Monday, February 11, 2013

Let's talk, Ok?

I want to tell you a few things, just you and me.  (and, yeah anybody else who tunes in, but let's pretend, ok?)

I get frustrated when people misconstrue what I write.  I have to rewrite it to try to make it clearer.  That keeps me from writing something new.  Whatever.  If ya gotta, ya gotta.

I've written a lot about the harm religion causes.  A majority of that has been about the Roman Catholic Church. (RCC)  Not to pick on the RCC, but, well, low hanging fruit, right?  Like anyone who writes about current events and how they impact our society, you take what the times offer you.   I'll go into that in a bit, but first, I want to acknowledge what some have noted, and I have also noted in the past - other religions and other christian denominations have these issues too.

To give you an idea of the scope of the problem, here is a web site that keeps an eye out on these issues, worldwide!  It is called Religious Watch, and I recommend it if you have a strong stomach but want to see what other places are dealing with.  Some of it is disgusting, especially the one about the young 15 year old girl abused by her local imam, who got her pregnant and is not only facing a difficult pregnancy, but was sentenced to 101 lashes (the same number as her abuser) and is being forced to marry the bastard!

The list is long and sometimes difficult to read.  But, it will give you an idea of what the scope of the problem is, and that the RCC isn't the only bad apple in the barrel.  The barrel is literally full to the brim with bad apples.

It has been commented on, over and over again, that these things are due to a small number of bad or evil people.  Alluding to the excuse that no fault accrues to the religion that person belongs to.  Well, I won't argue that these people can be described as bad or evil, but I will not agree that no fault accrues to the religion of the bad guy.

Look.  Pedophilia isn't new.  It's description by the mental health industry as a mental problem may be a 20th century thing, but even that isn't new any more.  We are learning more and more about it all the time.  And one of the things we have known for a while is that organizations and occupations which offer contact with vulnerable populations of the underage attract pedophiles.  This isn't rocket science.

There have been a number of decades since the US (and I presume Europe) have come around to looking at pedophilia as a twisted bad thing as societies in general.  Yet, over and over again, we see these cases where men and occasionally women abuse their young charges.  The authorities of whatever organization employs that person express shock, fire the accused and try to smother the scandal as quickly as possible.  Sometimes, they will cooperate with authorities in the prosecution of the accused, but not always.

What I do not understand is why an organization which employs presumably adult managers cannot see  their way to establishing common sense procedures to protect the children they help or educate or work with in whatever their business may be from the very real possibility of abuse.  It isn't hard, but it takes dedication and attention to detail.  The results of having a safe environment for your young charges to seek your services in is well worth it.

Besides that, in most US States, taking those common sense precautions is the law.  Protecting the children you service is required and notifying the authorities if a violation of that protection occurs is mandatory.  Not notifying the authorities of abuse is in most States a felony.

Everybody knows this.  TV shows examine these issues in detail, news programs talk about it in news broadcasts where abuse is discovered and any business with a lawyer has access to the kind of legal advice that makes failing in that duty hard to excuse.  Yet, time and time again, many different organizations do fail.  Abuse occurs.  Most organizations do report that abuse to the cops, but some do not.

Two recent examples include of course, the RCC, but what hit the news big was the Penn State scandal.  A high profile coach resigned over the issue, because he failed to report that abuse, even though he knew about it.  For over a decade he knew about it! And yet, he kept his mouth shut.

Why, we'll never know, because he died.  Beyond the reach of the courts, his family is now trying to resurrect his reputation, now resting in shattered pieces after the revelations that he knew and kept quiet.

Others, on the board, have resigned also.  Who knows where the investigation will lead now?

Now, a word about the Roman Catholic Church.

I know that this is a sore subject for some.  Painful for them and others too.  Why, I am asked, do I "bash" the RCC?  Why do I pick on them?

Well, again, low hanging fruit.  When these things hit the news, they hit big, and everybody knows about them.  The RCC is not your neighborhood Solid Rock Evangelical Snake Wrestling Pentecostal Church.  When they screw up, it's news, and yes, other religions have these same issues.  But christianity is here, in the US, and it is that religion that affects my life the most, so I am more concerned with it.

But, in reality, that isn't it.

From the perspective of the christian religion, the RCC is the original organized church.  Historians know that it wasn't really the first church per se, since it was just one among dozens of small sects vying for the attention of the Roman public towards the end of the first century.  But it was the one Constantine picked as the winner of the great public "Who's Going to be the Next Official Roman Religion" lottery.  Thus, for our purposes, the RCC is IT.  There are no opposing messages from the period before 324 AD, and the Council of Nicea.  There are no surviving records of what those other competing sects believed or thought, or at least none written by them. What we know about them is what the surviving sect wrote about them and chose to keep.  Which is not much.

As the originator of the bible, the RCC picked and chose what to put in it, and what to leave out.  Much of what survived got altered from the originals, we know that too.

But without going into painful, "too long; didn't read" length, the upshot is that everything we know about the christian religion comes from one source.  The bible.

Every thesis, every theological treatise, every essay written in the 1700-1800 some odd years since the canon was established comes essentially from that one source.  There are no other authoritative sources.  Scholars will tell you that lots of other"gospels" did survive, many of them in hidden caches of documents discovered in the last two hundred years.  They do give us a window into the Christian and Jewish religious worlds of thought at the time, but they are not authoritative representations of what christianity is today, as we know it, and as it is taught in churches around the world.

What concerns me, and what led me to decide in the end to stop identifying myself as christian, is at the very foundation of my thought, credibility.

Religion deals with what we are told is our immortal soul.  Something, a part of us, that never dies.  To me, that has always been something one should look at as important.  I mean, forever is a very long time, no?  So what happens during that very long time has to be vital to our very existence.

I'm not going to trust that soul to just any Tom, Dick or Harry that comes down the Pike.  As a matter of fact, I'm not going to trust whether I've even got one to just any Tom, Dick or Harry.  I want something better than just the words "trust me"!

So, hey, they've got this book, right?  It's old too!  Real old!  But, immediately, we've got a problem.  They tell me its two thousand years old, but every bible I've ever held has a copyright date less than a hundred and fifteen years ago.  It is a lot more complicated than that!

So, I begin to look into it and find out all sorts of things about translations, copies, mistakes, transpositions, interpolations and out and out forgeries.  A lot of that I had to study up on to even figure out what they were!  What I found wasn't reassuring.

But the kicker is the who, not just the what.  As I look into the history of religion in the western world, I am not reassured either.  It just doesn't look much different from the shenanigans of the reigning monarchs of Europe.  The doings of the popes themselves alone is enough to curl your hair.  Murder, bribery, war, hedonism, adultery.  It's all there, and more besides.

It got so bad their own priests couldn't take it any more and the Reformation was born.  It didn't take long for those men to become as corrupt as their Catholic counterparts.

Today, we've heard from the Irish how the church there molested young boys in monasteries and sometimes murdered them and buried them in hidden graveyards.  We've heard about the Magdalene Laundries where young girls were kept as virtual slaves for sometimes decades, and often abused as well.

Now the abuse scandals, and the word that the church hierarchy itself condoned that abuse by moving the priests from place to place to avoid criminal prosecution, by order of the now current Pope.  There is word now that there is a documentary in the works on HBO that will publish more documents that may expose Ratzinger's further, closer involvement in those scandals.

And let's not even get into the scandals involved with the Church of England and its wars against the RCC and Catholic monarchs, and the monasteries and convents on the European continent (both Protestant and Catholic) that sport tunnels between them with handy little hidden graveyards of children, babies and fetuses.

Oh, did I mention the word "credibility"?  sorry, but just that word alone, much less the concept, has failed to survive through all that stuff above.

No matter how well intentioned the modern pastors, preachers and priests may be in this enlightened age of progressive ideals and values, the foundation of what they teach today is rotten to the core.  After having been copied so many times even the most senior and enlightened biblical scholars don't know how many generations of copies there may have been since the beginning, there is no way we can ever know what the original documents may have said.  Or, for that matter, if there even were single originals to any of the biblical documents.  Bart Ehrman has written a lot of books about these subjects, and here is what he says about the credibility of the bible:

Teaching in Christian seminaries, or to largely Christian undergraduate populations, who wants to denigrate the cherished texts of Scripture by calling them forgeries built on lies? And so scholars use a different term for this phenomenon and call such books "pseudepigrapha." 
You will find this antiseptic term throughout the writings of modern scholars of the Bible. It's the term used in university classes on the New Testament, and in seminary courses, and in Ph.D. seminars. What the people who use the term do not tell you is that it literally means "writing that is inscribed with a lie." 
And that's what such writings are. Whoever wrote the New Testament book of 2 Peter claimed to be Peter. But scholars everywhere -- except for our friends among the fundamentalists -- will tell you that there is no way on God's green earth that Peter wrote the book. Someone else wrote it claiming to be Peter. Scholars may also tell you that it was an acceptable practice in the ancient world for someone to write a book in the name of someone else. But that is where they are wrong. If you look at what ancient people actually said about the practice, you'll see that they invariably called it lying and condemned it as a deceitful practice, even in Christian circles. 2 Peter was finally accepted into the New Testament because the church fathers, centuries later, were convinced that Peter wrote it. But he didn't. Someone else did. And that someone else lied about his identity.
So, you ask, how does that matter if the teachings were christian teachings?  They well could have still been guided by god's hand!  Well, look at this next passage:
Whoever wrote the book of 1 Timothy claimed to be Paul. But he was lying about that -- he was someone else living after Paul had died. In his book, the author of 1 Timothy used Paul's name and authority to address a problem that he saw in the church. Women were speaking out, exercising authority and teaching men. That had to stop. The author told women to be silent and submissive, and reminded his readers about what happened the first time a woman was allowed to exercise authority over a man, in that little incident in the garden of Eden. No, the author argued, if women wanted to be saved, they were to have babies (1 Tim. 2:11-15).
Largely on the basis of this passage, the apostle Paul has been branded, by more liberation minded people of recent generations, as one of history's great misogynists. The problem, of course, is that Paul never said any such thing. And why does it matter? Because the passage is still used by church leaders today to oppress and silence women. Why are there no women priests in the Catholic Church? Why are women not allowed to preach in conservative evangelical churches? Why are there churches today that do not allow women even to speak? In no small measure it is because Paul allegedly taught that women had to be silent, submissive and pregnant. Except that the person who taught this was not Paul, but someone lying about his identity so that his readers would think he was Paul. 
Credibility.  It goes to the heart of what we can or should believe.  Do we believe the weatherman is credible?  That determines whether we will or won't evacuate when he tells us that a big storm is going to hit our hometown.

For me, I cannot believe what I am told by people who have the history that the western churches have going all the way back to the earliest times.  I cannot because the book they tell me is the word of god has been so altered and riddled with out and out lies and forgeries, included for the purpose of their  own goals and ends that I cannot determine what the original authors meant us to know.  A growing number of scholars are now even questioning whether Jesus himself may have been a mythical figure and not historical.  (the jury is still out on that one, and isn't likely to be settled any time soon.)

So, take this one as my own opinion, and what led me out of religion.  A complete lack of credibility, a book of errors and lies and a history of violence, greed and sexual abuse ruined anything good or positive I may have been able to glean from the religion of my fathers.

Your opinion may and probably will, differ.  You may not even believe what I am saying here.  If not, I urge you, indeed, I challenge you, to study for yourself.  Stay away from the apologists, they will mislead you with comforting tales of twisted theology, meant to make you feel good about your faith.  The ones to read are the ones that question the mainstream, the guys and gals who have studied and aren't afraid to tell a different story.   That story is out there.  You just have to be willing to go find it and be brave enough to actually read it.

A final note.

I do not and will not dispute that many religious people have done a tremendous amount of good.  Religious charities abound.  Millions are helped by them after disasters and storms.  They take care of widows and orphans and care for the sick and hospitals have long been a favorite activity of religious institutions.

None of what I wrote above is meant to denigrate any of that good, and I hope you can understand my journey to where I am today.

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