Tag Archives: religous culture

How Religion (Indirectly) Re-enforces Inequality

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I once knew a guy who worked a job he hated for an overpaid boss he’d once described as a cross between Patrick Bateman and Darth Vader. I can’t put into words how much he resented that man. To make matters worse, he was one of those bosses whose family had connections. He couldn’t get fired, let alone disciplined. Even if he did, he had a trust fund that ensured he’d never work a day in his life.

My friend shared all sorts of horror stories with me, but I often found myself asking why he stayed at that job for so long. I also asked why he didn’t try to do something about it. I’m no lawyer, but I’m fairly confident that he could’ve sued his boss and won. He never did and gave plenty of reasons, some more understandable than others.

However, one particular reason stood out to me. While I don’t remember his exact words, this is what he told me.

“I’m not concerned. I know that one day, that asshole will die and when he gets to the gates of Heaven, he won’t be able to hide anymore. He’ll go to Hell. I’ll go to Heaven. I believe God is just. No matter how bad things get in this life, the scales always balance in the next.”

Now, I wasn’t surprised by this sentiment. This particular friend of mine was very religious. He’d gone to church every Sunday. He and his pastor were on a first-name basis. He could quote bible verses the same way I could quote X-Men comics. He knew his theology and I don’t doubt it helped him endure that awful job that he somehow endured for several years.

While I respect my friend and his faith, I find the notion of taking comfort in someone’s afterlife punishment more than a little unsettling. It’s not just due to the schadenfreude inherent in that sentiment. What I find most troubling is how this common theological concept perpetuates imbalances, injustices, and inequalities, albeit indirectly.

The very notion of an afterlife, especially with respect to concepts of Hell, has plenty of troubling issues. From both a theological and non-theological standpoint, it frames everything that occurs in the current life we’re living as a prelude for the much grander life to come. Even if a view of the afterlife has no concept of Hell, it still devalues our current lives to some extent.

However, when divine justice enters the equation, as it often did for my friend, there’s a less obvious impact that has real consequences in the non-religious lives of many. I would even argue that those consequences influenced society on multiple levels at many points throughout history. The extent of those consequences are hard to gauge, but the implications are unavoidable.

To illustrate, think back to the terrible boss my friend described. Think of him as a placeholder for any rich, entitled, over-privileged class of people in history. He could be a king, a warlord, a cleric, an emperor, or just some powerful tribal leader. By any measure, this individual has more power and wealth than almost everyone else.

While that earns them many benefits, from having all the nice stuff to attracting all the best sexual partners, it also makes them a target. What exactly entitles them to have all that power and wealth? Did they earn it? Did they fight for it and win it? What do they have to do to maintain it?

The answers vary, depending on circumstance and context. Some are more responsible with wealth and power than others. However, if we’re going to grasp the bigger picture here, we have to acknowledge the general guidelines of human nature and, chief among them, is the inclination to take the path of least resistance.

Like it or not, human beings are wired to take the easiest possible path to resolve an issue. That’s especially true of difficult tasks, such as maintaining an objectively unequal status within a society. Seeing as how humans, and even other primates, have an innate sense of justice, this is an issue that the rich, wealthy, and powerful cannot avoid.

That’s where religion enters the picture. Logistically speaking, it offers some convenient justifications for an objectively unequal situation. It’s not just that the boss, cleric, king, warlord, or rich asshole inherited their status. It was divinely granted to them.

That helps solve several major problems for the rich and powerful off the back. It means those who consider themselves pious and devout can’t just rebel against those of greater wealth. Doing so would mean protesting the will of the divine. For anyone concerned about facing divine wrath, that’s a major incentive to accept the current situation. In some cases, they even celebrate it.

That kind of divine excuse has another benefit, as well. For people like my friend, who have to toil under wealthy, entitled bosses, it gives them comfort about their current lot in life. While they could go through the trouble of fighting back, that’s both laborious and risky. Historically, powerful people don’t react kindly to being challenged and they don’t always fight back with lawyers.

Religion provides them another, less exhaustive option. Instead of going through all that trouble and taking all those risks, they need only keep living their current lives. They need not worry about contesting people like my friend’s tyrannical boss. He’ll face justice after he dies. That’s not just comforting. It plays directly into our natural inclination to resist change.

The only change these people believe in.

On a larger scale, this has minor personal benefits to the devout, but major benefits to the wealthy and powerful. If the vast majority of people are convinced that oppressors will get theirs in the afterlife, they’re not going to be as inclined to protest the status quo or, in the worst-case scenario, demand change that requires a loss of wealth and power.

This is especially important for religious leaders who, unlike governments or business elites, have to keep justifying why people devote their time, labor, and money to the institution. That’s tough when religious organizations don’t pay taxes, enrich top officials, and wield significant authority on geopolitical level.

It’s considerably easy, though, if the theology in question convinces adherents that the wealth and power of the institution is divinely granted. As a result, the inequality between the average believer and the top official is justified. That’s how the deity wants it. Even if some are corrupt, and there have been many, they’ll eventually face justice in the afterlife.

It gets even easier when adherents and believers are uneducated and uninformed. My friend wasn’t stupid, but he didn’t get much of an education, which was why he got stuck in a lot of bad jobs. His story is not uncommon. In general, the less educated you are, the more religious you tend to be. On top of that, less education often means a higher chance of living and staying in poverty.

In that context, it makes sense for religion to discourage critical thinking and higher education that isn’t specifically sanctioned by their institutions. If people aren’t educated, then they’re not just ill-equipped to question authority. They’ll remain in poverty and so too will their children, who are more likely to adopt their parents’ piety.

It’s a self-reinforcing cycle. People are born into their current lot. They either appreciate or resent it. Religion helps provide justification for it, however good or bad it might be. It gives them an excuse to accept it and pass it onto the next generation. Any inequality or injustice within that system remains in place and can even widen under the right circumstances.

Now, this is the point where I try to temper my rhetoric because I know the mechanisms I just described seem cynical. It gives the impression that every religious figure throughout history was just some greedy schemer who knew they were lying to gullible people and taking advantage of their faith to benefit themselves. I want to make clear that this is not the message I’m trying to send.

Are there religious and non-religious people who are that corrupt? There most certainly are. Some are more egregious than others. Some are historically egregious. I believe that most people, even those at the top of the hierarchy, are sincere in their piety. They don’t see their religion as a mechanism for propagating inequality and injustice. That’s why I see this impact as indirect.

Even if all organized religion disappeared tomorrow, I don’t doubt for a second that the wealthy and the powerful would find some other way to protect their status. For now, and for a good chunk of history, religion has been a powerful tool to justify and maintain this immense disparity.

Relying on the afterlife is convenient, but it requires assumptions that no human being can know for certain. Nobody truly knows what happens, if anything, after we die. We only know that no matter how rich or wealthy you are in life, death still affects you all the same. It is, in many respects, the ultimate equalizer.

In many respects, that’s the most valuable asset that the religious and the wealthy have going for them. The fact that nobody truly knows means that nobody can prove them wrong when they say their power is divinely protected. It also means that people like my friend can’t be proven wrong when they take comfort in the idea of his boss getting divine justice at some point. The result is still the same.

People on both ends of the inequality spectrum have an excuse to not change the situation. While there are some circumstance that are unalterable due to forces beyond anyone’s control, there are certainly some that can and should be confronted. As long as people find excuses in divine forces that cannot be confirmed, the inequality will only continue.

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Filed under Current Events, extremism, human nature, philosophy, psychology, religion

Why Do Religious People Wear Seat Belts?

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What happens when you die? This question and how people go about answering it is the basis for nearly every major religion in existence. Whether there’s a promise of Heaven, Hell, or reincarnation, it’s fundamental to many religious doctrines. This is especially true of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, which make up a sizable portion of the global population.

Given these doctrines and their emphasis on life after death, why do adherents of those faiths wear seat belts? That may sound like an inane question, but it has profound implications.

I ask that question because I grew up in an area where there were a lot of churches, a couple mosques, and even a few synagogues. It wasn’t uncommon to see traffic jams around those places, especially during holidays. From what I could tell, though, the people leaving those places were wearing seat belts. That, in and of itself, sends mixed messages.

While Judaism is somewhat vague about the afterlife, it does frequently reference a soul that exists beyond the body. Christianity and Islam are a lot more overt, having many references to Heaven for the holy and Hell for the wicked. I’ve noted before how this concept falls apart when you apply human perspectives to the mix, but these are still critical tenants in the eyes of adherents.

Why then, under those beliefs, would they fear or avoid death? Why would they even mourn loved ones who die? Under the tenants of their religion, their bodies are just gone. Their souls still live on. They’re either lying in wait for the end-times or on their way to Heaven, Hell, or some other version of the afterlife.

It’s a strange disconnect that doesn’t mesh with the emotions we feel when someone we love dies. I’ve come to know those emotions painfully well this past year. I’ve had to attend two funerals, one of which was for my grandmother and I was very close to her. When she passed, I felt that loss on a deeply personal level.

At the same time, there were others in my own family who experienced that same loss, but still maintained a deep devotion to their faith. There were even times when we were encouraged to celebrate their passing because they had ascended to a better place and were reunited with other loved ones.

This is supposed to provide comfort to those still in pain. I can attest to just how powerful comfort can be to someone who has just lost somebody they loved. Even with that comfort, though, I can vividly recall many family members still mourning. Even if they believed that someone they loved was in a better place, they still felt sad.

On a fundamental level, this seems contradictory. You’re feeling sad because someone you love is gone, but at the same time, you’re being told they’re not gone. On top of that, they’ve moved onto a better place that is free of suffering. For someone like my grandmother, who endured plenty of that at the end of her life, this should be a good thing.

It doesn’t stop the sadness, though. We still feel the pain of loss, even when a deeply-held religious doctrine tells us otherwise. There’s a lot to like about the idea that someone we love is no longer suffering and is now enjoying eternal bliss in a heavenly paradise. Even so, it still hurts and we still mourn.

This brings me back to seat belts and why religious adherents wear them. It’s objectively true that not wearing a seat belt is dangerous. If you don’t wear one and get in an accident, then your chances of suffering a fatal injury are much higher. If you’re a devout believer, though, why is that a bad thing?

I’m not being cynical here. It’s an honest question. Why make a concerted effort to survive in a world that can kill you in so many ways? Why go to a doctor whenever you get sick? Why seek treatment when you’re diagnosed with an illness that has the potential to kill you? Ideally, wouldn’t you just seek to alleviate the discomfort, but not whatever ailment is killing you?

If this life is just a precursor to another life, then efforts to prolong it don’t make sense. In fact, efforts to save innocent people don’t even make sense in that context because saving them means keeping them in a world that will make them suffer at some point. Whether it’s a stubbed toe or crippling poverty, preserving life is just increasing their opportunities for suffering.

The messages get even more mixed when major religious leaders go to such lengths to protect themselves. Why did Osama Bin Laden bother hiding for so long if he was that confident he’d go to paradise when he died? Why does the Pope have such intense security wherever he goes? People with this level of faith should be the most confident that they’re going somewhere better when they die.

To some extent, we can attribute this to our built-in survival instinct. One of the most fundamental drives of any living thing, be it a human or an amoeba, is to survive. Much like our sex drive, which religion also attempts to subvert, this is difficult to turn off. More than a few preachers, rabbis, and mullahs have encouraged people to fight this instinct with every fiber of their being.

However, they rarely encourage those same people to avoid wearing seat belts. You probably won’t find many holy men who urge their adherents to never go to the doctor or go out of their way to eat expired meat. Even if our survival instinct is naturally stronger than our sex drive, the implications are unavoidable. They’re asking people to put off escaping a flawed, pain-filled world.

Some of those people, whose sincerity I don’t doubt for a second, will claim that they have family and loved ones to take care of. This is especially powerful with parents, who will do anything and everything to protect their children. Despite that, their efforts still convey incompatible ideas.

A believer wants to stay alive in this chaotic world for the sake of their loved ones, but also believes that those same loved ones move onto a better place after they die, assuming they’ve lived a virtuous life. That assumption gets harder over time, though, because the longer someone lives, the more opportunities they’ll have to descend into sin and depravity.

Most reasonable people consider the death of innocent children to be a truly awful tragedy. The parents of those children are likely to feel immense pain on a level that few can comprehend. At the same time, the likelihood that a child is innocent is far greater than that of someone who has lived much longer. By default, they would be the most likely to get into Heaven.

Even so, people still mourn. They still cry, lament, and suffer the loss of innocent life. Does this mean that they know on some level that there is no afterlife? I wouldn’t go that far. It’s impossible to know what goes through the mind of a believer, especially after they’ve endured the death of a loved one.

For most adherents of religion, which include many members of my family, I doubt these sorts of implications have much impact. Most peoples’ faith is fairly moderate in terms of how they contextualize it with their existence. They can draw clear lines between the real world and the spiritual world.

It’s the minority of zealots, though, for which the issue of life, death, and seat belts becomes a logistical and theological problem. If a particular religion is going to be built around life after death, then how can it justify encouraging adherents to wear seat belts and avoid mortal danger?

In the grand scheme of things, they’re gambling with their immortal souls. The longer they live, the more likely they’ll be to deviate from the prescribed holy path. In that context, why would suicide be discouraged? Even if suicide is considered a mortal sin, why would avoiding accidents or fatal diseases be immoral? Why would anyone that devout feel any ounce of sorrow when someone they love dies?

I don’t expect these questions and their various implications to undercut anyone’s faith. I suspect most will take the Rick Sanchez approach to this issue, which is to not think about it. Regardless of what people may or may not believe, we still mourn the loved ones we lose. We still live our lives with the intention of surviving another day.

In that effort, it makes perfect sense for us to wear a seat belt. The fact that the doctrines of several major religions fundamentally complicate that inherently logical recourse is both telling and distressing. They can shame us for feeling horny, but they cannot stop us from feeling sorrow or hesitation in the face of death. Even the power of faith has its limits and, in this context, that’s not a bad thing.

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Religious Dogma, Sexual Repression, And How They Foster (Horrendous) Abuse

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By now, most people have heard the news surrounding the latest round of scandals involving the Catholic Church. Once again, it involves the systematic abuse of children, the elaborate efforts to cover it up, and the religious dogma that is used to protect such behavior. It’s certainly not the first time the Catholic Church has been embroiled in such a scandal, but that doesn’t make it any less distressing.

There’s a lot I can say about the Catholic Church and how badly they’ve handled this issue. There’s even more I can say about how this famous institution’s policies have caused genuine harm in societies that remain devoted to Catholic traditions. However, I would only be repeating what others have already pointed out and I’d rather not do that.

Some have already done it better than I ever will.

For me, personally, these scandals cut deep because I have family who identify as devout Catholics. They see these same scandals too and I can confirm that it hurts them on a personal level. Whenever someone brings it up, they don’t make excuses. They despise those priests for what they did and those who covered it up. It doesn’t shake their faith, though. To some extent, I admire that.

At the same time, however, I often wonder whether they see the same flaws in that dogmatic theology that I see. I try not to bring it up with family members, out of respect for their faith. I still believe that even they are bothered by those flaws. When children are being sexually abused, how could it not?

There are a lot of factors in play with this latest scandal, from the nature of religious dogma to the corruption of powerful institutions. The one that few want to confront, though, involves the cumulative impact of sexual repression with rigid theology.

There’s no way around it. Religious dogma and sexual repression often go together. The Catholic Church is hardly the only institution that encourages strict repression of sexual behavior. Anyone living in Saudi Arabia or Iran can attest to that. With a billion adherents and nearly 2,000 years of history, though, the Catholic Church is one of the largest and most vocal proponents of this dogma.

The reasons for that are many and I don’t want to get into all the issues surrounding its effects. Instead, I want to focus solely on the celibacy of the priests. That practice represents a true extreme of sexual repression. It’s one thing to champion monogamy to the point of murdering adulterers. It’s quite another to have an entire class of people who have to completely repress their basic urges.

It’s not like trying to quit smoking, which is hard enough. This involves denying a basic, fundamental drive that is hardwired into people at birth. Trying to turn that off is like trying make sugar taste bad. It goes against fundamental biological wiring. The idea that someone can repress those force without incurring psychological damage is flawed, at best.

To get an idea of why, think about a time when you were really hungry. Maybe you were sick for a while, trapped on a long road trip, or went on a crash diet. That feeling of intense hunger is not something you can turn off. It’s uncomfortable for a reason. Your body isn’t getting something it’s been hardwired to seek. It’s going to make you feel uncomfortable until you do something about it.

The human sex drive is not like hunger, but it’s similar in that it’s a biological drive. For every living thing, be it a human or an insect, sustenance and reproduction are the two most basic drives. It is possible to survive without reproducing, but the fundamental forces of nature are going to push you to try.

When you push back too hard, it’s like trying to patch a faulty dam with scotch tape and chewing gum. From a psychological standpoint, your brain and your body are deprived. As a result, it’s going to do whatever it can to alleviate this deprivation.

It doesn’t matter if that act is extreme. It doesn’t matter if it’s illogical, illegal, or outright immoral. Your brain and your body will find a way to justify it if it ends the deprivation. For most, it’s just a never-ending battle that requires an individual to fill that missing need with something, which in this case is religious fervor.

It’s debatable as to how much this fills that fundamental need, but a lot of that assumes that celibate priests don’t do something in their private time to relieve the tension. Historically speaking, many in the Catholic Church and other powerful institutions were pretty blatant about how they circumvented the issues of celibacy.

Some priests had lovers on the side. Some employed prostitutes and concubines, but still claimed to be “celibate” because they weren’t married. More often than not, priests were only celibate in the most technical sense and the church often tolerated this. Even St. Thomas Aquinas, a man not known for liberal attitudes, even acknowledged the futility of suppressing the human sex drive when he said this about prostitution.

“If prostitution were to be suppressed, careless lusts would overthrow society.”

For a select few, though, that effort to maintain celibacy manifests in a truly horrific way. I think it’s safe to conclude that the priests who abused these children were not mentally well. Many might have been unwell before they entered the priesthood, but celibacy certainly didn’t help. Repression, especially the kind that’s taboo to even talk about, tends to make things worse.

That’s how people end up with mentalities that are poorly equipped to handle basic urges. Instead of a healthy expression of sexual desire, someone may react with anger or self-hate. When people are angry and hateful, they tend to take it out on someone. It’s not always sexual, but when someone has all their sexual desires pent up over the years, sometimes it seeps in.

That’s how simple desire becomes disturbing fetishes, including those that harm children. That’s how unthinkable behaviors are rationalized. When religious dogma tells someone they face divine retribution for feeling these intrinsic desires, that’s causes serious distress and efforts to mitigate it can make for some pretty unholy behaviors

While it’s hard to study the sex lives of celibate priests, the occurrence of these scandals along with the historical documentation of other lurid scandals reveal plenty about the effects of celibacy. When there’s no outlet for sexual expression, other emotions get caught up in the efforts to cope with that fundamental drive. Add religiously-motivated guilt to the mix and the impact only compounds over time.

None of this is an excuse for what those priests did to these children. They still committed an atrocity and no amount of divine excuses can mitigate the suffering of the victims. The Vatican will do what it has to do in order to maintain its power and influence. However, the reconsideration of extreme practices celibacy is unlikely.

Some media figures will mention it, but never to the point of encouraging serious reforms. That’s a dirty word in both the Catholic Church and any other religious institution. Historically speaking, the rate at which major religion institutions undergo sweeping reforms is nothing short of glacial.

I sincerely hope this latest scandal gives those in the Vatican serious pause, but I have a feeling that even this won’t do it. Religious dogma is notoriously uncompromising. People, especially within powerful institutions, make any excuse to avoid changing it. While the Vatican has made some strides, the fundamental issue remains. As long as basic human nature is suppressed, more will suffer and not in a holy sort of way.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, human nature, psychology, religion, sex in society, sexuality

How To Resolve The “Religious Freedom” Debate

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Every now and then, a tragic story comes along involving an innocent child who needlessly dies because their parents refused to give them medical treatment due to their religious doctrine. Whether you’re deeply religious or overtly atheist, these stories are heart-wrenching. The fact they occur is a travesty.

Just last year, a two-year-old girl died in Pennsylvania because that very reason. Consequently, her parents were charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. They were later convicted and subsequently lost custody of their other children.

Those are the least surprising details of the story. They aren’t the first parents to get charged with a crime for refusing to provide medical treatment to their children on religious grounds. According to a study by Pediatrics, 140 children died of treatable medical conditions from 1975 to 1995. You also don’t have to look far to find some pretty tragic stories of children needlessly suffering because of their parents’ inaction.

I bring up these distressing, disheartening facts because there’s one critical detail to stories like those of the girl in Pennsylvania. While the parents of that girl were convicted, the church they attended, the Faith Tabernacle, was not held liable. Never mind that the church’s tenants were what told them to pray harder rather than take their child to a hospital. They incurred no responsibility for that girl’s death.

They’re not the only church that holds those beliefs, either. According to ChildrensHealthCare.org, there are nearly two dozen churches whose tenants discourage or prohibit seeking medical treatment. Moreover, there are laws in certain parts of the United States that actually protect these organizations from liability. Much of it is done in the name of “religious freedom.”

That’s a term I’m sure most with access to a news feed have heard recently. In fact, they’re probably been hearing it a lot more frequently lately, albeit not in a way that links directly to dead children. The indirect link is still there and it’s the key to unlocking the controversy and the resolution to the issue.

Now, I put “religious freedom” in quotes because it’s another one of those vague terms that can be construed to mean anything to fit a particular situation. More often than not, it’s an excuse to argue for favorable or preferential treatment of an individual or group.

That, in and of itself, isn’t too remarkable. People are going to argue for favorable treatment with or without religion. Where “religious freedom” sets itself apart are the legal protections it seeks. Those parents of that dead little girl used religious freedom to justify their behavior.

That is, admittedly, an extreme example and one that rarely makes the news. These days, the most common manifestation of “religious freedom” controversies involve people using it to justify denying services to LGBT individuals, be it a marriage license or a wedding cake. It was also part of a major decision by Supreme Court involving a cake shop that refused service to a gay couple.

Those who champion “religious freedom” cheered the ruling and the precedent it set. This, along with the Hobby Lobby ruling in 2014, establishes that someone can use sincerely held religious beliefs to obtain exemptions from mandates prescribed by law. It seems the effort in securing this “freedom” is gaining momentum and winning battles in the courtroom.

Again, I put that word in quotes for a reason and one I hope will help craft an appropriate standard for what constitutes actual freedom and what constitutes contrived excuses. That is, in essence, what the “religious freedom” battles are seeking. They’re pursuing legally-protected excuses for their theology and its associated behaviors.

I can understand, to a limited extent, why there would need to be some legal protections for religious groups and not just for the purposes of anti-discrimination efforts. We need to have some resource for situations where someone is coerced into doing something that goes against their religion. Strapping someone to a chair and forcing them to eat shellfish will do unique distress to a Jewish person than it will for others.

That being said, it’s somewhat telling that the organizations fighting hardest for “religious freedom” also happen to be organizations that have preached hatred and misinformation on the LGBT community for years. Some of these organizations are designated as hate groups and their sentiment on LGBT issues is rarely subtle.

To them, the free exercise of their religion, as articulated in the first amendment, means the ability to treat certain people, notably LGBT individuals, a particular way. Some will even take it farther than that, seeking the right to craft their entire society around their theology, regardless of what secular law states.

It’s an effort not limited to one religion or denomination, either. There are other major religions with theology that goes beyond refusing service to LGBT individuals and crafting a society where their adherents are their primary authority. Therein lies the greatest flaw in the whole “religious freedom” debate.

When put into practice, the actual expression is less about the exercise of religion and more about the treatment of minorities. Those same Christian bakers may fight for their right to refuse service to a gay couple, but would they fight for the right of a Muslim cab driver to refuse customers with alochol? Well, when the courts ruled against that particular religious expression, there was no major outrage.

That’s the first and most critcial step to assessing the merits of “religious freedom” and the agendas behind them. If you reverse the majority/minority dynamics, is it applied equally? If the majority is the only one that benefits, then it’s not really freedom. It’s an overly elaborate excuse with religion as a cover.

There’s an even easier standard to use if majority/minority dynamics are too complex. This one goes back to the tragic stories about parents refusing life-saving medical treatment for their children. It can be articulated with a simple set of questions.

Could a form of religious expression/teaching be used to justify conduct that leads to the death of a child?

If yes, then it warrants no legal protections of any kind.

If no, then it constitutes free expression.

It’s a fairly simple standard, one that does not add a religious context to freedom and expression. There is freedom. There is expression. Sometimes it’s religious. Sometimes it’s not. Whether it’s just going to church on a Sunday or not eating certain foods, it’s just another form of freedom and freedom is a beautiful thing.

When it’s used to justify the deaths of children and discriminating against minorities, it’s not freedom. It’s just bullying looking for legal protection. I’m completely in favor of people practicing their religion as they see fit or no religion at all. However, there are standards for a civilized society and those standards cannot and should not accommodate excuses for dead children.

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Why You Can’t Believe In Eternal Hell, Be Anti-Abortion, And Be Morally Consistent

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Brace yourself because I’m about to talk about two topics that make people very uncomfortable. One is abortion, a heated political topic that is poised to get even more heated, due to recent political upheavals. The other is Hell, a distressing theological issue that makes us dwell/lament on our impending death. If that weren’t volatile enough, I’m going to tie both topics together.

Rest assured, I’m not doing this to combine a couple of controversial issues for dramatic effect. While I loathe talking about issues like abortion, I don’t avoid it when it reveals something important about a particular movement or can demonstrate important lessons about society.

When it comes to Hell, a topic that heats up any debate between believers and non-believers, the conversations are just as difficult. I still feel they’re worth having. This one, in particular, counts as one of them because there are certain implications that warrant a more nuanced discussion.

It’s no secret that those who are vehemently anti-abortion also happen to be religious. Anti-abortion protesters even cite bible passages to justify their position. Now, I can understand and even accept certain ethical aspects of the pro-life position. However, when religion enters the debate, that’s where some real disconnects emerge.

That’s because when those factors enter the pro-life equation, both the morality and the math break down. To understand why, it’s important to focus on an aspect of the abortion debate that the late, great George Carlin famously emphasized. He sought consistency in the anti-abortion debate and noted its rarity in the most hilarious way possible.

Consistency is important if your argument is going to have merit. Even with emotionally-charged topics like abortion, consistency is key to ensuring that an argument has some semblance of logic. Since logic and faith tend to conflict, especially in matters of science, bringing religion into the mix can easily derail that consistency.

This is where the issue of Hell enters the picture. It’s a very unpleasant, but very critical concept to certain religions, namely Christianity and Islam. It’s central to their theology, which emphasizes punishment for the sinful. It’s a very morbid, but very relevant concept because everybody dies and nobody knows for sure what happens afterwards, if anything.

In the abortion debate, Hell matters for the anti-abortion side because their most frequent refrain is that abortion is murder. Having an abortion is the taking of a human life and murder is an egregious sin. It’s one of the few sins that’s enshrined in both secular law and the 10 Commandments.

By holding that position, though, it raises an important implication for both the consistency of the anti-abortion position and the theology used to justify it.

If abortion really does take a life, then what happens to that life? Does it go to Heaven or Hell?

That’s a critical question to answer, but it’s here where both the consistency and the moral underpinnings of the anti-abortion debate break down. In fact, it doesn’t even matter which way the question is answered. It still has critical implications that make an anti-abortion stance for religious reasons untenable.

To understand why, we need to look at the possible answers to the question and examine the bigger picture. Say, for instance, that you believe the deity you worship saves the souls of aborted fetuses. They all get to go to Heaven because sending unborn children to Hell just doesn’t make sense for a loving God.

By that logic, though, wouldn’t abortion actually be the best thing a woman could do for her unborn child? If, by aborting a pregnancy, she guarantees that her child goes to Heaven, wouldn’t that be the greatest act of love a mother could give?

In that moral framework, any woman who gives birth is basically gambling with their child’s soul. By bringing them into a sinful world, they put them in a position to live a life that will eventually send them to Hell. It doesn’t matter if that chance is remote. It doesn’t even matter if the deity reserves Hell for the worst of the worst. Any child born still has a non-zero chance of damnation.

In that context, being anti-abortion is the worst position to take for someone who believes that their deity sends aborted fetuses to Heaven. If anything, they would have to be in favor of abortion for every pregnancy, planned or unplanned, because it means more souls in Heaven and fewer in Hell.

The implications are just as distressing if you answer the question the other way. If your deity sends aborted fetuses to Hell, then logic follows that this deity cannot be just or loving. A fetus, by default, has no ability to even contemplate sin, let alone commit it. Sending it to Hell implies that sin, itself, is an empty concept.

It also undercuts key aspects of Judeo-Christian theology, which says that someone must sin to warrant damnation. Holding both a fetus and a young child with a limited capacity to understand such concepts is untenable. Keep in mind, Hell is supposed to be full of torture and suffering. What kind of deity puts a child through that?

Even if the deity knows which fetus or small child is destined to sin and punishes them accordingly, that still renders the anti-abortion position pointless. If the deity already knows which life is damned, then why does it matter whether a woman opts to have an abortion? If that has already been determined, then abortion has no religious implications whatsoever.

Whatever the case, the very concept of Hell creates an illogical loop that is incapable of consistency. Even if you grant the most generous assumptions of a religious argument, it still falls apart as soon as you try to put it into an ethical framework.

While the very concept of Hell is subject to all sorts of moral complexities, it effectively supercedes those complexities in the abortion debate. Either Hell is full of innocent aborted souls or is devoid of them. In both cases, it reveals more about the deity and the adherents of a religion than it does the actual issue.

None of this is to say that those who make anti-abortion arguments on the basis of faith aren’t sincere. I don’t doubt for a second that they are. They genuinely believe that abortion is immoral and constitutes murder. However, when it comes to making a moral argument, consistency matters. Without it, the arguments are entirely arbitrary and there’s no winning that debate.

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How The Concept Of Boredom Subverts The Concept Of Hell (And Heaven)

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When we’re kids, we tend to exaggerate how tortuous a situation is. To us, the first day of school, a dentist appointment, or a 10-hour road trip in a car with a broken radio is its own circle of hell. As adults, we exaggerate too. There are times when being stuck in traffic or in a house with poor wi-fi is considered hell. Sure, there’s no fire and brimstone, but that doesn’t make the experience any less hellish.

The takeaway from that kind of exaggeration is that our concept of torture tends to be exceedingly relative. It’s one thing to be in constant pain, which is torture at its most pure. It’s quite another when it strains our psyche, our sanity, and our willingness to endure it.

I highlight this disparity because it’s important to consider in any discussions about Hell. By that, I don’t just mean the feelings we have when we’re sick, hung over, or working overtime on a weekend. I’m referring to the actual religious, philosophical, and literal concept of Hell that fuel our worst nightmares.

I get that this is not a very sexy topic. You could argue that it’s the least sexy topic anyone could discuss and probably win. However, there’s a reason why I’m bringing it up. It has less to do with religious connotations and more to do with the larger implications. To some extent, it may even alleviate some of those distressing sentiments surrounding hell.

That might be hoping for too much because few issues make people more uncomfortable than Hell. Even among the deeply devout, the idea that there’s this terrible place full of unending, unparalleled torture that people consciously experience second after second for eons on end is extremely distressing. By definition, it’s the ultimate form of torture that nobody can hope to escape, resist, or endure.

It’s for that very reason that a literal Hell is often seen as a problem among atheists and theists alike. The very idea of eternal torture doesn’t just clash with the idea of a loving deity. It also conflicts with every notion of justice. We are, after all, finite beings living in a finite world. How can any finite person do anything to warrant infinite torture?

The debate over the merits of infinite punishment for finite sins is one of those theological and ethical debates that has been going on for centuries. I’m not smart enough or spiritual enough to resolve it so I’m not going to try. Instead, I want to highlight a particular detail about the concept of hell and it’s a concept I have discussed more than most theologians.

That concept is boredom, a force that may be more powerful than any fiery sermon about hell. It has already led some to murder and I’ve argued that it could be a plague of the future. In contemplating and studying the power of boredom, though, I’ve noticed that it has a very peculiar effect when applied to the concept of Hell.

Simply put, boredom renders Hell, even the eternal variety, utterly ineffective and ultimately meaningless. That’s not to say eternal torture, or torture of that extent, is justified ethically. My point is that when you inject boredom into the equations of Hell, then all the tenants surrounding it break down.

To illustrate this point, think back to an experience in your life that you considered tortuous. Maybe it was an injury. Maybe it was a relationship. Maybe it was just a family reunion that you couldn’t wait to end. However bad it was, physically or mentally, there’s usually a point where you become numb to it.

It’s not just a function of our brains, which has actual mechanisms for adapting and adjusting to all sorts of torment. It’s a product of perception itself. Experience something so often for so long and it suddenly doesn’t become the aberration. It becomes the norm. When you think about the implications of that, then the concept of Hell breaks down.

Take, for instance, your current state of being. Assuming you’re not sick or in any significant discomfort, you don’t consider this state as painful. From your perspective, it’s a normal state of being and one with which you’ve become familiar over the course of your life.

Now, imagine for a moment, that everyone in the world sees your state and is aghast. They’re horrified that anyone could live, like you do. They see your current state as pure torture, one that they wouldn’t wish on anyone. You’re understandably confused, but can only do so much to grasp it because from your point of view, your condition is normal.

In a less theatrical example, consider those who live in what we might classify as extreme poverty. According to the World Bank, about 10.7 percent of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty. To these people, imagine what their concept of normal is. Torture to them is not being able to eat for days on end whereas torture for some is having to eat at McDonald’s five nights a week.

When it comes to suffering, eternal or otherwise, perception matters. You could argue it’s the only thing that matters. Someone who grew up rich and affluent may consider living in a mid-level apartment in Detroit torture whereas someone who grew up poor might see it as an upgrade. It all depends on how someone’s sense of normal develops.

When you add eternity to the mix, then things get somewhat paradoxical and boredom is at the heart of it. Imagine, if you can, that first moment when a hapless soul is condemned to Hell. Moments after they die, they descend into that horrible lake of fire that many religious texts and famous poets describe with such vivid detail.

Naturally, it’s torturous, plain and simple. Whatever kind of torment Hell offers, be it constant burning or being forced to watch “The Emoji Movie” for all eternity, is exceedingly painful to that poor soul. There’s no getting around that.

However, after a good long while though, such torment loses its impact. Remember, we’re dealing with eternity here. Time tends to obscure our frame of reference. It doesn’t matter how long we lived or how well we remember that life. After enough time, that whole experience will become a minor blip.

That’s a critical reference point because everything we think we know about pain, pleasure, and boredom are derived from those life experiences. Given that those experiences are finite while hell is infinite, it’s literally only a matter of time before Hell ceases to become a place of torment and just becomes our sense of normal.

Beyond normal, though, even the extremes of Hell that holy texts and poets describe lose their luster once boredom enters the picture. Do anything long enough and often enough and chances are, it’ll get boring to some extent. Why else would there be so many kinks and fetishes surrounding sex?

It’s true. Even I, an aspiring erotica/romance writer, don’t deny that sex can become boring. If something as inherently pleasurable as sex can become boring, then anything as pleasurable or painful could become boring as well. Given enough time, repetition, and inanity and it’s inevitable. Add eternity to the mix and, invariably, everything becomes boring.

It doesn’t matter if you’re burning in a lake of fire for trillions upon trillions of years. Eventually, it becomes so mundane that it ceases to become torture. At that point, Hell isn’t even a punishment anymore and it completely loses its purpose.

There are some forms of Hell that try to work around this. In the Fox TV show, “Lucifer,” the torment in hell technically isn’t eternal. In the show, Hell is a domain in which the damned are forced to relive the worst parts of their life over and over again. Even Lucifer himself endured that in one episode.

This isn’t eternal, though, because from the perspective of those being tortured, it isn’t an eternity. From their point of view, it’s just one really bad day. It doesn’t matter if the loop goes on for a trillion years. From their perspective, it’s still one day. If anything, the only one really suffering is Marcus “Cain” Pierce, who actually seeks death because, like Vandal Savage, an immortal life becomes unbearably boring after a few centuries.

That’s not just an irony. It highlights the underlying problem of applying eternity alongside boredom. After a certain amount of time, any experience, be it torture or euphoria, is going to lose its effect once boredom takes hold. In that sense, even Heaven loses its appeal because like pain, pleasure is not immune to the corrosive effects of boredom.

Now, some theologically minded people might still argue that an all-powerful deity would find some way to ensure boredom doesn’t undermine the punishment of Hell or the ecstasy of Heaven. However, doing so would require a total subversion of our mortal perceptions, which would in turn undermine the very experiences that are used to justify sending us to Heaven or Hell in the first place.

The fact that those perceptions are what we use to understand these places is the biggest flaw in the concept. Even an evil, vindictive deity would have to be exceedingly indifferent to standards of judgment and justice to even organize such a scheme.

The fact that so few holy texts or visions of Hell reference the power of boredom is a sign that there’s a disconnect between how the infinite effects the finite. It might also explain why visions of it have to be so terrifying to begin with. It even explains why Heaven has to be so appeal. In the context of eternity, the experience loses purpose eventually.

To some extent, we can take comfort in the idea that no matter how horrible Hell may be, if it even exists, boredom will eventually undermine those horrors. Granted, that means the pleasures of Heaven will be subject to the same effect, but it all evens out in the long run. Given enough time, we’re all subject to the same fate. It may seem grimly nihilistic for some, but I also think it’s comforting in how it binds us.

It also proves that, however powerful a deity may be, even the holiest of power pales in comparison to the might of boredom. Like erosion and entropy, boredom is the experience that overpowers us all eventually.

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Sex Cults: The Kinky (And Often Dark) Side Of Religion

Certain things don’t go well together, but still find a way to be potent, albeit for all the wrong reasons. I’m not just talking about people who dip their french fries in mayonnaise or banana peppers on pizza either. Certain combinations are just uniquely powerful and not always for the right reasons.

That brings me to religion, a topic I try to avoid like a rash on my scrotum. While I have written about religion and how it affects our sex lives before, I generally don’t like to bring it up on this blog. In my experience, few things kill the mood quicker than discussions about religion. It might as well be the antithesis of every Barry White.

I also feel compelled to point out that I have some deeply religious friends and family members. While I may not share their theology, I go out of my way to respect their beliefs. I don’t try to debate them or de-convert them. They have every right to believe what they believe with all their hearts and souls.

With those disclaimers out of the way, let’s talk about sex cults. I hope I have your attention now because this is one of those potent combinations I mentioned. More often than not, religion and sex are constantly at odds. For some, achieving orgasm and achieving spiritual enlightenment are the same thing. One just requires fewer tissues.

There seems to be a never-ending battle to temper, mitigate, or manage certain sexual desires in the name of religious zeal, often resulting in major taboos. That’s understandable in that sexuality is one of the things that influences the lives of every person on this planet, regardless of language, location, race, or attitude. It’s like a giant mountain. It can’t be circumvented. It can only be navigated.

Sex cults, on the other hand, do more than just navigate. They don’t just try to manage the sexual proclivities of its adherents either. In essence, they attempt to channel sexuality into forging stronger, more faithful adherents. Since people have sexuality hardwired into them at birth, you could argue they work smarter rather than harder.

In theory, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Not every sex cult needs to micromanage how its adherents use their genitals. Some are outright gleeful about sex. However, there are many that take it to unhealthy and unsexy extremes, which undermines the mood for everyone except the cult leader.

Speaking of which, one of the most common themes in a sex cult revolves around the leader, specifically with respect to how their genitals are somehow more holy than everyone else’s. This is how men like David Koresh and Warren Jeffs manage to convince dozens of pious women to do their religious duty, which requires them to make their bodies accessible to the cult leader in whatever holy or unholy way he sees fit.

That’s not to say there haven’t been female cult leaders. There have and yes, they can be every bit as perverse as the men. At the core of any sex cult, manipulation of sexuality is usually a secondary goal, at least officially. No successful religion, or any organized social movement, succeeds by being that transparent from the beginning.

Most cult leaders, male or female, won’t say outright that the entire basis of their cult is built around exploiting our most basic desires. They may not even believe it themselves. In fact, I would argue that most people, aside from admitted frauds, that they sincerely believe that they’re not just exploiting peoples’ spiritual sensibilities so they can more easily get sex from adherents.

In their own minds, those in a sex cult may be convinced that what they’re doing is spiritual and holy. Even if it is something as basic as an orgasm, they’ve ascribed some sort of spiritual significance to it. As an erotica/romance writer, I can kind of understand that.

There’s power in that kind of feeling, especially in cultures where it’s so easy to induce shame in others for simply having sexual feelings. I’ve mentioned before how sexual repression can really mess with someone’s psyche and not just with respect to their sex life. Building a cult around this powerful feeling that so few of us can escape isn’t just cunning. It’s distressingly practical.

There are a whole lot of factors that go into creating a cult, but most of them come back to control. Most religion, especially the successful and sincere ones, only go so far with control. When properly done, it can actually be beneficial to society. Cults, especially those of the sexual variety, take it ten steps further.

A sex cult won’t just try to control the when, how, and why you have sex. It won’t just try control how you feel about sex. It will actively shape, re-shape, and warp, if necessary, your entire perceptions about sex, intimacy, and everything in between. Again, it won’t do this directly. It’ll usually hide behind a vast excuse bank of morality, piety, and peer pressure.

More often than not, a sex cult will make you depend on the cult to get the release that your caveman brain still craves. I’m not just talking about the orgasm either. A sex cult will also try to provide the sense of intimacy, love, and community that most people get without sacrificing an animal or a piece of your penis.

It’s usually at that point where it’s hard to tell the difference between piety and subversion. Once people get locked into a cult that gives them a strict, but clear structure for how they get their sex, and all the sweet extras that come with it, they’re effectively locked in. Some may argue that they’re trapped, but I don’t suspect that most adherents will see it that way.

In addition to being very horny, we humans are a very social species. We form groups, tribes, and fan clubs with the same ease that a lion mauls a wounded zebra. Whether it’s a religion, erotica/romance novels, or Taylor Swift music, we’ll form a group about it and pursue it with religious fervor. In that sense, a sex cult isn’t doing anything magical. It’s just taking our own biology and pushing it to an extreme.

Now, I don’t bring up sex cults to warn people about them. I’m also not trying to point out the signs that the charismatic preacher who claims salvation comes through his penis might be a cult leader. Like I said before, most religion is fairly harmless and even beneficial to society. Sex cults, like any other cult, just hijacks a basic, yet powerful part of our being and exploits it.

It’s nefarious, but also fascinating. I built the entire premise of one of my novels around it, namely “The Final Communion.” In that novel, a young woman named Grace Maria Goodwin navigates a sex-fueled ritual that her deeply-religious community uses to control its adherents. Many of the themes I incorporated into this story come from my fascination with sex cults.

I’ve thought, at times, about expanding on novels like “The Final Communion.” I might not be able to develop a full-fledged sequel for Grace’s story, but I think there are untapped stories surrounding sex cults that are either too controversial or too distressing to contemplate.

It’s because they’re distressing, though, that we shouldn’t ignore it. So long as sex is such a powerful driving force in our lives, cults and even organized religion will continue to use it to exploit people. Religion, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing, but when it starts to undermine our sex lives, then we should be concerned.

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