Religion

I Could Have Been One Of Them — In Alabama

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Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

In my previous article, I mentioned that in 2015, Ireland became the first nation to legalize same-sex marriage by a popular vote. In another ballot last year, the Irish approved a bill that struck down the country’s near-total ban on abortion. The procedure had been allowed only if the mother’s life was at risk. That, in what was one of the world’s most devoutly Catholic countries just a generation ago.

Now the State of Alabama has, in essence, the sort of law Ireland just got rid of. The other day, Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill into a law that allows abortions only “to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother,” for ectopic pregnancy, and if “the unborn child has a lethal abnormality.”

Oh, it gets worse: Alabama’s new law, like Ireland’s old law, doesn’t allow the termination of pregnancies that result from rape or incest. Exceptions were made, however rare, in Ireland, such as the one made in 1992 for a thirteen-year-old rape victim who was deemed at risk for suicide.

She was allowed to undergo an abortion in her own country, but the same right wasn’t granted to other girls and women. Instead, an amendment to the Irish constitution was passed, guaranteeing the right to travel to another country (usually England) for the procedure. That was fine for those who could afford to make the trip, as I’m sure Alabamans who can get to other states won’t be hampered by the new law in their own.

But in one area Alabama does old Ireland one better (or worse): Doctors who perform abortions can be punished with life in prison. Even televangelist Pat Robertson howled: “I think Alabama has gone too far,” he said during an episode of The 700 Club.

Ireland is starting to look really, really good right about now, even though I am not, and have never been, at any risk of getting pregnant. And hearing what’s transpired in Alabama and Georgia, and what may well come to pass in other states — not to mention thinking about the possibility of striking down Roe v Wade altogether — gives me the chills.

It would have given me the chills even when I was still living as a man. For me, the right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term has never been an abstraction. On one level, it is also about sovereignty over one’s body and life. Now, I’m not a constitutional lawyer or scholar. But, for what it’s worth, I have to wonder whether a government which can tell a woman or girl that she has to carry her father’s or brother’s or some stranger’s baby can also give itself the right to tell people such as I that we can’t take the hormones, have the surgeries or do whatever else we need to do in order to live at peace with ourselves. Also, would such a government imprison a doctor who prescribed the hormones or did the procedure—or even a psychiatrist who diagnosed a transgender, or a social worker who showed that transgendered person how to navigate a gender transition?

For all that I worry about such possibilities, I am affected in a more fundamental, even visceral, way by attacks on the right to a legal, safe abortion. As a child—an altar boy—I was sexually abused by a priest. That was half a century ago. I talked about it for the first time less than two years ago. By then, he was long dead, so I never had the opportunity to confront him. On the other hand, I never had to face him every day, directly or through the child I might have been forced to carry had I been, say, a 13-year-old girl instead of a 9-year-old boy. The state in which I was abused (New York) hadn’t yet legalized abortion, and Roe v Wade wouldn’t be decided for several more years. In the community in which I lived—almost entirely Catholic—young women were disowned or worse for having abortions. Even if abortion were legal, it would have been as unavailable to me as it was to most Irish women and girls—and will be for many in Alabama.

I am thinking of those women and girls. I could have been one of them. That is why I am so appalled at the law Alabama just passed. More importantly, though, I realize that for all I suffered as a result of my abuse and sexual assault, things could have been even worse for me. Unfortunately, in Alabama, they will be for many girls and young women.

I could have been one of them.

War’s Unanswered Questions by Robert C. Koehler

us war machine“Over these last few years, given the wars it has waged and the international treaties it has arbitrarily reneged on, the U.S. government perfectly fits its own definition of a rogue state.” — Arundhati Roy

You have the world’s largest military, you’re going to use it, right? Donald Trump and his team, led by National Insecurity Advisor John Bolton, are playing rogue right now with two countries not currently under U.S. control, Iran and Venezuela.

For those who already know that war is not only hell but utterly futile, the raw question hovering over these potential new exercises in mass murder transcends the obvious question: How can they be stopped? The larger question begins with the word “why” and then breaks into a thousand pieces.

Why is war the first — and seemingly the only — resort in so many national disagreements? Why is our trillion-dollar annual military budget sacrosanct? Why do we not learn from history that wars are based on lies? Why does the corporate media always hop aboard the “next” war (whatever it is) with such enthusiasm, with so little skepticism? Why does patriotism seem to require belief in an enemy? Why do we still have nuclear weapons? Why (as journalist Colman McCarthy once asked) are we violent but not illiterate?

Let’s take a look at bad, bad Iran. As CNN recently reported:

“National Security Adviser John Bolton said in a written statement Sunday that the U.S. is not seeking war with Iran, but was deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group as well as a bomber task force to the US Central Command region in the Middle East ‘to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.’”

And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, addressing the issue with disconcerting and unintentional candor, told reporters, according to CNN, “What we’ve been trying to do is to get Iran to behave like a normal nation.”

How would a “normal nation” respond to endless threats and sanctions? Sooner or later it would hit back. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, speaking recently in New York, explained it thus: “The plot is to push Iran into taking action. And then use that.”

Use it, in other words, as the excuse to go to war.

And going to war is a political game, a decision made or not made by a few important individuals — Bolton, Pompeo, Trump — while the general public looks on either in support or outrage, but either way as spectators. This phenomenon provokes an enormous, unasked “why?” Why is war a top-down directive rather than a collective, public decision? But I guess the answer to that question is obvious: We couldn’t go to war that wasn’t pre-orchestrated by a small group of powerful individuals. All the public has to do is . . . pretty much, nothing.

Elham Pourtaher, an Iranian going to school in New York state, makes this plea for heightened awareness: “U.S. civil society needs to include more global perspectives on the country’s foreign policy. U.S. citizens must become more aware that their votes have grave consequences beyond their country’s borders. . . . (Their) elected administration’s foreign policy is a matter of life and death for the citizens of the other countries, especially in the Middle East.”

She also notes that “the war has already begun. U.S. sanctions are producing a level of suffering comparable to that of wartime. Sanctions in fact are a war waged by the United States against the Iranian working- and middle-classes. These groups struggle to make ends meet as unemployment dramatically increases even as the inflation rate skyrockets. The same people that the Trump administration is pretending to want to set free are the ones that are hit hardest by current U.S. policies in the Middle East.”

And, oh yeah, the ones gaining empowerment from the U.S. war games are “the most undemocratic factions of the Iranian state.” This is how it always works. Hostile aggression begets hostile aggression. A war on terror begets terror. Why do we not know this yet?

At the very least, the provocations, including the fact that Trump is considering sending troops to the area, have “created a scenario in which everyone is now very worried that some form of an accidental war at a minimum is very likely because you have too many U.S. forces and Iranian forces into too small of an area,” Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council, said in a recent interview.

Human society is organized in such a way that war, intentional or accidental, is inevitable on a regular basis. And in the run-up to these wars, only the smallest questions are asked by the media, centering around: Is this one justified? Never, “Is this wise? Is this the best choice?” If something sufficiently provocative is done by the enemy — North Vietnam attacks a U.S. ship in the Tonkin Gulf, Iraq purchases aluminum tubes — then “we have no choice” but to retaliate on a massive scale.

The large questions only come later, such as this cry from a Syrian woman in the wake of allied air strikes on the city of Raqqa, quoted in an Amnesty International report:

“I saw my son die, burnt in the rubble in front of me. I’ve lost everyone who was dear to me. My four children, my husband, my mother, my sister, my whole family. Wasn’t the goal to free the civilians? They were supposed to save us, to save our children.”

— Robert C. Koehler, Peace Voice, War’s Unanswered Questions, May 19. 2019

Quote of the Day: Willie Nelson’s “God”

willie nelson

I think God is love, period. There’s love in everything out there — trees, grass, air, water. Love is the one thing that runs through every living thing. Everybody loves something. The grass loves the water. That’s the one thing we all have in common, that we all love and like to be loved. That’s God.

— Willie Nelson, Rolling Stone, The High Life, May 2018

Quote of the Day: Does Morality Require a God or Holy Book?

dr john messerly

Lacking good reasons or armed with weak ones, many will object that their moral beliefs derive from their Gods. To base your ethical views on Gods you would need to know: 1) if Gods exist; 2) if they are good; 3) if they issue good commands; 4) how to find the commands; and 5) the proper version and translation of the holy books issuing commands, or the right interpretation of a revelation of the commands, or the legitimacy of a church authority issuing commands. Needless to say, it is hard, if not impossible, to know any of this.

Consider just the interpretation problem. When does a seemingly straightforward command from a holy book like, “thou shalt not kill,” apply? In self-defense? In war? Always? And to whom does it apply? To non-human animals? Intelligent aliens? Serial killers? All living things? The unborn? The brain-dead? Religious commands such as “don’t kill,” “honor thy parents,” and “don’t commit adultery” are ambiguous. Difficulties also arise if we hear voices commanding us, or if we accept an institution’s authority. Why trust the voices in our heads, or institutional authorities?

For the sake of argument though, let’s assume: that there are Gods; that you know the true one; that your God issues good commands; that you have access to those commands because you have found the right book or church, or had the right vision, or heard the right voices; and that you interpret and understand the command correctly—even if they came from a book that has been translated from one language to another over thousands of years, or from a long-ago revelation. It is almost impossible that you are correct about all this, but for the sake of the argument let’s say that you are. However, even in this case, most philosophers would argue that you can’t base ethics on your God.

To understand why you can’t base ethics on Gods consider the question: what is the relationship between the Gods and their commands? A classic formulation of this relationship is called the divine-command theory. According to divine command theory, things are right or wrong simply because the Gods command or forbid them. There is nothing more to morality than this. It’s like a parent who says to a child: it’s right because I say so. To see how this formulation of the relationship fails, consider a famous philosophical conundrum: “Are things right because the Gods command them, or do the Gods command them because they are right?”

If things are right simply because the Gods command them, then those commands are arbitrary. In that case, the Gods could have made their commandments backward! If divine fiat is enough to make something right, then the Gods could have commanded us to kill, lie, cheat, steal and commit adultery, and those behaviors would then be moral. But the Gods can’t make something right if it’s wrong. The Gods can’t make torturing children morally acceptable simply by divine decree, and that is the main reason why most Christian theologians reject divine command theory.

On the other hand, if the Gods command things because they are right, then there are reasons for the God’s commands. On this view, the Gods, in their infinite wisdom and benevolence, command things because they see certain commands as good for us. But if this is the case, then there is some standard, norm or criteria by which good or bad are measured which is independent of the Gods. Thus all us, religious and secular alike, should be looking for the reasons that certain behaviors should be condemned or praised. Even the thoughtful believer should engage in philosophical ethics.

So either the Gods commands are without reason and therefore arbitrary, or they are rational according to some standard. This standard—say that we would all be better off—is thus the reason we should be moral and that reason, not the Gods’ authority, is what makes something right or wrong. The same is true for a supposedly authoritative book. Something isn’t wrong simply because a book says so. There must be a reason that something is right or wrong, and if there isn’t, then the book has no moral authority on the matter.

At this point, the believer might object that the Gods have reasons for their commands, but we can’t know them. Yet if the ways of the Gods are really mysterious to us, what’s the point of religion? If you can’t know anything about the Gods or their commands, then why follow those commands, why have religion at all, why listen to the priest or preacher? If it’s all a mystery, we should remain silent or become mystics.

— Dr. John Messerly, Reason and Meaning, Professional Ethicists Rarely Oppose Abortion, May 19, 2019

What Would a Bible-Based Culture Look Like?

abortion is murder al shannon

There is a staggering lack of Biblically-based knowledge and impact in America’s public square. Secularism, Christianity’s chief competitor, thrives solely in the absence of morality, and Christians have handed over the culture and its mountains of influence to those in rebellion against God. Any casual observer will recognize that secularism’s dominance of academia, newsrooms, sports, the Courts, big business, Hollywood, and medicine is a direct result of Christians ‘not doing politics’. It would seem that modern Christianity is ‘not doing education’ either, given that the secular worldview now is being spoon-fed to 85% of America’s youthUntil Christians step into the public square, reestablishing a Biblically-based culture, the ‘sexualization’ and secularization of youth, allied and abetted by Hollywood and media cliques, will continue to bring the nation to ruin.

— David Lane, The American Renewal Project

Evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and Mormons clamor for a Bible-based culture. In their minds, the Bible is the moral and ethical standard by which all of us should live. If only the United States were governed by the dictates of the Bible, all would be well. Several years ago, a local Fundamentalist Christian wrote a letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News (behind a paywall) extolling the wonderfulness of living in a country governed by the Bible. He went on to say that no one should fear Bible-based rule. “Christians,” he said, “only want what’s best for everyone.” Sadly, there are a lot of naive believers who think just like this man; that Christians only want love, joy, peace, and ice cream for everyone. However, history tells us differently; that when church and state are one, blood is shed, people die, and freedoms are lost. And make no mistake about it, theocracy is the goal. Christian apologists might hide their theocratic beliefs with flowery words and philosophical verbiage, but the naked truth is that, in their minds, there is one Lord, lawgiver, ruler, king, and potentate, and his name if Jesus. There is one perfect and infallible law book — the Bible. Knowing these things to be true, perhaps we should ponder what a Bible-based culture would look like?

One need only look at the frontal assault on abortion and Roe v. Wade to see what a Bible-based culture might look like. Anti-abortionists, using an incremental approach, have been chipping away at abortion rights for decades. Their efforts have reached the point of critical mass, and now abortion is effectively and totally banned in numerous states. These bans, of course, are meant to be a vehicle by which to relitigate Roe v. Wade. Now that President Trump has put two conservative pro-life judges on the U.S. Supreme Court, it is likely that the Court will, when given the opportunity, overturn Roe v Wade. This will, then, return the regulation of abortion to the states, and when that happens, many state legislatures will quickly move to ban and criminalize abortion — including abortions in the case of rape and incest. This will not be the end of the matter either. Emboldened by their win, Fundamentalist Christians will demand that birth control be outlawed and public-school students be taught Bible-based abstinence-only sex education. These zealots will also tirelessly work to enact laws that give fertilized eggs constitutional rights — demanding personhood for zygotes. The culmination of their efforts will come when doctors, following the dictates of their conscience, are prosecuted for performing abortions and mothers are arrested and imprisoned for “murdering” their unborn “children.”

Several years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. The same people who tirelessly worked to ban abortion are the same people who strived to criminalize homosexuality and deny LGBTQ people the same constitutional rights afforded to heterosexual Americans. Don’t think for a moment that these people are sitting at home licking their wounds as they watch lesbian porn. Convinced of the rightness of their beliefs and interpretations of the Bible, these Fundamentalist Christians are plotting to force gays back into closets and recriminalize sodomy and other “perverse” sexual behaviors. Now that the makeup of the Supreme Court skews to the right, I have no doubt that these zealots will do their best to afford the Court another bite at the same-sex-marriage apple. Believing that the Bible condemns homosexuality, theocrats demand and work towards a Bible-based culture where the Good Book®, and not personal morality and preferences, determines who may fuck whom when, where, and how. Failing to fuck according to God’s Holy Word would lead to arrest and imprisonment. And if these theocrats are consistent, they will demand that “sodomites” be executed for their crimes against humanity. This, dear readers, is what a Bible-based culture looks like.

In a Bible-based culture, other sexual “sins” such as adultery and fornication would also be banned. In fact, in the Old Testament alone, there are 613 laws. Of course, no Christian has ever kept all of God’s laws. Most Christians, including those clamoring for a theocracy, regularly and with impunity ignore God-given laws. Can anyone say, HYPOCRITES?! That said, even limiting a Bible-based culture to the Ten Commandments, is dangerous. In both versions of the Decalogue — yes there are two versions and they differ from one another — the Christian God demands total and absolute fealty and worship. According to numerous Bible stories, worshipping other gods was considered a capital crime punishable by death. I am quite sure that if Fundamentalist Christians ever gain the power of the state, the first people rounded up and sent to Franklin Graham Reeducation Camps will be atheists and Muslims. Fundamentalist Christians have a deep-seated hatred for the godless and worshippers of Allah. It chaps their testicles that we roam free on the Internet and in public. Every time the Freedom From Religion Foundation successfully litigates a church-state issue, their email inbox is filled with hate mail from offended followers of Jesus. Imagine these same people having the power of the state at their disposal. In a Bible-based culture, there’s no freedom of/from religion. There’s one God — Jesus — one religion — Christianity — and one lawbook — the Bible.

The next time you hear the cacophony of Fundamentalist Christians demanding the United States adopt a Bible-based standard of behavior, ask them exactly what they mean. Peruse the list of Actions Prohibited by the Bible on RationalWiki, and then ask them if their Bible-based culture would include some or all of the listed prohibitions. I think you’ll find that few zealots really want to live by all of the laws found in the Bible. Damn, talk about a miserable life! No, most theocrats just want to legislate and criminalize the big stuff. What they want, most of all, is a return to the 1940s and 1950s — a time when women were submissive keepers of their homes, people of color knew their place, LGBTQ people were not seen or heard, and the only fucking going on was that between monogamous heterosexual married couples. They want a culture where everyone goes to church, loves Jesus, and school children read the Bible and pray every day. In other words, Christian Fundamentalists want to roll back a hundred years of social progress. Never mind that their vision of a Mayberry-like world exists only in their Bible-sotted minds. Does anyone really believe Andy wasn’t fucking Helen and Gomer wasn’t smoking weed in the gas station bathroom?

The other day, I wrote a post detailing why Evangelicalism is dying. Let me be clear, Evangelicalism IS, most certainly, dying, but it has stage-one, not stage-four, cancer. One need only watch the machinations of Evangelical culture warriors to see that they have no intentions of going quietly into the night. There are times when I tip my cap to Christian Fundamentalists. They know what they are fighting for and are willing to metaphorically and, at times, literally kill everyone who gets in the way of their goal of establishing God’s kingdom on earth. Far too often, liberal and progressives are way too nice and polite. We can learn something from the tactics of Christian zealots: that social progress will only be achieved by stomping the beliefs and demands of theocrats into the ground. Until we understand that we are in a battle for the soul and future of American secularism, we will continue to have our asses handed to us by those demanding King Jesus rule over us all. Way too many secularists, religious or not, sit on the sidelines shooting the breeze while Christian Fundamentalists, in White Walker fashion, wage war against our Republic.

If the very thought of living in a Bible-based culture scares the living Christopher Hitchens out of you, then do something about it. You can start by joining and supporting groups such as the Freedom From Religion FoundationAmerican AtheistsAmerican Humanist AssociationSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceAmerican United for Separation of Church and State, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper. Work to elect political leaders who understand the importance of the separation of church and state and who will work with indefatigability to promote and preserve American secularism. And most of all, live out your liberal, progressive, humanistic values and ideals before the world. Let them see that there is, indeed, a better way.

If we don’t wage holy war against theocrats, who will? Passivity is deadly, and if we refuse to fight, we have no one to blame but ourselves when President Billy-the-Baptist and a Christian Congress demand Americans everywhere bow and worship the one true lawgiver, Jesus.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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The Irish — And The World’s — Reveille

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

‘History’ Stephen said, ‘is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.’

That is one of Jonathan’s favorite quotes. Knowing what I’ve come to know about him, it’s not difficult to understand why: the history from which Stephen is trying to awake in James Joyce’s Ulysses is the same history in which Jonathan (not his real name) came to be. To some extent, it is also my history.

Jonathan is a co-worker of mine, and we have been working on a project. That is how I have come to know a bit about him, and he’s come to know a few things about me. It shouldn’t have surprised either of us to find parallels in our backgrounds.

We both grew up in communities where nearly everyone went to mass in the same Catholic parish. My education was remarkably similar to his, though I received mine in a Catholic school across the street from the church and his took place in a “public” school. Most of my teachers were Dominican sisters. I got a heavy dose of religious instruction and was brought, with my schoolmates, to confession every Friday in the church. We now chuckle about standing on line at the confessional and thinking about what sins we would confess — at age eight.

As an altar boy, I served in the First Holy Communion mass for one of my schoolmates. A couple of weeks later, I served at the funeral of her older brother who was killed in Vietnam. I also served at my brother’s confirmation and, a few days later, the wedding of an older sister of a boy who was confirmed with my brother. I always felt that much in the lives of our community centered on the church.

I would later learn that there are many such communities all over the United States. The churches at their cores might be Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist or some other denomination. They nonetheless dominate the social as well as spiritual lives of those hamlets, villages, towns and urban enclaves in much the same way my former Catholic church cast its net around my old neighborhood.

Even so, those communities, numerous as they are, could never compare to what Jonathan lived in. It’s something that, even with my background, I have difficulty imagining: a whole country in which everyone belongs to, if not the same parish, then at least the same church. “In Ireland, you didn’t just go to church,” he explains. “You were always in the church, wherever you went, whatever you did.”

Jonathan grew up in Ireland during the 1980s and early ‘90s: two decades or, if you prefer, a generation, after my upbringing. At that time, the Catholic Church was still the de facto government, education system and provider of social services. “There really wasn’t any secular education in Ireland at that time,” he observes. Even most “public” schools, like the one he attended, were run, in fact or in essence, by the church. He got an hour a day of religious (indoctrination) instruction, as I did. That teaching was compulsory in all Irish schools of the time, he says. On the other hand, had my parents enrolled me in the public school of our urban American neighborhood, religious education would not have been part of my curriculum.

Another striking similarity between my education and his is that, while instruction in most subjects was rigorous, it included nothing about our bodies—or, of course, evolution. Had I attended public school, I might have learned something about Darwin’s ideas though, to be fair, given the times, I might not have had anything resembling sex education. In contrast, there was really no way Jonathan, in his country, in his time, could have learned anything about the way humans or other animals evolve, reproduce or take care of themselves.

Jonathan left Ireland in the mid-90s, just before it experienced its first (and perhaps only) economic boom — and the church started to lose its grip. He’s been back a few times, mainly to visit family and friends, but has no regrets about leaving, he says. For one thing, he pursued graduate studies and a career that would have been all but unavailable in the Ireland of his youth. Oh — and he met and married a beautiful biracial woman.

Also, he says, even though many of Ireland’s young today find the Church, and religion generally, “irrelevant,” there is still a “residue of religiosity,” mainly among older people and in the countryside. That is one reason, he says, the country was “convulsed” by the sex abuse scandals in ways that people in other European countries or the US can barely imagine. While the young don’t attend church and many don’t believe, the Church still runs schools like the one Jonathan attended. And hospitals. And orphanages. And many other organizations and institutions on which people depend for finding employment and housing, getting healthcare and other things most people consider part of living.

The church had an even tighter grip on Ireland during Jonathan’s youth, not to mention in earlier times. In few other countries was Catholicism as much a part of a person’s identity as it was in Ireland until a generation or so ago. One reason the Church was able to take such a hold of the populace is that, for centuries, their British occupiers tried to obliterate all signs of native culture. Speaking, let alone teaching, Gaelic became illegal. As in Poland during the Cold War and earlier occupations, the Church was the only organized opposition to oppression, mainly because it was the only opposition that had help from outside the country: Priests could go to France, Spain or Germany for their training. Thus, for the people, their religion became a bulwark against a foreign power that sought to subsume their identities. That, from what I’ve read — and what Jonathan has told me — is the reason the Irish held so fiercely to a religion that did as much to oppress them as any occupying army.

If a hierarchical structure like the church can use its representatives’ putative relationship with God to exploit those who are younger, weaker, poorer or in any other way more vulnerable than themselves in a country like the United States, the horrors they could inflict on poor Irish people are unimaginable to most of us. Even the most devout or impoverished American Catholics have never depended on the church for their identity or even sustenance in the way an everyday Catholic in Ireland did just a generation ago, i.e., in Jonathan’s time.

The “residue” of which Jonathan speaks was left by that captivity. Let’s call it what it is: slavery. Just as African-Americans still must extricate themselves from the detritus of their ancestors’ bondage, the Irish today are still living with the debris of the Church (and colonialism). And, although the young have made great strides (for example, four years ago Ireland became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote, largely because of the young), they are still awakening to the nightmare of their history: their parents’ and grandparents’ oppression by the church.

Waking from a nightmare is difficult. It is not — contrary to how it may seem — the waking itself that’s difficult. Rather, it’s the nightmare that causes difficulty because it terrifies and tires us. At least the nightmare can end if we wake up.

And so it is with the church sex-abuse scandals, in Ireland and elsewhere. People see it as a tragedy or scandal when it comes to light. But the real tragedy, the real scandal, as Jonathan points out, is that the sex abuse went on, in the Magdalene orphanages, in the monasteries, in the schools and, of course, in the parishes, for centuries—during Jonathan’s lifetime, my lifetime, his parents’ and grandparents’ lifetimes, their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ lifetimes, and during the lifetimes of their forebears. They lived the nightmare; we have lived it; now we are waking from it. Jonathan knew he had no other choice. Nor do I.

Why Evangelical Christianity is Dying

trump loves jesus

Cartoon by Bob Englehart

Evangelicalism is dying. Oh, Evangelicals still make lots of noise and have a stranglehold on the Republican Party, but their grip on America is weakening and, in time, their hold will falter, leading to epic collapse. The Week reports:

While 63 percent of Americans over the age of 65 are white Christians, only 24 percent of those under the age of 30 are, a group far outnumbered by the 38 percent of young adults who are unaffiliated. Unless there’s some kind of dramatic Christian awakening that produces millions of converts, that means that in the future the ranks of Christians in general and white Christians in particular are likely to shrink.

This won’t happen any time soon, but that train is a coming, and nothing can stop it. Younger Evangelicals, in particular, are exiting their churches stage left, never to return. Those who remain tend to be more liberal politically, socially, and theologically, than their parents and grandparents. These cradle Evangelicals will, in time, seek out the friendlier confines of Liberal/Progressive Christianity. The late Rachel Evans is a good example of an Evangelical who tried to change things from within, but failing to do so, left the church of her youth and became an Episcopalian.

death of evangelicalism

What drives the slow death of Evangelical Christianity?

Evangelical Hatred of LGBTQ People

Evangelical hatred for LGBTQ people is well-known. See an anti-LGBTQ bill and you will find Evangelicals lurking in the shadows. Older Evangelicals lived in a world where homosexuals stayed in the closet where they belonged. Younger Evangelicals have LGBTQ friends. Exposure to people who are different from them makes it hard for them to condemn people to Hell for being “different.” The more that Evangelical young adults read, travel, and attend secular universities, the more likely it is that they will abandon the Evangelicalism of their childhoods.

Evangelical Support of Racist Immigration Policies

American Evangelicals generally support the anti-immigration policies of Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Older Evangelicals tend to live in white monocultures where exposure to non-white people is limited or non-existent. Younger Evangelicals are more likely to know and be friends with people of color. Again, exposure to people different from them forces younger Evangelicals to question the racist beliefs of their parents and grandparents.

Evangelical Support of Creationism

Most Evangelicals believe God created the universe in six twenty-four-hour days. Older Evangelicals are more likely to believe Genesis 1-3 is the de facto scientific explanation for how the universe came into existence. Younger Evangelicals, exposed to non-religious science curriculua, are less likely believe the old Evangelical canard: God Did It! They know the universe is billions of years old, and that evolution best explains the natural world. The more science training young Evangelicals receive, the more likely it is that they will cast aside creationism and its gussied-up cousin, intelligent design.

Evangelical Rhetoric on Abortion

Evangelicals are the power behind the culture war. Most younger Evangelicals grew up in churches where sermons frequently focused on this or that cultural hot-button issue. Abortion is one such issue. Younger Evangelicals are more likely to be pro-choice or support exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, and the life of the mother. The continued war against the number one way to end abortion — birth control — is confusing and contradictory to younger Evangelicals. Not wanting to wait until marriage to have sex, many younger Evangelicals know how important the use of birth control is.

Evangelical Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage

Evangelicals stand at the forefront of opposition to same-sex marriage. Younger Evangelicals, believing you can’t help but love who you love, are less likely to have a problem with gay marriage. Again, this goes back to being exposed to people different from themselves. Many younger Evangelicals personally know same-sex couples, and these personal connections make it hard/unlikely for them to oppose same-sex marriage.

Evangelical Denial of Global Climate Change and Global Warming

Evangelicalism is front and center in the global climate change debate. Older Evangelicals, in particular, often believe climate change/global warming is a myth or something not to worry about because God is on the job. Younger Evangelicals see firsthand what violent storms, floods, melting ice caps, and rising temperatures are doing to their planet. They are angered by the “que sera, sera” approach to life of older Evangelicals; tired of “I’m going to die soon” or “the rapture is imminent” indifference from their parents, grandparents, and older church members.

Evangelical Insistence that the Bible is Inerrant

Evangelicals traditionally believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Most older Evangelicals believe their Bibles are they very words of God. Many younger Evangelicals, however, have serious questions and doubts about the nature of the Biblical text. The non-answers they receive from their churches/pastors don’t measure up to their expectations. And when questions go unanswered, young Evangelicals turn to the Internet for answers, finding evidence that their pastors, parents, and Sunday school teachers are lying about the Bible These seekers wonder, “what else are our pastors lying about?”

Evangelical Support of President Donald Trump

In 2016, eighty-one percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. Without their votes, Hillary Clinton would have won the election. Younger Evangelicals tended to vote for liberal/progressive candidates, candidates that better reflected their worldview. Record numbers of young Evangelicals voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Younger Evangelicals see that their pastors, parents, and grandparents were willing to sacrifice moral principles to gain political power, and it disgusts them. In 2020, the party that captures this voting bloc will win the election.

Put all of these things together, and what you have is a religious sect that no longer represents younger Evangelicals; a sect that sold its soul for political expediency and power. While scores of younger Evangelicals leave Evangelicalism, never to return, others yearn for a religion that matters.

They are increasingly concluding that Evangelicalism is irredeemable, so they leave. I fully expect this exodus to increase, leading to the eventual death of Evangelical Christianity.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Black Collar Crime: Baptist Pastor Daniel Heath Faces State and Federal Sex Crime Charges

pastor daniel heath

Daniel Heath, the associate pastor of First Baptist Church — affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship — in Wilson, North Carolina, stands accused of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and coercion and enticement of a minor. The Wilson Times reports:

A Wilson pastor and a volunteer youth baseball coach accused of sexual exploitation of a minor now faces a federal charge in connection to the case.

A Texas grand jury indicted 33-year-old Daniel Franklin Heath on one count of coercion and enticement of a minor, according to a unsealed federal indictment obtained by The Wilson Times. That indictment was handed down Wednesday. Heath, a former associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Wilson, was arrested a day earlier on the charge of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.

According to the Texas federal indictment, Heath used an LG model cellphone to “persuade, induce, entice and coerce,” a minor to “engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of creating a visual depiction of such conduct, knowing that such depiction would transmitted in interstate and foreign commerce.”

Federal authorities say activity occurred from December of 2017 until April 11 of this year, according to the indictment out of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas Sherman Division. Heath could face 10 years to life in prison if convicted on the federal charge.

….

Heath’s arrest warrant in Wilson alleges that he did “encourage” a 16-year-old girl to “engage in sexual activity, perform sexual activities to herself for the purpose of producing material containing a visual representation depicting this activity, the defendant knowing the character and content of the performance and material.”

Church members were also seated inside the courtroom Friday.

Heath is currently being held on a $500,000 secured bond in the Wilson County Detention Center.

….

The Federal Bureau of Investigation contacted the Wilson Police Department in April regarding Heath, who was the subject of an ongoing investigation, officials have said.

On Tuesday, the police department’s FBI Task Force detective assisted FBI agents in executing a search warrant at Heath’s home in Wilson, according to officials. Based upon evidence gathered at the scene, authorities arrested and charged Heath on that same day.

Black Collar Crime: Methodist Pastor John McFarland Accused of Sex Crimes

pastor john mcfarland

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

John McFarland, pastor of Orangethorpe United Methodist Church in Fullerton, California, stands accused of sexually assaulting seven children. Prior to his tenure at  Orangethorpe, McFarland was the pastor of Surf City Church in Huntington Beach from 2011 to 2016, Fountain Valley United Methodist Church in Fountain Valley from 1988 to 2016, and from 1981 to 1988, he was the pastor of Calexico United Methodist Church in Calexico — all located in California. McFarland was also a chaplain for 20 years for the Fountain Valley Police Department until his retirement a few years ago.

A press release from the office of the District Attorney of Orange County states:

A man who served as a head pastor at several Southern California churches faces 11 child molestation charges for victimizing seven children ranging in age from five to 15 years old.

John Rodgers McFarland, 67, of Fullerton was arrested on May 9, 2019. He is charged with seven felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor under the age of 14, and four felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor between the ages of 14 and 15.

Prosecutors allege the molestations for the current offenses occurred between 2003 and 2017.

McFarland is currently being held on $2 million bail at the Orange County Jail. He faces a maximum sentence of 179 years to life if convicted on all counts.

KTLA reports:

The defendant was previously arrested on suspicion of child molestation in Escondido last December after a girl came forward to report the alleged abuse, according to the Fountain Valley Police Department.

During the investigation into that case, police said they uncovered “evidence that McFarland abused other victims.”

He was arrested again Thursday, according to the DA’s office.

McFarland is suspected of abusing the children between 2003 and 2017, during which time he served as a pastor at several churches in Orange and San Diego counties, prosecutors said.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheism is Dying Says Catholic Zealot Shane Schaetzel

shane schaetzel

Want to read a primer on “Bad Christian Arguments Against Atheism?” Just read Catholic Zealot Shane Schaetzel’s post titled, There is a God. Here’s an excerpt of Schaetzel’s “brilliant” prose.

The defining religion of the 20th century was Atheism. I say “was” because even though the number of Atheists continues to grow in Western civilisation, the idea itself is obsolete. While the mantra of the 20th century was “God is dead,” the mantra of the 21st century will be “Atheism is dead” and that will be painfully obvious within a few decades. Before its end, the 21st century will become the most religious century in modern history.

The Atheism of the 20th century was defined by the ideas of Charles Darwin and Karl Marx in the 19th century. From these two men, the Marx-Darwinian ideology would spawn the systematic murder of over 100,000,000 people in the 20th century under Communism and Nazism. (And that’s not even counting the wars spawned by these ideologies, which amounted to over a hundred million more.) The bloodiest century in the history of the world was given to us by institutionalised Atheism. No other century can compare, and if we add up all the casualties and holocausts caused by religions throughout the history of the world, they don’t hold a candle to the bloodbath given to us by Marx-Darwinian Atheism.

Atheists have been with us since the dawn of time. There is really nothing new about the idea of Atheism. What made the 20th century different, however, was the militant nature of the Marx-Darwinian brand. You see, prior to the 20th century, Atheists were usually just considered the typical village idiot. Every village had one, just like every village had a town drunk. Often they were the same person. However, in the 19th century, with the publication of just a few widely popular books, Karl Marx was able to give Atheism a systematic social-political worldview, backed by the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin. This gave Atheism an appearance of social-political-scientific legitimacy. In other words, Marx and Darwin made it intellectually fashionable to be an Atheist. I say the “appearance” of social-political-scientific legitimacy because as science, politics and sociology would later discover, it’s just an illusion. The end result was the worst bloodbath in the history of the world, lasting a whole century, coupled with the complete destruction of Western Civilisation (Christendom) and the apparent ascendancy of Islam as a major world religion. For the first time in a thousand years, we are now looking at the real prospect of Europe becoming a new Islamic stronghold, all thanks to the century-long progression of Marx-Darwinian Atheism.

….

While mainstream society continues to follow the obsolete 19th-century scientific basis of Marx-Darwinian Atheism, it’s just a matter of time before mainstream society eventually catches up with 20th-century science. When that happens, and it’s already starting, Atheism will be put back on track to becoming the rare and comical ideology of the village idiot. Just give it a hundred years. By the dawn of the 22nd century, the world will be more religious than anything we’ve seen in centuries.

— Shane Schaetzel, Complete Christianity, There is a God,  May 1, 2018

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Catholics Were the ”Original” Christians

shane schaetzel

It seems strange to have to say that Catholics are Christian but to a growing number of Evangelical Protestants (particularly in the Anglosphere) it needs to be pointed out. Catholic Christianity is Complete Christianity. In fact, we Catholics were the first Christians because we Catholics were the original Christians. Sadly, a lot of Catholics have apparently played into this word-trap as well, referring to Catholics as “Catholics” and to Protestants as “Christians.” What they’re doing, inadvertently, is giving credit to the false notion that Catholics are not Christians and Protestants are. It’s a terrible situation that currently exists, and this blog is aimed at putting an end to it — forever.

You see, the word Catholic simply means “universal” or “all-embracing” or “including a wide variety of things.” In other words “complete.” It was used in the late first century to describe the actual Church established by Christ and his apostles, which spanned the ancient world, in contrast to many sectarian groups which only followed the teachings of a specific leader or were limited in membership to geography or ethnicity.

….

In modern times, within the last 200 years or so, groups of Protestants began breaking away from their mainline denominations and national churches, and a good number of them began calling themselves Evangelical. Later, they began using the terms “nondenominational” or “Born-Again” or “Bible Christians.” Some of them insisted on just calling themselves “Christians” without any adjective to describe or define them. In time these non-descriptive Evangelicals started using the word “Christian” to compare/contrast themselves with other Christians using different names. A large number of these non-descriptive Evangelicals referred to themselves as “Christian” and to members of the Catholic Church simply as “Catholics” as if these two words (Christian and Catholic) has nothing in common at all. Thus, in great swaths of Anglophone societies, many Evangelical Christians do not believe that Catholics are Christian. This is ridiculous!

— Shane Schaetzel, Complete Christianity, Are Catholics Christian? May 12, 2019

Barbara

barbara tieken 1940s

My Mom, Barbara Tieken, 1940s

Born in rural Missouri to parents who were drunks and constantly fought

Barbara suffered the indignity and shame of being molested by her father

A heinous act he never acknowledged or apologized for

When he became a Christian his past was under the blood

God may have forgiven him

But she never did

barbara and steve tieken 1940s

Barbara and Steve Tieken 1940s

She was a beautiful child who grew up to be an attractive woman

A woman who attracted the attention of men

At seventeen she found herself pregnant

At the age of eighteen she married

Did she marry the father of her baby?

There are doubts

barbara gerencser 1956

Barbara Gerencser, 1956

She found her husband to unreliable, never able to keep the bills paid

He moved her from house to house, town to town, and state to state

Along the way she birthed another boy and then a girl

She loved to read and was passionate about politics

She wrote letters to the newspaper, a staunch defender of right-wing Conservatism

She campaigned for Barry Goldwater and George Wallace

Like so many white, rural Americans of her time, she was a racist

She loved to cook

When her oldest son started playing baseball she came to his games

Her son’s father couldn’t be bothered

When she was thirty-one, her brother-in-law raped her

Her oldest son was home sick from school when it happened

So much trauma

Is it any wonder she had mental problems?

Psychiatrists

Pills

Mental hospitals

Attempted suicides

Rage

Depression

Slit wrists, the kitchen floor, a pool of blood, her oldest son found her

Yet, she lived

Over time, her body collapsed, rendering her an invalid

barbara gerencser 1957

Barbara Gerencser, 1957, Holding her newborn son Bruce (Butch)

By then, her oldest son was a preacher

She was proud of him

He was not proud of her

She was an embarrassment, a pill junkie, she just needed to get right with God

Four marriages

Numerous men in and out of her life

Yet, she never lost her mental acuity or thirst for knowledge

She watched the news day and night, ever ready to rage against those she disagreed with

She told her oldest son she wanted him to do her funeral and she wanted everyone to sing the Star Spangled Banner and say the Pledge of Allegiance

barbara tieken 1950s

Barbara Tieken, 1950s

Over time, her oldest son came to accept her as she was

He would come to Columbus and take her shopping or to the doctor

She didn’t like his driving

Her phone was often disconnected

Her latest husband, just like everyone before him, couldn’t keep the bills paid

The oldest son’s father died from surgery complications at age forty-nine

Her oldest son had to call the police to give her a message since her phone was disconnected

Awhile later, in a pouring rain, she called from a phone booth

They talked and wept together

And then she moved to Quincy, Michigan, six hours away

Her oldest son only saw her a few times after the move

They talked on the phone every month or so and wrote to one another

After church one Sunday, her oldest son answered the phone at his house

His aunt was on the other end of the phone

He heard what he never hoped he would hear

His mom was dead

She had turned a Ruger .357 on herself, pulled the trigger, and ripped a hole in her heart

In a moment, her heart stopped and the life drained from her body

Her oldest son wonders why, but at the same time he knows the answer

The graveside service was an exercise in profound, excruciating grief and denial

The preacher son could barely speak

There would be no singing of the Star Spangled Banner or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance

Even in death she was ignored and denied

Her father spoke of Jesus

Her son saw only a father who molested his daughter and scarred his mother

She was fifty-four when she died

Her son misses her

Oh how he wishes for a do-over

To tell her, I love you

To proudly show off his grandchildren

But all he is left with is emptiness, pain, and regret

And memories

barbara gerencser 1978

Mom and Bruce, Rochester, Indiana, 1978