Every living thing, from the tiniest microbe to the largest mammals, has two fundamental drives: survival at all costs, and to replicate its genes through coupling.
Those are the two most powerful drives in all of life.
Wanna test one? Try killing a badger with your bare hands and find out just how much they want to live. Chances are that you may be just as determined but you may lose that battle, or least the majority of your digits if not your limbs. You may well end up as lunch. That’s where the violence comes in.
Here’s the thing. When we deny that drive, through religious reasoning (which makes no sense at all) or tell ourselves and each other that it’s very very very bad, then we effectively try to turn off one of Mama Nature’s most insistent, powerful drives.
She doesn’t like being denied.
As a result, we end up with folks who feel guilty about their natural instincts, and they end up badly wanting guilty pleasures. The more they’re denied, the more attractive they are. That’s because we’re human, and we most desperately want what we are told we can’t have. Therefore, like any hungry squirrel eyeballing the seeds for your bluebirds, we become bound and determined to get what we desire. Not only that, our desires all too often morph into something far more sinister. That’s also where violence can rear its ugly head.
That Perfect Loophole
Given the loophole of Godly forgiveness, weekly confession, and a host of other ways that we justify indulging ourselves, is it any surprise to anyone that the religious community has a fair share of pedophiles and offenders?
It’s not holy to abstain completely. It’s wholly stupid. Because that ends up forcing men and women of weak will into behaviors that are beyond reprehensible within the context of an otherwise trusted institution. Celibacy wasn’t even a part of Christian doctrine until some time after Christ’s death, at which point the Christian community began to see itself as deeply persecuted and a minority (http://theconversation.com/how-did-celibacy-become-mandatory-for-priests-75031). Of course they suffered violence. Ask any Jesuit priest who tried to convert the Japanese Buddhists what happened to them when they were caught, as well as their followers. According to Wikipedia, A multitude of Japanese Catholics were brutally tortured and killed for their faith, thus becoming martyrs. Radically alternative belief systems are rarely tolerated.
In other words, folks fell in love with suffering as a way of purification, if you will. Victimhood is pretty popular, and it’s used to great effect. As the author of The Conversation piece above points out, it was a careful interpretation of scriptures which served their purposes, not necessarily reflecting any real accuracy in the portrayal of the actual lives of Christ and Peter, or what was written about them by people who had no direct contact with either man, or other apostles.
Religious History is Instructive
If you follow or study religious history, it’s a long process of how we choose to interpret words that are said to be holy in nature. “Careful interpretation” is precisely what gets us all kinds of rules, regulations, dispensations, and all the other hand-me-downs from Those on High as to how we should behave. In other words, if a particular priest or pastor has a personal agenda, then by God that person makes himself the mouthpiece of God. This has been hugely popular to justify killing doctors if you’re against abortion, to support the Nazis to wipe out the Jews (to wit: After the Nazis came to power in Germany, they signed an agreement (Concordat) with the Catholic Church whereby the Vatican would accept the Nazi government in return for the Nazis not interfering with the Catholic Church. Please see https://www.theholocaustexplained.org/responses-1933-1945/what-did-individuals-do/how-did-the-catholic-church-respond/) While that’s beyond arrogant -particularly when most religious readings suggest humility-it’s also very common. This is what gives us cults, mass murders (please see https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mass-suicide-at-jonestown) so-called “pious communities” which allow children of twelve to be married off to men three to four times their age or more. Sexual misconduct is bad enough in the general population. It is hardly limited to Catholics, nor to the US. It’s a time-honored, world-wide and unfortunately very popular practice. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=5&ved=0ahUKEwjf-vjj9ZncAhWEGDQIHXuBDisQFgheMAQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.mdpi.com%2F2077-1444%2F9%2F1%2F27%2Fpdf&usg=AOvVaw2AqFj3PNWB-WY3RJyIHgbF
Commandments are Useful
Some make a great deal of common sense. Kindly, don’t kill each other. Well, religious people all over the world have certainly interpreted THAT one carefully, haven’t they? All the best wars have been religious in nature. “Do you believe in God? No. BAM you’re dead. Do you believe in God? Yes. Do you believe in MY God? No. BAM you’re dead.” Highly entertaining, that one. My thanks to George Carlin, a famously lapsed Catholic, for that quote.
This of course can be tracked back to our desire to survive, so we enlist God’s help in killing our enemies. In other words, we want God to break one of His own commandments so that we can survive. We’re the good guys, see? THEY are the bad guys. When it gets messy is when both sides believe in the same God, make the same admonition to kill off the other side.
Um, someone is going to be terribly disappointed.
No wonder He put Mama Nature in charge down here. She’s got a good system in place. She doesn’t cotton to any religions, just her own rules.
The Power of “Careful Interpretation”
As for sex, there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that Jesus didn’t have any physical activity, masturbate as a child, or fool around with the neighbor’s daughter. Nor can we prove that Peter was celibate. He claimed he didn’t marry, but frankly, that hasn’t stopped anyone any time from getting laid, which is how Mama Nature planned it. It’s a very potent drive. The point is that we don’t know. We weren’t around back then. And besides, people-especially those who wish to be seen as saintly-are not going to document their illicit behavior. That tends to knock the resident halos sideways.
The incredibly determined desire to make Christ and other religious figures sexless including some kid who was magically impregnated with the man so that she wouldn’t have to have any fun along the way- speaks far more to our belief that sex is evil, bad, dirty and shameful. That’s religion’s problem. Not a human problem. That belief has led to more issues, more crimes, more inhumane treatment of girls in particular as well as boys than just about anything else. It’s illicit and bad, therefore it has GOT to be really, really good.
We can hardly argue more strenuously that sex is about as natural, normal and essential to all life (YA THINK???). Yet religion- and most especially Christians — love to make it bad for ya. To pilfer another Carlin comment, he once posited that if we simply outlawed religions, all of them, most of our sexual deviancy problems would disappear in a few generations. I have to admit, he has a point. Probably not that simple but religious dogma does indeed play a huge part here in the instituting of guilt about something that absolute,ly HAS to happen or we- and every other living thing- will cease to exist. If God designed us to be this way, then why do we have such an issue with it? Who is some priest to tell me that feelings of lust are shameful? If there were no lust, he and I wouldn’t even exist.
It does, however, make sense not to sneak next door to fool around with your neighbor’s wife (or kids for that matter) which is a good way to get hurt or downright killed off. Coveting other’s property, well, hell, that’s what makes the economy run. However, not honoring other’s commitments to their spouses, that needs to be frowned upon. So does thoughtless coupling with just about anyone of any sex just because we happen to be horny…After all, we do need a few rules to keep us respectful and thoughtful, if for no other reason than STDs, AIDS another horror stories. If we’re going to live in a -well at least a partially- polite society, we do need some guidelines.
As for how well the Catholic Church has lived within those guidelines, here’s a factoid for ya: They have spent some $4 billion since 1950 to shut up the victims, buy silence and deny the existence of an endemic problem with pedophelia within the ranks. For an organization that began on the premise of giving to the poor, they are paying off for preying off the poor who are praying for their souls. The clergy sold their souls to the Devil and the Vatican, rather than take responsibility for its own ingrained evil, paid the price. https://www.collective-evolution.com/2016/08/12/the-vatican-has-paid-close-to-4-billion-to-settle-child-molestation-lawsuits/. For those families who traditionally sent their kids to be altar boys, you could quite reasonsably think of it as selling your kid off into the sex business. Only it’s under aegis of the Holy SEE.
We SEE you, gentlemen. We SEE you. And it’s downright damned ugly.
Pastors, priests and other religious leaders who get full of their own importance love to “carefully interpret” certain writings from all religions to justify their own motives and agendas. That rather takes away from their holiness, frankly, and goes to the very heart of yet another big commandment: Thou shalt not have other gods before Me. In other words, buddy, yourself. This is the perennial problem we all have with ego, with which we are universally afflicted, which, if not checked, is very happy to place ourselves, money, drugs, sex, and just about any other “god” before the one we’re supposed to be honoring. However, “careful interpretation” of those very crisp, clear commandments has allowed one hell of a lot of disingenuous people get away with, literally, murder. And pedophelia. And spousal abuse and abandonment. Oh please, don’t get me started. For a classic example of how one Pope handled this delicate question, Boniface VIII said “ Pedophilia was no more problematic than “rubbing one hand against the other.” http://www.thisisinsider.com/crazy-popes-in-history-2017-1#benedict-ix-was-a-three-time-pope-described-as-a-demon-from-hell-3
We Need Rules to Find the High Road
The truth is that humans need rules. We absolutely do. We function far better when we have boundaries, clearly set ones, that allow us to understand better how to get along. We are selfish, self-centered, unruly and unfaithful. WE want what we want, rather like 7.442 billion 18-month-olds screaming from our cribs, and we want it NOW. Rules and a promise of an eventual reward at least provide some manner of control over these urges. The better among us choose the higher road. The others, well, look around. (Please note: I was going to include a link here to pastors involved with porn, prostitution and pedophelia but there were so many I got overwhelmed. Try it yourself, it’s highly entertaining). Including and most particularly in religious institutions, which is a great hidey-hole for those with serious behavioral problems. They can hang out with those of like mind, and besides, they can be regularly forgiven. Man, that’s gotta feel good. So do the indecent wanderings. But then, confession is next week, so…why not? Sunday School is such a great hunting ground.
Come ON Man, this is Funny
Those institutions which demand celibacy create terrific comedic material. For example, kindly, what does any priest understand about sexual problems (other than his own experiences with the altar boys, which he can hardly use as an example to a frustrated wife)? What does any bishop or cardinal know about raising kids, the costs of the family (as he luxuriates in gold trimmed vestments and the like) and is coddled by the church? When we receive dictates from On High from people who are utterly totally and embarrassingly clueless about the realities of life- rape, abuse, the cost of living (oh please) and all the other things that all of us deal with daily, the Church becomes a mockery. It’s no different from having the .00001% tell us how to raise our children, when they have a massive trust fund and a hundred man servants to take out the shit-filled diapers, deal with tantrums, wipe up the vomit and all the other realities of everyday life. You have no fucking clue, folks, unless you live the life we live. Such is the stupidity of religious celibacy on multiple levels.
The Challenge of Becoming a Practitioner
There are exceptions, and thank heaven. People like Mother Theresa who took her vows seriously. She had her own set of challenges, but she was a practitioner. She applied the rules to her own life. And that is what inspires more of us than those who hide behind implied and perceived power, and use that power to abuse.
Learning to love one another is hard damned work and it begins with loving the self. Many of us never get to that point. Our insecurities, our basket of unfortunate experiences, our selfish desires and hatreds and jealousies are the bane of our existence. Religions do a fair job of providing guidance, although the problem is that invariably those whom we allow to interpret holy material for us suffer from precisely the same issues. What’s a hopeful practitioner to do?
Do the Work
First, understand the difference between dogma and the real message of the words you choose to believe. I spent a month in Myanmar a few years back, and as someone who feels very comfortable with Buddhist practices (vs. dogma, big difference), was fascinated with what I saw. For example, early in the morning, the local monks, followed by all the young village men (sent to the monastery by their poor families to ensure they had something to eat)would walk in their orange robes down the street. People would put rice into their containers. This practice of giving alms was one of the ways that, short of outright confession as the Catholic Church and others offer, people could offer an apology for getting drunk the night before. Or other offenses that are an insult to Buddhist tenets. Same thing, different religion. Rather than walk the walk, it’s easier to sin, say you’re sorry, hand over food, then go get drunk and laid the next night. So much easier than simply demonstrating some self-discipline and actually applying the life principles to your day-to-day, moment-to-moment existence.
Second, educate yourself. Understand the difference between a fairy tale story-which like a snowball gathers size and power through millions of retellings, and the real person you choose to worship. That goes for Christ, Buddha, Mohammad, or any of the 300 million gods of Indian beliefs (https://ultraculture.org/blog/2013/08/21/7-hindu-gods-blow-mind/) It makes no difference. Not long after each of the deaths of these actual people, their teachings began to be diluted through multiple interpretations. Each one’s life story was told and retold, with embellishments, for the teller needed to make even more fantastical claims to ensure followers. It’s what we do. We’re human. However in doing so, we end up, centuries later, believing utterly ridiculous stories made up by folks (virgin birth, anyone? oh please) because they needed proof of divinity. For one argument on this please see http://www.2think.org/hii/virgin.shtml. They needed to convince the great unwashed. They needed converts.
Third, develop mindfulness. This element is woven through every single religion on Earth. Being aware of who we are, where we are and what’s happening in the moment forces us to ask-if we choose to- is this right? Is this fair? Is this good? Am I being faithful to the words I say I am following? This is the hardest part. We can all clang the cymbals of our righteousness. But in the wee, small, private moments with our Maker, whoever that may be, that is when the truth is told. Ultimately your relationship with your God is deeply intimate, private, and frankly, none of anyone else’s beeswax. If you believe, then you know that you are being observed. Every. Single. Moment. How’s your report card? For my part, the Sermon on the Mount is as about as clear a chunk of advice as anyone ever provided anyone else. Most of it is perfectly relevant to right now. Not all. Most. Those bits that applied to the times Christ was living have to be considered in context. The rest is pretty hard to argue with.
Add to this untold thousands of rewriting of each set of religious materials, often by people who either misread, misinterpreted or misunderstood a word in a different language, and who, because they are human, placed their own set of prejudices and values on the material. These things are inevitable. I find any Church’s claim that so many deeply flawed and human translators are “divinely inspired” as laughable. Call me a cynic (you’d be right) but the truth is that most current religious material today probably bears little resemblance to their original delivery. It’s our nature to change, adapt and work material to our advantage.
A Human Addiction
We are addicted to being right. And when it comes to religious beliefs, that addiction deadly for many (please, kindly see The Spanish Inquisition, https://www.history.com/topics/inquisition). Boy, those were the days, weren’t they? All you hadda do was believe what you were told to believe and kill everyone else. Thirty-two thousand, tortured and murdered for the wrong answer to the God question. Not Christianity’s best moment, but hey, they were just warming up. All the best and most entertaining wars were, and still are, religious in nature. Righteousness is next to genocide. Just read world history.
The Problem With the Pedestrian Truth
The real truth just might not have been convincing enough, compelling enough. After all when we realize that crucifixion was how the Romans dealt with absolutely everyone, a single crucifixion loses its impact. So, we have to claim the guy rose from the dead. Otherwise, how can we possibly differentiate one Roman dissenter who claimed to be the next Coming (Jesus Christ was hardly alone in this claim) from another local schmoe? As my speaking coach said years ago, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” It’s in our nature to embellish if we’re trying to get converts. Unfortunately, that kind of embellishment has led to vast misuse of religious figures, their original writings, and how we choose to interpret them.
In the brave, controversial and to my mind, rather marvelous book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, author Reza Aslan puts some twenty years of genuine scholarly work into understanding the people, the times, the man and those who surrounded Christ. Aslan himself began as a Muslim, converted to Christianity, and then has evolved into a much larger understanding of who and what God might be (for his most recent, please see God: A Human History). His great curiosity and passion for the subject of divinity, and the people we worship in this world, combined with his own very personal journey, make for excellent reading. Zealot in particular humanized those we have deified- and in the process causes the reader to question hard what they really think they know. Reslan presents what he believes, and leaves it up to the reader to choose to believe whether or not Christ was divine. At the time of the book’s writing, he still did. I have no argument with those who choose to believe this. I don’t. But that doesn’t make me any less faithful to what I believe in as God, nor the fundamental rules that keep us in line as humans. Those are what matter, to me, how we treat each other second to second, day by day. If we’re going to be judged at some point, it makes far more sense that how we show up is going to carry a lot more weight than which religion or dogma we espouse. The proof is in our behavior. How do we honor the lives we’ve been given? The Earth we were handed to love and cherish? The animals which count on us not to hunt them to extinction? The oceans we were provided not to pollute and then strip of all viable life through over-fishing? How ultimately do we honor that spark of the Sacred that looks back at us through every other person’s eyes, no matter their color, creed, religion, culture, gender or sexual preference? How do we find a life that includes service to each other using the gifts bestowed upon us? I would far rather be measured by those standards that how dedicated I was to dogma. For my part, dogma doesn’t lead to divinity. Actions and intentions do.
Modern Times Require Modern Solutions
We all wish to believe in a great story. However, when those who followed any particular leader chose to interpret writings to their own personal, political and monetary benefit, or to fit the times, then it’s fair to say that some of the rules might not necessarily fit either our human natures or necessarily the world we currently inhabit. This to me is the essential problem of religions based on ancient figures and ancient writings, which reflect the way of life back then.This is one of the key issues facing the Catholic church as it relates to marriage, sexuality, abortion, kids, contraception and a host of other thoroughly modern issues that ancient dictates and practices cannot possibly answer. A brutal denouncement of people who are struggling to survive the very real circumstances of their lives (in other words not only MUST you have unprotected sex regularly but then support every kid that ensues, on minimum wage) is not just stupid, it’s abusive. Especially when your life as a Pope is so coddled that you have difficulty relating- your meals, car, every need is attended to. You’re effectively God on Earth to many, and as such, virtually infallible. A history of evil popes flies in the face of this, but I digress. (Want a fun read? See https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Bad_Popes.html?id=1AXRVTAWYMEC&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button#v=onepage&q&f=false)
Sex and the Church’s culture
The widespread disease of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church (please note here, I spent plenty of years going to a Catholic school and I knew my Latin by heart) has a lot to do with the forced and ridiculously unnecessary demand for celibacy. Sexual urges that are not expressed -hopefully in a healthy way with the right partner- tend to get ugly. We get desperate. All too often the end product is abuse of the least powerful, and then run to confession, all is forgiven, rinse and repeat. After all, many of us can’t help ourselves. But the punch card of weekly confession confers forgiveness, a clean slate, but then we lapse into temptation again, in the very communities we are supposed to be a trusted figure of absolute virtue.
The Catholic Church is hardly alone. Religion, and the power we confer onto those we believe have a special dispensation from whatever God we choose to believe in, offers far too much implicit permission to misbehave. If power corrupts, than I believe that religious power corrupts even more horrifically than political power. Both are unimaginable, but this is what the evangelical community has handed the current Rapist-Adulterer- in -Chief in exchange for his moving their religious/judicial agenda forward. When asked, the current leader of Focus on the Family, Jim Daly, openly admitted that they gave this rampantly rapacious and repugnant man a complete pass so that they could get their judicial agendas met. Reformed evangelical minister Rob Schenck, once a militant anti-abortionist and a co-collaborator of sorts to three abortion doctors’ murders, expressed his distaste for the moral collapse of the evangelical community in an interview with NPR’s Terri Gross (https://www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air/?).
Manipulating Religious Leaders is a Time-Honored Tradition of Dictators
America is hardly alone. Dictators have manipulated religious leaders to reach their own goals for millennia. A more recent example is Myanmar’s junta leader Than Shwe, whose face was actually carved onto an other wise lovely Buddha. Don’t believe me? I saw it, with a Burmese guide, who pointed out the specific facial features that made this Buddha distinct from the millions of others. Many Myanmar Buddhist monks are militant terrorists, utilized by their government to roust the Muslim Rohinga people in what is widely acknowledged as a genocide (http://time.com/4964592/myanmar-rohingya-muslims-francis-wade/)
No religion is safe from this kind of corruption. None. No major religious body is free of corruption, sexual deviancy, and hunger for power. To deny this is to be incomprehensibly naive. Our local Lakewood Buddhist center was rocked by a scandal when the senior monk grabbed the breasts of acolyte who was in the kitchen washing dishes. I am far more a practicing Buddhist than anything else, yet there is no more purity in that line of thought than anywhere else. We are human, and therefore corruptible. All of us. That is our journey. George Carlin once cracked that the Biblical phrase “Suffer the little children to come unto me” didn’t mean you put your hands on the altar boys. Yep. When dogma forces people to live in ways that do not follow natural ways of being, then they are going to turn to deviancy. And those are the very folks advising us on how to live in a state of grace. I don’t think so.
That is why ultimately, the great admonition that “The Kingdom of Heaven is within” means far more to me than any teachings from some interpreter of scripture. Most of us — here I do not include the psychotic or violently insane- have a pretty good sense about right and wrong. Not driven by religious dogma but in our inherent understanding of how we treat one another with respect, courtesy and regard. Those traits belong to humanity, not a particular religion. No religion has the corner on goodness. Because all religions, given their influence over so many of us, harbor plenty of evil people seeking refuge behind implicit power. Because of that, and the simple fact that we all in some ways succumb to temptation, the real job is to find that ultimate truth within. No amount of alms-giving wipes away the personal stain of ugly behavior, viciousness, and the things we do to cause intentional harm. Rice won’t right those wrongs. Only we can clean that mess up.
Understanding nature, understanding human nature, are in part what religion hopes to teach us. However, the deeply flawed, achingly human religious leaders we lift above the rest of us often seem to have the most to learn. Perhaps that is the most important thing they can teach us: To look within.