Women, Behave. Don’t Ever Try to Lead Men.

I was reflecting on the pelvic denominations, those focused on abortion, gays and birth control, and realized something.  For about 40 years, I was a member of Methodist and Presbyterian churches.  Because I was in local politics, I also attended churches of many other denominations.

In all those 40 years listening to Methodist and Presbyterian preachers, I’m certain I never heard a sermon about the Biblically proper roles for men and women.  That is not to say there never was one, since I was not in my church every Sunday.  I just don’t think so.

In the other churches, specifically evangelical and Catholic, I heard about the proper role of men and women a few times.  Since I attended only when invited as Mayor, my small sample yielded quite frequent sermons on this.

On the evangelical site, ChristianPost.com and realclearreligion.com, the topic is covered every week or so by evangelical and Catholic writers.  This unscientific observation leads to the conclusion a certain branch of the Christianity, the pelvic branch, really wants to keep women off the leadership roster.

This week, Pastor John Piper, said, “This has to do with God’s created dynamic of what a man is and what a woman is in their gut with regard to the ballet of leadership and submission….women shouldn’t be, in general, leaders of men…”

In the Catholic Church, you have the Pope and sub Popes scowling at women and sending the message, “Don’t even think about it.”

The rest of us try to understand why women put up with this.


It’s Tough For Atheism to be the Majority.

Even though several European countries, which used to be dominated by Christianity, now poll majorities in unbelief, it’s difficult to see how the U. S. could become a majority secular nation.  It seems like our ego is just too large.

I’ve noticed among Republican Presidential candidates, one stands out in his ability to express American Exceptionalism.  Mitt Romny said this country was not destined to be just one of several successful ones.  It was meant to be the best.

This kind of thinking, the U. S. is destined to leave the rest of the world in its dust, is so appealing it spills over into religious thinking.  The thinking, by some, is The Almighty has chosen the country to be greater than any other.

Atheism has no defense for this attractive message.  Atheists cannot say, “The atheist god has chosen us to be THE superior country,” because there is no atheist god.  Neither can the atheists say, “We are better atheists than those in any other country.”

The day might come when the message of U. S. exceptionalism faces a sober reality.  Things like our high umemployment rate, slowing income levels, high infant mortality rate and appalling unequal distribution of income may become undeniable.

If it did, our hubris might be low enough to stay out of pointless wars. Maybe we could say, “This is a darn good place.  It’s just not ‘exceptional.'”

Atheism, and our country, would do better if patriotism and religion were are not joined at the hip.  But, there are.



If One Cannot Believe, Can He Get a Pass From Hell?

“When I think about religion at all, I feel as if I would like to found an order for those who cannot believe: the Confraturnity of the Fatherless one might call it.”

These were the words of Oscar Wilde, published in 1907, were written while he languished in prison.

Certainly, there are people who have made valiant efforts to believe and failed.  Some have been put to death for their inability to believe. My guess is they tried.

I’ve heard the Christian faith, or some part of it, maintains babies go to heaven, even though they have never confessed belief.  Also, people are given a pass, so I understand, if they have never in their lives heard of Christianity.

But, what of people who have heard it all and found the Belief Lever out of their reach?  It seems to me they are “handicapped” like the babies and those who never hear.

I know the standard line is something like, “If you don’t believe, it’s because you haven’t tried hard enough.”  I don’t understand how one person can make a judgement like that about another.  If a person says she has tried and cannot succeed in belief it is only fair to assume he/she is telling the truth.  Believers are given the benefit of the doubt. Others should be given the same break.

A disclaimer:  I try to understand believers, but have made no effort to believe so I don’t qualify for a pass.

Is Pelvic Zone Theology On The Decline?

This phrase, or rather variations of it, has been bouncing around the blogsphere recently.  It has to do, of course, with right wing protestantism and the Catholic Church and their preoccupation with contraception, abortion and gay marriage.  These, we all know, are sins which rose in the ranks of evil things along with their political usefulness.

Some blogsphere writers think the faction of Catholics they refer to as advocates for a “Pelvic Zone Papacy” are disappointed by a recent document, Pope Benedict’s Pontification Council for Justice and Peace.

What might be difficult for the pelvic fans is its emphasis on fair or just distributions of income and wealth.  While the Church has always had an active advocacy for distributive justice, we have not heard much about it with all the hand wringing over the three pelvic issues.

That such a document was released is refreshing.  It helps put the spotlight on issues people are marching in the street about, very unequal distribution of income.

Now, like most religious documents for broad distribution, including the Bible itself, there is something for everyone.  For example, after saying incomes should not be so unequal, it also says government powers should not be so big as to be onerous.  It was not really specific as to what should be done about the distributive injustice.

The effect of money on people is kind of easy to predict.  If people don’t have much, they want more.  If they have a lot, they want more, also.

Perhaps, pelvic zone is out and distributive justice is in.

Southern Baptist Convention Can’t Stand Lite.

One of the problems the Christian church has is it’s image of a downer message.  The message of sin and damnation, putting down gays and women and poking into the bedrooms and lives of ordinary people is taking its toll.

I used the word, “image”, because this is not the message of all of the faith.  But, I would propose, the downer message is the one many people take from the church.

Today, the Southern Baptist Convention annouced it’s reducing the annual contribution to its premier University, Baylor, by one million dollars.  The SBC has been losing members at a rate of about five percent per year for several years.

Yet, it seems impossible for SBC to change its message of sin, condemnation and damnation.  It’s a message it enjoys telling others about.

Albert Mohler, Jr., it’s most public spokesperson, posted a column today blasting away at other parts of Christianity that put a happier face on the faith.  He criticized Joel Osteen, the mega-church pastor who has little negative to say about anyone.  Mohler was especially angry at Osteen for accepting the Mormon branch as just another denomination, like Lutheran or Catholic.  Osteen, said Mohler, is just too lazy to get angry with the Mormon faith for passing itself off as a legitimate brand of Christianity.

It seems to me, Osteen represents the “Christian Lite” branch while Mohler is “Christian Dark”.

I think Christianity, like beer, would do better Lite.

God Does Not Want You to Use Birth Control

At least that is the view of the Catholic Church and some conservative branches of Protestantism.  They want to put it into law for some people.

In the Affordable Health Care Act is a requirement that employer’s health care policies for employees include coverage for certain kinds of contraception.  The Department of Health and Human Services is proposing an exception for institutions whose tenets teach that contraception is a sin.

To opt out, an institution needs to be one which centers on teaching the faith, employs primarily people of the faith, serves primarily people of the faith and is non profit.  This seems reasonable.

But what about branches of the faith who want to fit into the secular world, or, maybe make a lot of nonprofit money?  Well, they would not qualitfy for the exemption.

The most prominent scene of the battle is Catholic.  That would be Notre Dame and Catholic hospitals.  These institutions want to be seen as sources of knowledge and service competing with the finest in the country.

To compete, they must employ the finest people they can find, irregardless of the employee’s religion.  But, they also want to put their stamp on the personal lives of secular employees, regardless of a national consensus to the contrary.

The Catholic Church, and others, need to make up their minds.  Do they want to be a part of secular society, or, stay in the monastary on top of the hill?


The Martin Luther King Memorial

The Catholic News Service contained an article recently in which a Catholic spokesman complained about the new Martin Luther King Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D. C. The monument to Dr. King contains fourteen quotes from the civil rights icon.

The monument “…betrays his life and teachings..” said the critic.  He was upset none of the fourteen quotes mentioned God or religion.

The monument and the inscriptions chosen were selected by a 12 member Council of Historians. There was no explanation given as to why religious statements of King were not included.  One can understand why they are not there.

First, any statement King made about religion would be challenged by people who think they know more than King did about the subject.  There is no agreement about much in the Bible, even among believers.

Second, the civil rights movements helped all members of the minority community including ones who are not religious.  Thus, it was not a religious movement.

Third, slavery, and later segregation, was done in the name of the Christian religion.  Passages of the Bible were construed to mean races should not marry.  A former Governor of Georgia, Lester Maddox, kept these passages in his desk and would give them to visitors who brought up his anti segregation views. Bringing up religion brings up this as well.

Dr. King’s neice said she had no objection to excluding the religious remarks of her Uncle.  She felt the monument should be a universial statement of his life.

Good for her.

Sin in the Land of the Hindu Faith.

When someone makes an effort to summarize religions, as appears in the popular book, God is Not One, Christianity comes down to one word, sin.  It makes sense that sin would be so big because the concept lends itself to control of people.  And, when control requires a new definition of what is sinful, it is easy to change its definition.

In the October 10, 2011, issue of The New Yorker there is a story about sin in the Hindu faith.  The author, Akash Kaplr, follows around for several days a cow trader in India.  The cow trader’s life has been profoundly affected by “sin”.

The cow trader is something like what we would call in Midwestern U. S. a broker.  At local market days in rural towns, cow traders help farmers sell cattle to the buyers who also appear.

This cow trader had grown up in an inferior cast, the untouchables.  He had experienced discrimination based on religious beliefs of the majority.  From that experience, he had become an atheist.

His wife and children are devout Hindus.  One of their three adult children had died in a car accident.  People in their local community had concluded the death was punishment for being a cow trader, a sinful occupation.  Besides that, he is an atheist. His wife and children remain unsure.

This seems to me to be the universial story of religion.  People in the minority are shunned and shamed by sin into conformance to rules of the majority’s unseen spirits.


Where and When to Take a Stand.

I realize some religious people are annoyed when atheists complain about religion in public ceremonies.  It has been a surprise, even to me, how often religion appears in places it does not belong.  When I was a practicing Christian, I never noticed.

Since religion is so often included, most of the time atheists just let it pass.  But, individuals, themselves, decide when to resist.  It happens in the most unlikely places.

This weekend at Fort Jackson, S. C., there was a small drama involving religion.  A class of recruits was rehearsing their graduation ceremony from basic training.  During the rehearsal a 20 year old recruit, an atheist, refused to bow his head during the prayer.

The Sargent in charge said he had been ordered to bow his head, thus he must follow this order.  The recruit replied no one is required to participate in a religion.

The matter went to the Platoon Commander who explained to the recruit he need not pray, just bow. Finally, the Company Commander agreed with the recruit, he need not bow his head, but was required to stand at attention.  The actual cememony was held yesterday without incident.

Some might criticize the recruit saying it would not hurt him to simply bow his head for a few minutes.  True, it might not have harmed him much, I don’t know him.  There is another way of handling it that will not hurt anyone.

The military should remove prayers from all its ceremonies.

Would You “Deconvert”?

An on-going mystery all around us is the different way we reason and interpret events.  How could it be two siblings who grew up together going to church could end up taking opposite paths in their spiritual lives?

In a recent issue of the Journal of Religion and Society there appears an article, “Explaining Deconversion from Christianity;  A Study of Online Narratives” (Vol. 13, 2011). The authors dissected the on-line narratives of about 25 people who discussed their faith and the loss of it.  What they found sheds at least a little light on why people lose their faith and what happens afterwards.

The authors took what people wrote about their dissatisfaction with their Christian experience and placed it in four catagories: intellectual, theological, God’s shortcomings and interactions with nonChristians.  I can only touch on a few things.

Two thirds of the writers complained about intellectual and theological shortcomings.   These included such issues as the dilemma of a cruel God who is also said to be loving.

About 40 percent were disappointed with the God figure.  Why did God allow this or that to happen?  This most common theme was about the God who is unjust.

Surprising to the authors was how few writers said they were influenced by nonChristians. This was surprising because it is commonly believed people in the faith are vulnerable to temptation.

The most common pattern was people accepting the faith as children and losing it as young adults. In time we may learn even more about how and why people find and lose their faith.