Daniel Schultz, in Religion dispatches, Dec 20, 2018
From sexual abuse to white nationalism, a fake rabbi, atheists behaving badly, and politicized pastries, 2018 had little going for it on the religion front. Nobody was this optimistic.
Note: “A religion-less 2019?” Possible? “IMPOSSIBLE!”, is the roaring shouts, instantly coming back, it looks. Of course a crowd has many heads, not one mind! I may pacify myself. Perhaps the question itself is misleading. The needle of the question is pointing to “Organized Religions”, not individual beliefs and practices.
“Recedant vetera, nova sint omnia!” (“Let bygones be bygones, let everything be new,”)says a Latin proverb. In 2019 the SHAPE and SIZE of Organized Religions, is what the question targets at precisely. “Matham” in Malayalam literally means, Opinion, view, individual conviction, in short freedom of opinion, which is impossible to wipe out, nor is it right to do it.
All through 2018 we have been constantly barraged with shouts of a “Congress- mukt Bharat” taparing off now to a “Modi-mukth” or “Violence and cold-blooded murder-mukth Bharath” of innocents. Understood in the last ‘murder-mukth’, there can never be two opinions. So the clarified question comes down to: “Is most of the murder in India, caused by religious hatred, rivalries, conflicts and clashes?” This is what is question aims at, to be studied and analaysed to find right solutions.
What about atheists?
Considering the fact most people are religious or believers, what about unbelievers and atheists? The curt answer is, for Communits and atheists their belief system and conviction forces them not to believe in a living God. So they cry: “God is dead.” Of course we have to leave them free to stay put in their conviction of no to religion. Even the most religious person like the Pope allows them to do so.
Today we claim to livre in a world of enlightenment, of reason and scientific proof for what we believe and practice. That leaves little room for blind beliefs, traditional ritualistic religious practices called superstitions. Result is the mass exodus mostly of the younger generation from the bonds organized religions controlled by so-called Godmen, Achariyas, Gurus, Mullas, Bishops in various churches living in comfort zones variously called ‘Devalokam’, Cathedral palaces of bishops etc. They claim to have hot-lines to God almighty to have the basis for the authority they wield.
The simple folks with general knowledge to illiterates, the ‘Hoi Poloi’ are simply led by their nose without questioning. But not so are the educated younger
generation, who seek rational, scientific basis for what they are asked to think and act. Hence the sudden spurt in the number of those who label themselves as ‘NONES’ and wave good bye to all organized religions. History is the great teacher. Religious or political beliefs and conflicting ideologies have been the root cause of all wars. In the religious field crusades of the Catholic church stand out as their monumental failure to give spiritual or moral leadership, for which they hang their heads in utter shame even today. That was their topmost ‘counter witness’ to their name’s-sake: Christ, who came to bring peace on earth, “Loka Samasta Sukino Bavantu”, not war!
In India today?
But unfortunately what is happening in the land of spirituality and Hinduism itself which is credited with the above cited prayer of all humane humans every where? Today the Hindutva wadies shout in unison, the geographical space called “Bharat” is to be the home of those who believe in Hindusm only and none
other? In doing so, aren’t they throwing the baby with the bath water? What is worse their shouts are becoming louder and shriller ever since the BJP government came into power!
In fact Hinduism, pure and simple, is more universal than even the Catholic Church. It has room even for atheists! Do other religions accept them as
members of their own family? Think of the irreconcilable fight going on in Sabarimala and Ayodhya. How does it chime with the Hinduism’s prayerful soul- cry: “Vasudaiv Kudumbakam! Where all live happily as in God’s own family! Can we find a greater contradiction between belief and practice any where else in the world?
Find the hidden devil
Who is the devil in the detail? How has this “Faux pas”,this blunder, this mistake this indiscretion, this impropriety crept into our thinking and actions? The latest is the news splashed on TV today is about a village school in Utherkand under BJP rule where girls are forbidden to go to shool on their menstruating days, thereby forcing them to miss their class 80 days per year, something similar to what is being imposed on Sabarimala pilgrims due to medieval mind set, patriarchy, misogyny and superstitious religious beliefs. And we already wrote:
‘Superstition is empty shell of religions without ‘AN ELEMENT OF TRUTH.’
In Utherkand village shool, if the teachers, the parents and the educated leaders of the place have failed to run the school according to civilized rules, who should have set things right, if not the government of the place? If they fail to act, is it not because they too are possibly prisoners and blind believers in superstitious religious practioners? Being such they were first forced to deny gender justice to women, who form the half of humanity, as is happening in Sabarimala! What a shameful, cruel injustice done to India’s girl children in Utherkand!
Vasudeiva Kudumbakam or Hindutva?
When are we Indians going to join the enlightened comity of nations? In the next century? Not in any case, as long as the promoters of Hindutva rools the roost. Do we need more plausible arguments to prove that Organized Religions should DIE at the earliest, not God, religiosity or spirituality. Wether one believes in God or not, “Manava seva is Madhava seva.” As the ideal Son of Man has said: “When you have done to these little one of mine – the poor, the needy, the afflicted and marginalized, you have done to me.”
That Organizerd Religion, is most disorganized, detestable and worse than paganism, which fails to help you to see God in the person with a begging bawl in front of you and worship him/her in the heart of your hearts! The least a true religion should prompt you to do is to befriend such a person FIRST with your BODY language, a smile not a frown on your face; and SECOND with kind and soothing brotherly/sisterly words spoken, not SHOUTS. That alone is: VASUDEIVA KUDUMBAKAM! james kottoor, editor ccv.
Please read below article ‘Goodby to 2018 of Organized Religions!
Late in December, a dark and solemn quiet falls across the land, as journalists finally begin to reckon with the fact that they’re completely out of gas, and the only thing standing between them a blissful-if-impoverished holiday rest is that one last deadline.
Then, quicker than Rudolph making excuses for his day drinking, they leap to that most desperate of ploys: the year-end wrapup. Religion Dispatches may be immune to this sort of thing, but sadly, I’m not. Therefore, stand by for a link-heavy, in-no-particular-order look back at the year that was. Oh, and how it was!
Billy Graham died in 2018. So did James Cone (a blow to black theology), Eugene Peterson and Aretha Franklin. If you don’t know why the last of those is a religion story, you need to go find her album Amazing Grace and put it on your playlist. Now, please.
As a matter of fact, this whole religion thing? Dead, according to 2018. Young people around the world are disaffiliating from religious faith. Surprisingly or perhaps not, American youngs are leaving evangelical Christianity more quickly than other Christian brands, perhaps because of its full-throated embrace of conservative politics. The trend has been good for at least one segment of the religious ecology, though. The Ex-vangelical movement, in part led by Religion Dispatches contributor Christopher Stroop, has been receiving media attention, including a profile in a CBS news documentary.
The trend was also a godsend (if you will) for one other group. That would be people offering really, really bad hot takes on religion being resurrected as politics. Emma Green published an article in the Atlantic that at least had the dignity to be somewhat better than its title: “Politics as the New Religion for Progressive Democrats.” But Andrew Sullivan’s essay arguing that American Christianity has been replaced by political tribalism is possibly the most obtuse thing he’s ever written—and that’s saying something.
Neither of these takes is willing to struggle with the possibility that there might be good reasons to walk away from the church, even setting aside politics and terrible chili suppers. For example, it was a banner year for stories about clerical sex abuse, what with one cardinal convicted of crimes against children and another revealed to be a predator of young men. Then came the release of a grand jury report from Pennsylvania demonstrating the Catholic hierarchy’s sometimes criminal efforts to sweep bad news under the rug. Then came a follow-up federal investigation, the resignation of Archbishop Donald Wuerl for his part in the cover-up, and the mass resignation of Chilean bishops for the same thing. It was enough to lead Catholic theologian Mary Hunt to wonder whether the entire structure of the church needed to be replaced with something more lay-driven.
The usual malarkey about the rolling abuse crisis being a “gay problem” was rolled out, as were the too-little-too-late promises to shore up reporting. All of this has taken a toll on Pope Francis’ image in the United States, and led the curia’s shadier opportunists to try to support him with a knife to the back in the form of a much-hyped report breathlessly declaring Francis’ complicity in the McCarrick case. (The report was mostly about misplaced memos.) But hey, Francis canonized Oscar Romero, so the year’s not a total waste.
But readers should not come away with the impression that sexual abuse was limited to the Catholic church. Bill Hybels, founder of the pioneering Willow Creek megachurch, was forced out after his pattern of skeevy manipulation and general gross lack of boundaries came to light. Ditto Paige Patterson of the Southern Baptist Convention, thrown out of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for bullying rape victims and being a general disaster on sexual issues. Andy Savage, pastor of Highpoint Church in Memphis, fared a little better. He got a standing ovation from his congregation after confessing to sleeping with a 17-year-old member of his youth group when he was 22. Eventually, though, he resigned, citing a new understanding of his victim’s perspective; which is to say, that she was in fact the victim in this case, not him. It was also revealed that the 2016 Clinton campaign fired its evangelical “faith guru” Burns Strider for sexual harassment of at least two other staffers.
Evangelicals fared only a little better than the Catholic hierarchs in their response. There was a half-assed, single-day conference at Wheaton College, followed by a basic lack of reflection on the theology and sexual ideology that produced these problems in the first place.
Before nonbelievers get too judgy about all of this, though, it should be noted that atheists had their own #MeToo moments this year. David Silverman of American Atheists was fired after being accused of sexual assault; prominent atheist Lawrence Krauss was accused of sexual harassment; and, as Caroline Matas detailed here on RD, New Atheist leaders like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins supported Men’s Rights activists.
Still, when it comes to bad news, not much comes close to the evangelical world, which consistently finds plenty of squick to go around, even without the sexual abuse. John Allen Chau, a missionary and graduate of Oral Roberts University, tried to evangelize a previously uncontacted and notoriously hostile tribe in the Sentinelese Islands, and was murdered for his efforts. Jeff Sessions tried to defend the grand guignol cruelty of the Trump administration’s immigration policy as part of God’s plan, sparking a questionable effort to impose church discipline on him.
Mike Pence did the generally creepy Mike Pence thing at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, albeit it with some reservations on the part of the audience. President Trump, never one to be overshadowed, prayed next to Paula White at a closed- door White House dinner with evangelical leaders and huffed and puffed about challenges to his authoritycoming in the fall elections. Turns out he was right about the impending disaster at the polls, just not the violent overthrow part. Ah, well. Trump will always have the undying adoration of Robert Jeffress, who stands in a long line of American preachers willing to prop up authoritarianism.
Which points us to the worst sin of the white 2018 evangelical community: forming the white nationalist base of the Trump movement, albeit one that is shrinking fast as its elders die out and youth abandon it. Not even a PR blitz before the fall elections, nor the myth of swing white evangelical women voters, could save the movement from being identified for what it is: Trump’s biggest, meanest cheering section, the people who have historically always been ready to bravely blame somebody else for the problems of life in these United States.
Given conservative evangelical support for—and by “support for” we mean “control over”—the Trump administration, it should come as no surprise that on the subject of religious liberties, the story has been one step forward, two steps back … then another two, and give me three more just for good measure. First, the good news: A poll this December shows that nonreligious candidates get more support from votersthan they have in a long time, beginning to reverse a discriminatory trend in American politics. Other good news? Satanists organized a rally for religious freedom.
Oh, dear. That’s not a lot of good news, is it? No, it is not. Well, the Supreme Court did rule that an anti-gay breakaway church had to return a cool $500 million to the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. But it also ruled that wedding cake bakers could discriminate against gay couples (or at least escape prosecution for it) if the state hurt their feelings. No, seriously, we wish we were kidding about this, and unfortunately, lower courts were just as bad.
That would be miserable enough, but the court also held that the Trump administration could ban immigration from certain countries essentially because the president feels the need to nail the White House windows shut lest ISIS terrorists or other brown people break in while he’s asleep. “The United States is exclusively shaped by and for white Christians” is about right. By far the darkest religion story of the year, however, was an anti-Semite’s shooting rampage at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest such attack in American history. It was an act of violence deeply rooted in America’s gun idolatry, one that was not so much the past come back to haunt the nation as a reflection of the present danger egged on by a bigot-in-chief willing to embrace anti-Semitic slurs and conspiracy theories. It was made worse by that same administration calling on a pretend rabbi to pray for the victims and by a clueless evangelical establishment toying with the idea that supersessionism may be wasn’t so bad after all .
If there was any ray of light in this dark year—anything that could give you faith in humanity, if not God—it was the response of the community to the Tree of Life violence, an interfaith prayer service held in Mr. Roger’s church, preceded by a quiet, reflective protest informing the bigot-in-chief that he was not welcome to share Squirrel Hill’s grief. More generally, there was the rise of the Never Again movement, led by survivors of a mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, who offered hope that things might, even for a minute, be different. If we at Religion Dispatches have any wishes for the coming year, it’s that their efforts and the blood of the victims not be wasted. Be better, 2019, be best!