indirect implications that are even less desirable than a random universe.

If one person is blessed, then that implies other people were deemed undeserving.

If one moment is blessed, then those that came before it are nothing more than prelude, no matter how much they meant to those involved.

If a people or society are blessed, then that basically declares that everyone else is somehow beneath them and that mentality rarely brings out the best in people.

Human beings are capable of remarkable feats. Many of those feats don’t require a higher power or some conscious force. They simply require an opportunity and a willingness to strive for something greater. Granted, opportunities can be random and there’s only so much anyone can do to control the luck they get. However, I submit that gives it even more meaning in the grand scheme of things.

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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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Why Non-Religious Cults Are Becoming (Almost) As Dangerous

Most religious people are not dangerous or ignorant, nor are most of the priests, rabbis, mullahs, and monks who lead them. I want to make that clear early on. I know I’ve been very critical of religion in the past and I stand by much of those criticism. However, I do not want to give the impression that it makes sincere adherents unworthy of respect.

I have religious people in my family. They are good, decent people and their religious beliefs means a lot to them. I do not want to denigrate that in any way.

That said, extreme religious cults are dangerous. They are worthy of criticism and, in some cases, outright scorn. People have died because of these cults, including innocent children. If we’re going to be a better people now and in the future, we need to be vigilant of these dangerous cults. Otherwise, more people will suffer.

How we go about that is beyond my expertise. There are organizations with people far more qualified to pursue that effort, such as Cult Escape and Dare To Doubt. I urge others to support those efforts, regardless of your religious affiliation. There are a lot of people out there trapped in these cults who need help.

However, there has been another troubling trend in recent years that may complicate that effort. It involves cults that aren’t necessarily religious, in nature. Some have religious elements, but also mix in politics and conspiracy theories. The goals and methods aren’t always the same, but the outcome is similar.

People get sucked into an ideology.

They get caught up in a trend that evokes strong emotions within them.

They connect with like-minded people who reinforce and reaffirm their beliefs.

They start attacking or shunning outsiders or anyone they don’t agree with.

They stop doubting their beliefs and are openly scorned if they dare raise questions, making it next to impossible to leave.

It’s a common story that many endure, but now it’s happening without the religious angle. Now, people are falling into cults that offer little in terms of theology, but still descend into a toxic mix of groupthink, hero worship, and self-delusion.

You have organizations like Nxivm, which billed itself as a self-help program that sucked people in and reshaped their thinking at the hands of a sociopath leader.

You have charismatic public personalities like Jordan Peterson and Tony Robbins, who may not set out to create cult-like movements, but still create a community wrought with cult-like behaviors.

Then, there’s Q-Anon.

Believe me, I do not want to go into details about that. I’m afraid to even post any links. I do not want someone to get sucked into that ultra-toxic rabbit hole, which has led to real-world violence and torn families apart.

These are serious issues that affect real people, as well as their families. Thanks to the world-wide reach of the internet and clunky nature of social media, it’s a lot easier to fall in with the wrong digital crowd. You don’t have to be religious. You just have to be willing to buy into a certain ideology or narrative. No miracles are necessary.

That is dangerous and I suspect it’s going to get worse in the coming years, especially as mainstream religion continues to decline. Will it be as dangerous as the religious cults of old? Well, that depends on a number of factors. At the moment, even the worst non-religious cults have major shortcomings.

Religious cults can, by definition, hide behind the guise of religion. That comes with plenty of benefits, including the kind that allows them to avoid paying taxes. Religion also has legal protections, as evidenced by the constant push for “religious freedom.”

Non-religious cults don’t have the same advantages. In fact, it’s not unreasonable to say that these types of cults couldn’t even exist without the internet or the widespread connectivity of modern media. They also don’t have the overall structure that many religious organizations have. That means they’ll only be able to do so much.

On top of that, the nature of the internet makes it a lot harder for cults to keep their members in line. At any point, an adherent could get curious and start looking up opposing views that could cast doubt on their beliefs. There’s only so much a cult can do to control a person from behind a computer screen.

Even with those limitations, they’ve still done plenty of damage. They’re likely to do plenty more and we should be very concerned about that. The world is already a chaotic place. Extreme religious cults have already done plenty to add to that chaos. The last thing we need is for non-religious cults to do the same.

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Catholic Priests Defy The Vatican To Sanction Same-Sex Unions (And We Should Cheer Them On)

I tend to be very critical of organized religion and those who take religion to extremes. I make no apologies for that, but I do make an effort to be fair. That’s why I go out of my way to highlight that most religious people, regardless of the religion they follow, are generally good, decent people whose faith genuinely enriches their lives.

That’s worth acknowledging because people can do genuinely good things in the name of their faith. It’s a beautiful thing. Just look at someone like Fred Rogers. That’s religious devotion at its finest.

I know I don’t highlight those stories enough. In my defense, the stories of people who actually practice what they preach and do genuine good for the world rarely makes the news. Then again, the news relies almost entirely on doom and gloom these days, so that shouldn’t be surprising.

That makes the effort to highlight the good a lot harder, but it’s still worth doing. To that end, I want to highlight a good story about religious people that stemmed from a bad story about a religious institution with a history of unholy behavior.

Recently, I bemoaned the Vatican’s decision to essentially cling to their traditions of marginalizing LGBTQ people. They still call homosexuality a sin and refuse to bless same-sex unions. Never mind the fact that Catholics still get divorced and eat shellfish, the Vatican still refuses to embrace change.

At a time when religion, as a whole is in decline and support for LGBTQ rights is growing, this just feels backwards, even by the standards of the Catholic Church. However, not all those who identify as Catholic feel the same way.

Even though the Vatican is set up as the central power of the Catholic world, there are those who go against that power. A few priests are daring to defy the Vatican and I want to take a minute to acknowledge their boldness. This is what Reuters has reported.

Reuters: Rebel priests defy Vatican, vow to bless same-sex couples

A dissident band of Roman Catholic priests leading a disobedience campaign against the Vatican said on Tuesday they would carry on blessing same-sex couples in defiance of Church orders.

The Vatican said on Monday that priests cannot bless same-sex unions and that such blessings are not valid, in a ruling that disappointed gay Catholics who had hoped their Church was becoming more welcoming under Pope Francis.

In some countries, parishes and ministers have begun blessing same-sex unions in lieu of marriage, and there have been calls for bishops to institutionalise de facto such blessings. Conservatives in the 1.3 billion-member Roman Catholic Church have expressed alarm over such practices.

“We members of the Parish Priests Initiative are deeply appalled by the new Roman decree that seeks to prohibit the blessing of same-sex loving couples. This is a relapse into times that we had hoped to have overcome with Pope Francis,” the Austrian-based group said in a statement.

“We will — in solidarity with so many — not reject any loving couple in the future who ask to celebrate God’s blessing, which they experience every day, also in a worship service.”

Whether you’re religious or not, let’s take a moment to applaud these priests. They’re doing something that Jesus himself once did. They see a powerful institution doing something wrong and they’re protesting that by doing what’s right.

In the process, they’re providing love, tolerance, and acceptance to a marginalized group that has suffered plenty, often in the name of religion. You can call that ironic, but I prefer to call it heroic. They have to know on some levels that they’re going to get in trouble for this.

They are likely going to get criticized. They’ll likely face protests from hardline conservative Catholics who cannot tolerate any deviation of any kind from certain traditions, no matter how outdated or intolerant they are. The fact these priests still went through with it says a lot about their character, as well as their faith.

It’s also worth emphasizing that what they’re doing is commendable in ways beyond the religious angle. They are just a small group of individual priests. The Vatican is a vast, powerful organization with immense wealth and influence. They have the benefit of being able to say with a straight face that their authority comes directly from a deity.

That’s a power that many governments envy. Some claim they’re inherently divine, but the results are often less-than-divine.

That power matters because it means they can change if they wanted. It would be a lot easier than what these rebellious priests are doing. The Pope could just come out and say that homosexuality isn’t a sin anymore for the same reason eating shellfish isn’t a sin anymore. He did it with purgatory. Why not do it with homosexuality?

That’s the problem with powerful organizations, though. When they’re powerful, they have the luxury of taking the path of least resistance. The easiest thing for powerful organizations to do is not change. It’s much less strenuous on the people and the systems around them to just keep doing what they’ve always been doing.

It keeps them in power.

It means less work for them and those who support them.

It means less thinking, contemplating, and second-guessing that maybe they’re doing something wrong.

At best, it’s lazy. At worst, it’s callous and negligent. Contrast that with the Catholic Priests who dare to go against such power. They know what they’re doing will bring consequences. They know they’re going to upset some powerful people, but they do it anyway.

That’s brave.

That’s bold.

That’s a level of spirit that religious and non-religious people alike can respect.

Regardless of your affiliation or your opinions of Christianity or Catholicism, take a moment to acknowledge that these men of faith are doing something great. They’re offering love and acceptance to their fellow human beings, even though they’re marginalized and demonized. It’s probably the most Christian thing they could possibly do and I, for one, salute them. I suspect Jesus would, as well.

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The Vatican (Unsurprisingly) Won’t Bless Same-Sex Unions And Why That Still Matters

When the Vatican makes the news for all the wrong reasons, few are surprised anymore. For the past few decades, major scandals and stories of horrific abuse have become common knowledge. It’s not a conspiracy. It’s not fake news. This stuff happened and the Vatican doesn’t bother denying it anymore.

Despite this, they still wield a great deal of power, authority, and reverence for millions of people. People still see the Vatican as the central authority for their faith. Even when more terrible scandals come out, it barely shocks anyone anymore. It’s tragic and infuriating, especially to the victims.

That’s why when the Catholic Church makes a sweeping moral judgement that affects millions of people, including those who aren’t Catholic, it evokes a special kind of frustration. This is an organization whose corruption and hypocrisy has directly led to widespread suffering and death. They do not any moral authority, especially on matters pertaining to sex and family.

Remember, this is an organization run by a bunch of old men who have taken a vow of celibacy. Getting advice from them on matters of sex is like getting advice from a vegan on how to cook a steak.

So, with that in mind, when the Vatican comes out and says same-sex unions are sinful and unworthy of their blessing, it should not carry any weight. It should not be taken seriously, either. They have as much credibility as Jenny McCarthy’s position on Quantum Field Theory.

Unfortunately, because they still wield the zeal of centuries-old religious authority, a lot of people do take them seriously. That’s why we shouldn’t be too surprised when they announce that their attitudes towards things like same-sex relationships is the same as it was several centuries ago.

AP News: Vatican bars gay union blessing, says God ‘can’t bless sin’

The Vatican declared Monday that the Catholic Church won’t bless same-sex unions since God “cannot bless sin.”

The Vatican’s orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a formal response to a question about whether Catholic clergy have the authority to bless gay unions. The answer, contained in a two-page explanation published in seven languages and approved by Pope Francis, was “negative.”

The note distinguished between the church’s welcoming and blessing of gay people, which it upheld, but not their unions. It argued that such unions are not part of God’s plan and that any sacramental recognition of them could be confused with marriage.

Again, this organization’s deplorable history with covering up egregious sex crimes should bar them from making such judgements. If they didn’t have religious tradition to hide behind, their statement would be a joke worthy of its own Onion article.

For countless Catholics, as well as same-sex couples and millions who identify as LGBTQ, it’s no laughing matter. What the Vatican is doing shouldn’t surprise anyone, no matter how frustrating it is in the grand scheme of things.

It’s easy to just cling to tradition. It means they don’t have to change. They don’t have to come out and say they were wrong about something for hundreds of years. They also don’t have to apologize and face possible legal issues for all the abuse they enabled over many years.

To the powers that be in the Vatican, it’s the path of least resistance.

To everyone else, it’s pure cowardice.

Now, please don’t misconstrue that as a sweeping judgment on all Catholics or those who respect the Vatican. As I often say whenever I criticize religion, most religious people, including most Catholics, are decent people. Many are actually in favor of LGBTQ rights, including same-sex marriage. They don’t hold the Vatican in that high regard and for understandable reasons.

However, the Vatican’s refusal to break free of old dogma is a testament to how stubborn and flawed this institution has become. Between all the scandals that have come out in recent years and the overall decline in religiosity, the powers within the Catholic Church are doing themselves no favor by clinging to their dogma.

At the same time, they’re continuing the stigma and harm that LGBTQ people continue to face all over the world. Many of the hate and oppression they face is religiously motivated. The Vatican is in a position to condemn it, but they choose not to. That is a moral failing on their part and one that further undermines their credibility, as a moral organization. Then again, how much moral authority can an organization have after covering up rampant child sexual abuse?

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Why Liars, Cheaters, And Hypocrites Get Away With It

We all deal with them.

We all encounter them.

We all despise them on some levels.

Call them any vulgar insult you want. It’s perfectly warranted, but it doesn’t change what they do. The liars, cheaters, and hypocrites of this world will keep doing it. They’ll keep lying to your face, cheating you out of money, and breaking promises or precedents without a second thought.

I know it’s a depressing thought. It has become a lot more in our collective faces in recent years, given how political rhetoric has become so heated. Both sides argue with one another. They each lie or cheat to varying degrees. They jump at the chance to call the other out on it, but nothing really changes.

They keep on lying and people who align with their politics buy into it, even when they know it’s a lie. It’s frustrating. I argue it’s gotten even more infuriating in recent years. It does, however, raise an important question.

Why do people who lie, cheat, and break promises keep getting away with it?

It’s a valid question. Nobody likes being lied to. Even kids know on some level how wrong it is. So, why does it keep happening and why does nobody seem to pay a price? Well, the very nature of those questions already answer that to some extent.

In short, people keep getting away with it because they never get punished, pay a price, or face any consequences for their dishonesty.

It’s not a very comforting answer, I know. It’s probably just as infuriating as being lied to. That doesn’t make it any less true.

Think about it. What price does someone really pay for lying? Sure, there’s the accompanying guilt that comes with it, but for some people, that’s not much of a price. You don’t have to be a psychopath incapable of guilt to lie. You just have to be capable of enduring the momentary discomfort that comes with it.

That’s not much of a price for certain people, especially when there’s money to be made and power to be gained. Granted, certain liars and hypocrites will lose credibility with certain people. Lie too much to one person and they won’t trust you, let alone be inclined to do you any favors.

On a larger scale, though, that’s less of an issue. Add mass media and the internet to the mix and it’s basically an afterthought. Right now, anyone can tweet or post some completely dishonest information to any number of major sites.

They could claim a certain politician beat up a child.

They could claim that a certain celebrity sexually assaulted someone.

They could claim that the theory of evolution is a plot by the Illuminati to keep people from finding out about the shape-shifting lizard people that secretly run our government.

That last one is a real conspiracy theory that some people actually believe, by the way. I wish I had made up something that absurd.

Some of these lies may incur lawsuits or blocks, but again, is that really much of a price? Some people can afford frivolous lawsuits. Many don’t care if certain people block them. Even when major websites try to clamp down on it, that only seems to fuel the liars.

That’s another critical element as to why it keeps happening. Not only do liars, cheats, and hypocrites pay little to no price for their dishonesty. In some cases, they’re rewarded. In some cases, the reward is huge.

We may hate hypocrites and liars, but so long as they have something to gain and little to lose, not much will stop them. If they have no sense of guilt or shame, as many politicians and CEOs often do, they have every incentive to do what they do. There’s just too much money and power to be gained.

On top of that, there are some people who want to believe in their lies. Everyone has their own reason for doing so. It often boils down to the lies being more appealing than the truth or reinforcing some position they already have. Whatever their reason, they keep give even more incentives to those willing to exploit that inclination.

I say this not to be dire, although I don’t deny the election last month is a motivating factor. I offer this as a means of adding perspective to those frustrated by the dishonesty and hypocrisy that seems so prevalent, no matter where you look.

There’s a reason it’s there and is a painfully valid reason. As long as the liars, cheaters, and hypocrites we despise keep gaining so much and losing so little, they will continue with their deplorable behavior. They have no reason not to. It’s just the nature of our flawed world.

We can only do so much to make it less flawed. One way you can help is to keep voting, even if it’s just for the least dishonest candidate. It’s not a perfect fix, but it’s a start.

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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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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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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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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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