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.”
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!
When you lie down in bed at night, alone in the dark with your thoughts, I believe that’s when you’re most honest with yourself. Whether you sleep alone or with a lover, this is one of those few times when we can allow our minds to wander freely. Sometimes, we find ourselves thinking things that make us uncomfortable. While it may be distressing, I would argue that’s healthy.
I freely admit that I find myself contemplating a lot of strange things when I lay down to go to sleep at night. I doubt I’m alone. I would question the honesty of anyone who claims their private thoughts perfectly match those they contemplate in public.
With this in mind, I’d like to pose a relevant question. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a thought experiment because this is one of those questions that may have a definitive answer. Granted, it’s an answer we’ll probably never know for sure. However, I still feel it’s worth asking for the sake of the bigger picture.
It has to do with public figures. By that, I don’t just mean major celebrities like movie stars, musicians, and what not. I’m also referring to well-known politicians, political commentators, and even popular social media figures on sites like YouTube and Tik-Tok. To all of them, I pose this question.
When these people lie in bed at night, do they genuinely believe the things they do, espouse, or support?
I think the answer to that question, even if we cannot know it, is incredibly revealing.
It’s also incredibly common for people to not be honest with themselves. Most of us have done that at some point in our lives to varying degrees. We carry ourselves as someone we’re not. We convey feelings, ideas, and emotions that are not entirely in line with our true selves. Why we do this varies, but it can be incredibly damaging if taken too far.
For certain public figures, though, there are many additional layers of complications. For some people, especially politicians, shock jocks, and social media personalities, they have to present a certain version of themselves to the public. That version is almost always carefully crafted and refined. It rarely reflects a completely honest version of that person.
On top of that, this version of themselves is presented as a means to obtain money, power, influence, attention, and everything that comes with that. They say and do whatever reaffirms or builds upon that persona. If it gets any level of attention, be it positive or negative, it gets reinforced.
It can quickly become a cycle, but one that’s reinforced with money, power, and influence. At that point, a public figure doesn’t just have an incentive to keep up this persona. They have incentives to double down and take it to new levels. Even if it makes them infamous and hated, they still get enough out of it to justify the effort, no matter how dishonest it might be.
With those incentives in mind, I often find myself wondering how much or how little certain public figures are aware of them. Perhaps when they lay in bed at night and are alone with their thoughts, they acknowledge that hard truth to themselves, but wouldn’t dare acknowledge it to anyone else.
Think about someone like Bernie Madoff. Before he got caught in his infamous Ponzi scheme, he knew what he was doing. He knew he was a fraud. How much or how little did he realize that when he was in bed at night before he got caught?
Think about some of the most radical, right-wing or left-wing politicians you know. Think about some of the craziest beliefs they espouse. When they lay down at night, do they realize how crazy they are? Do they even truly believe what they say? Do they just say what they need to in order to keep their persona going?
Think about some of the radical religious preachers who bilk money from the faithful. Do they truly believe the terrible things they espouse? Do they really believe that they are somehow more holy than everyone else? When they lay in bed at night, do they realize that what they’re doing is antithetical to their religion? Is it possible that some don’t even believe and are simply doing what they do because it earns them money and influence?
We’ll probably never know the answer. Regardless of how you feel about these public figures, especially the ones most decent people find deplorable, the question is still relevant. It should also inform our perspective about certain public figures. If someone has a powerful incentive to keep being who they are in public, then expect them to keep doing what they’re doing. The only time they may acknowledge it is when they lay in bed at night.
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.
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.
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 verycriticalof 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 criticizeorganized religionso 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Think of a person you knew in high school that you just didn’t like. The reason why you didn’t like them isn’t important. They’re just someone you don’t care for and would prefer not to think about them in any capacity.
Now, imagine that same person won the lottery.
Suddenly, this person you seriously resent has been gifted a glut of random, unfeeling luck. They now have access to wealth, resources, and opportunities that you can only dream of.
From afar, they look happy and thrilled. Their life seems destined to be one of excitement, leisure, and fulfillment. They did nothing to deserve it. They didn’t work for it or earn it. They just got lucky.
Would that make you resent them even more? Before you answer that question, ask yourself another.
Is it even right to resent a person who just got lucky?
Most reasonable people might have a problem despising someone, just because they got lucky. It’s petty, resenting someone for their good fortune. It implies that you don’t think they deserve it.
It also implies that you think you deserve it more. There’s something inherently wrong with a system that allows someone like that to get lucky while you are stuck in your current circumstances.
I bring this up because it helps illustrate the hot-button debates surrounding privilege. It has become somewhat of a dirty word in recent years. In many discussions surrounding race, politics, religion, and gender, the topic of which group has which privileges tends to come up. These discussions can get downright ugly, especially when they’re racially charged.
Now, I’m going to be very careful with my words here. I want to make a valid point, but I don’t want it to inspire even more ugly discussions. I also don’t want to give the impression that every side of the issue is equally substantive. Some arguments are more absurd than others. That’s an unavoidable pitfall when discussing sensitive issues. That’s where you’ll get argumentative equivalent of flat-earthers.
With that context in mind, I want to try and deconstruct the rhetoric surrounding which group has privilege, what it implies, and why it matters. The concept of social privilege is pretty simple. In a diverse, multi-cultural society, like the one we’ve established over the past few centuries, certain groups have inherent advantages over others. However, not all of those advantages are the same.
If you’re a straight, cis-gendered man, you have certain advantages.
If you’re a straight, cis-gendered woman, you have certain advantages.
If you’re white in a society that’s predominantly white, you have certain advantages.
The same concept applies to disadvantages. Being a minority in most societies, regardless of development, will incur some disadvantages. If you’re black, gay, Muslim, Jewish, transgender, bisexual, or disabled in a society where the majority is none of those things, you will face challenges that others won’t. For anyone who values fairness, justice, and equality, that’s an issue.
It can be even subtler than that. If you’re born with natural beauty, you’ll have advantages as well. Like it or not, people tend to help someone who’s physically attractive. The same applies if they happen to have a special talent, such as throwing a football or playing an instrument. People without those skills are at a disadvantage, if only with respect to attention.
As a social species, humans already have an innate sense of fairness. These disparities don’t go unnoticed by both the majority and minority. Like playing a game where someone is using cheat codes, people are going to strive for greater fairness.
Some will be more aggressive than others in that pursuit. At the same time, those who have those advantages will try to maintain them. They may not even see them as advantages.
While that seems simple in the context of a game, it gets exceedingly complex when you apply it to society at large. It also gets contentious, as both historic and contemporary protests have shown.
It has even become popular to tell people to “check their privilege” at the door when entering a conversation. Even if it’s done in the spirit of fairness, it can still come off as downright resentful.
That may be understandable, to some extent. It may even be acceptable for some because achieving perfect fairness and perfect equality just isn’t realistic. There’s always going to be someone who gets lucky or is just naturally more talented or beautiful. It’s the nature of reality. It still doesn’t answer the same question I posed earlier.
Is it right to resent a person who just got lucky?
For anyone attempting to answer it, there’s probably a short and long version of that answer. It may depend on the nature of the luck involved. Someone who wins the lottery is easy to envy, but difficult to resent. If you don’t know the person, then chances are you’re not going to resent them. You’ll just be jealous of their luck.
However, the random luck of a lottery winner isn’t that different from the random luck that makes someone straight, white, Christian, and male at a certain point in history within a certain society in which they have advantages. When we’re born, we don’t have a choice in the circumstances. We simply grow, develop, and react within them along the way.
Most reasonable, decent people are in favor of righting such injustices. However, the right way to go about it is where a lot of resentment starts to emerge. Some of that is unavoidable, given how easy it is to derail an argument, but there’s another component to discussions about privilege that goes beyond lottery winners.
Whenever someone protests the privileges of any group, be they white men, affluent middle-class women, or people born with natural beauty, there’s often an angry backlash and not just from those seeking to protect their privilege. In fact, most of that backlash comes from people who fit the generalization, but are not privileged.
There are straight white men who, despite their demographics and circumstance, have no advantages whatsoever. They’re poor, destitute, and miserable. They work every bit as hard as those in minority groups, but still struggle.
Then, despite their dire circumstances, they hear rhetoric that claims they’re somehow the most privileged people in the world. Chances are, they’re going to feel resentful too.
That’s because, statistically speaking, only a handful of people who fit the stereotype of “privileged” individuals really enjoy those advantages. These are individuals in positions of power and authority, both politically and economically. Some are identifiable by name. Others are just indirectly influential, due to their wealth, status, and resources.
The vast majority of men don’t have a say in how patriarchal or egalitarian society is.
The vast majority of white people don’t have a say in how racially segregated society is.
The vast majority of women don’t have a say in how men are disadvantaged men are in divorce court, child custody, or alimony.
The vast majority of straight people don’t have a way in how the law handles issues LGBTQ discrimination.
The vast majority of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus have no say in how their religion conducts itself as an organization.
However, since there’s rarely a single, mustache-twirling villain who exists solely to oppress on certain issues, our only choice is to generalize. We’re already a tribal species, by nature. It’s depressingly easy to channel that into what we perceive as the source of an injustice.
It’s also easy to resent people who are clearly privileged and go out of their way to abuse it. Those individuals deserve that kind of resentment. Like a lottery winner who becomes an insufferable asshole because of his luck, the resentment is both understandable and justified.
The problem with resenting the privilege of entire groups is that it’s difficult to see the forest from the trees. The existence of one asshole lottery winner doesn’t mean that every lottery winner is an asshole by default. By that same token, the existence of one group of people who enjoy egregious advantages doesn’t mean everyone like them enjoys them as well.
There are all sorts of complexities and nuances that go into what gives certain people advantages over others. Sometimes, it’s objectively unfair how certain people exploit their advantages and we should all work for a more fair and just system.
However, it’s a simple matter of removing the privileges to level the playing field. It’s also not realistic to yell at people until they purposefully disadvantage themselves for the sake of others. That’s akin to demanding that lottery winners give up their winnings in the spirit of fairness. It doesn’t just defeat the purpose. It makes us the resentful assholes.
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 haveinherent 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.
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.
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.
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.
I don’t like talking about religion. I think I’ve made my opinion on organized religion and the extremists it enablesvery 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.
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.
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.