Tag Archives: religion and politics

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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Dear Gina Carano And Her Supporters: Avoid Ben Shapiro (And Everyone Like Him)

Talking about politics is ugly.

Talking about issues like “cancel culture,” which I put in quotes for a reason, is often revolting.

Sometimes, though, we can’t avoid it. When it makes headlines, it’s like a massive traffic accident. We can’t look away. It’s just how we’re wired. It’s a problem that plays right into the flaws of human nature.

It affects us on an emotional level, appealing to tribalism and hate. It brings out the worst parts in some people. For others, it brings out a sense of greedy opportunism that is nothing short of exploitative.

This brings me to the ongoing saga involving Gina Carano, the new face of “cancel culture” after Disney fired her from “The Mandalorian.” She’s been making a lot of noise in the media lately, which is kind of ironic for someone claiming to be silenced or censored, but that’s beside the point.

However, a good chunk of that noise came out of her recent interview with Ben Shapiro of the Daily Wire. Now, I’m inclined to believe that Gina is sincere in her statements. I’m also inclined to believe that she’s not a hateful person, even though her words and tweets tend to the wrong message.

Reasonable people can have reasonable discussions about how justified Disney was in firing her. Those same people can have reasonable discussions about the merits of “cancel culture” and how conservatives are viewed in the media. Those are discussions we should have.

The problem is that Ben Shapiro is not a reasonable person, for the most part, nor are many conservative-leaning blowhards like him. Gina herself might already know the kind of person he is, but I doubt she fully grasps the bigger picture of who this man is and why people like him are not true allies.

It’s fine to be a conservative.

It’s fine to disagree with major liberal talking points.

Men like Ben Shapiro take it several steps further and cross way too many lines. He’s as much a conservative as Bugs Bunny is a real opera singer. He’s nothing more than a mouthpiece funded by a couple of oil billionaires, who are also huge funders of the religious right. These are people who think the only women’s right that matters is the right to obey her husband and pump out babies.

These are not people you want to ally with.

These are not people who have the best interest of America, women, and Star Wars fans in mind.

They have an agenda and Gina is nothing more than a tool, as are her fans. However, I don’t expect anyone to just take my word for it. The YouTube channel, Some More News, actually went through the trouble of creating a one-hour video detailing why Ben Shapiro is not a serious person who should be taken seriously about anything, let alone real conservatism.

Please, I implore both Gina and her supporters to watch this video and think carefully about who they’re throwing their support behind. As multiple Star Wars movies have shown us, making a deal with the dark side rarely works out for anyone who isn’t already in power.

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Has Tribalism And Ideology Supplanted Religion?

If you’re an American, chances are you’re painfully aware that 2020 is an election year. That means that, on top all the other awful crap that has transpired this year, we’re in the midst of a political firestorm that regularly brings out the worst in people. Trust me, my non-American audience. It’s even uglier than you think.

As proud as I am to be an American, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with politics and discourse. I know that’s not saying much. I didn’t live through the turbulent eras of the 60s and 70s. My parents have told me it has been very bad before, but even they admit that this year is a special case of awful. They almost long for the hippie-style protests of the 60s.

I won’t get into why things have become so contentious, although most people can probably discern the most noteworthy source. I don’t have the patience or the sanity to digest that. Instead, I want to offer an observation that I’ve noticed as this election drama has played out. It has to do with both politics and religion, two incredibly divisive forces with a strong basis in absurdities.

I’ve done plenty to highlight the flaws, failures, and outright atrocities that have been committed or justified in the name of religion. I’ve also touched on some of the frustrations and annoyances that manifest in politics. Together, both can be extremely damaging to people and society alike. History has proven that on multiple occasion.

Lately, however, I get the sense that a new kind of zealotry has taken hold. It’s not entirely political or entirely religious. It just take the most destructive elements in both and channels them in a way that inspires some objectively deplorable behavior.

In essence, the same dogmatic stubbornness that often fuels religious extremists has now been applied to someone’s political leanings. By that, I don’t just mean what party they belong to or who they voted for in the last election. I’m saying they now see their political affiliation in the same light some see their religious adherence.

To some extent, this makes sense. Organized religion, in general, has been in a steep decline for decades. The rise of the internet, as well as a more educated public, has significantly undermined religion’s ability to lock in adherents for generations. However, a lack of a religion doesn’t make someone any less inclined to believe absurd, misguided, or demonstrably false concepts.

The same tribalism that often fuels religious rhetoric is becoming a larger factor in politics. I won’t go so far as to say that political ideology is replacing organized religion outright. I just think that same tribalism is becoming a more prominent factor.

It often goes like this. In the past, I often saw discussions like this play out.

Liberal: I believe the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour.

Conservative: I respectfully disagree. I think a minimum wage ultimately harms the working poor by limiting the number of entry level jobs.

Liberal: I don’t think the data bears that out, but can we agree to disagree?

Conservative: Of course.

That’s fairly civil. Ideally, that’s how political debates should go. It’s not an argument about whose deity is better and who’s going to Hell when they die. It’s just a simple exchange of ideas to further a discussion about real-world issues. It can get ugly at times, but it rarely ventures into the same damaging extremism that often comes with religion.

That kind of civil exchange now feels so long ago. These days, you need only look at a comments section or a thread on social media to see how outrageous the discourse has become. It tends to go more like this.

Liberal: I believe the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour.

Conservative: You American-hating, baby-murdering, politically correct cuck! What kind of Marxist wannabe are you? Get the fuck out of this country! You don’t belong here!

Liberal: Fuck you! You’re a racist, sexist fascist, gay-bashing hypocrite! Go back to Nazi Germany and beat your women somewhere else! You’re destroying America!

Conservative: No, you’re destroying America!

Liberal: No, you are!

Conservative: Fuck you!

Liberal: Fuck you!

I admit, this is a generalization, but it’s not that far off. Between Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and 4chan, this kind of hateful rhetoric is fairly common. Even the street preachers who hold up signs, telling everyone that their deity wants to send them to Hell, isn’t nearly this vitriolic. Anyone who tries to be civil or inject some simple facts into the discussion is quickly drowned out by hateful dogma.

The internet and social media has acted as a catalyst, of sorts. It’s one thing to hold extreme, dogmatic political views. It’s quite another to share them in a community that constantly reinforces, reaffirms, and encourages those views. It’s become incredibly easy to exercise your own confirmation bias. If you have an opinion or want evidence for a crazy belief, chances are you can find it on some dark corner of the internet.

It’s at a point where if you try to criticize someone’s political leanings, it’s not just a point of disagreement. It’s treated as outright blasphemy. I’ve seen it on both sides, although I think those who lean right/conservative are worse offenders. Trying to convince any side that they’re wrong is akin to trying to convince a creationist or flat-Earther that they’re wrong. It just evokes more extremism.

This is not a healthy trend. Religious extremism is bad enough. Plenty of people have died because someone was convinced that a certain holy text was literally true and it was their duty to attack those who don’t agree. To religious zealots, the mere act of disagreeing and disbelieving as they do is seen as an insult, an affront, and an act of violence. That can’t be how we treat politics.

At the same time, the ugly forces of tribalism are still as strong as ever, if not more so in the age of the internet. Those influences aren’t going away anytime soon. Being part of a tribe or group is fine. We’re a very social species. It’s part of why we’re so successful. However, that same force that unites us can also inspire the ugliest kind of hate.

At its worst, it makes view anyone who disagrees with us as a non-person. They’re not sub-human, but they are someone we would rather not have in our domain. It’s not enough to disagree with them. We’d prefer they not even exist in any way that affects us.

It’s a special kind of dehumanizing and something religion has done for centuries, weaponizing the age-old us-versus-them mentality. We can only do so much to temper our tribal nature, but there comes a point where the line between differences and hatred become too blurred. We share this same planet. We also live in countries full of people who don’t agree with us.

That’s okay. We can still be friends with these people. We don’t have to hate, scold, insult, demean, or dehumanize them. That’s a conscious choice we make and, unlike religion, it requires little in terms of indoctrination. As society becomes less religious, it’s important to remember why we’re moving away from organized religion in the first place.

In the same way most religious people are decent, good people, most people of any political affiliation are the same. We’re still human at the end of the day, but I sincerely worry that the increasing ugliness of politics is making us forget 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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