Lost Religion and Other Beliefs

All religions promise a reward for excellence is of the will or heart, but none for excellences of the head or understanding.

Schopenhauer

Interesting article titled “Can the Meritocracy Find God” in the April 10 edition of The New York Times by Ross Douthat, a Christian journalist who is trying to imagine a scenario where “not just would-be intellectuals but the wider elite-university-educated population, the meritocrats or “knowledge workers,” the “professional-managerial class” would convert or turn to religion.

He cites considerable obstacles, including that the “American educated class is deeply committed to a moral vision that regards emancipated, self-directed choice as essential to human freedom and the good life” and the meritocracy’s reliance on science, “which regards strong religious belief as fundamentally anti-rational, miracles as superstition, the idea of a personal God as so much wishful thinking.”

Douthat expresses a concern about the “deep secularization of the meritocracy.” He is disappointed that people who could have pursued religious careers as priests, ministers and rabbis have turned to secular positions as social workers, professors and psychologists. Instead of running religious missions, these secularists have started and invested in their own foundations.

The essay sparked an interesting online debate from readers and I have posted selected comments below. I will complete this post by adding my thoughts at the end. Comments by New York Times readers are in italics:

We’ve come too far to believe in the mean-spirited garbage spewed by self-serving individual sects. When God is the God of every human being, bar none, then people will flock to houses of worship.

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All religions rely on blind faith and magical beliefs where as non believers rely on science and facts.

After years and years of of seeing the damage caused by religion to humans throughout history is it any wonder that people are finding that they do not need religion to be Good people or do good for their fellow humans which is progress we should all be happy about.

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Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” – Seneca

This couldn’t be more blatantly true than in today’s politics.

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Raised Catholic, the teachings of Jesus are engrained in the fiber of who I am and how I live my life and treat others. It is the basis of my morality. But, I think Jesus was a Jewish social justice reformer, not the son of a supernatural creator.   It’s the very conscience I developed as a Catholic that forced me to leave the Church.I just can’t participate in the hypocrisy, sexism and homophobia of the leaders and the institution.

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The Christian church was instrumental in colonialism. The Christian church led the way to anti-Semitism. The Bible belt in the US led the way to slavery, Jim Crow, and white supremacy. The world-wide Roman Catholic church issues pieties while continuing to downplay sexual abuse of children by priests. Why would anyone look to the church for moral guidance? For spiritual guidance?

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The churches have only themselves to blame for the decline of church membership: Pedophile priests and cover up of them in the Catholic Church; evangelicals supporting the anti-Christian values of Trump and Republican party. The “prosperity gospel”?  It’s an oxymoron.

No, the secularization of America won’t reverse until the institutions of Christianity and their leaders start talking and acting like Christ. The present hypocrisy is too blatant. The lack of humility is too off-putting. 

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If more people were actually educated in scriptural studies, there probably would be many fewer adherents to the claim that the bible is the inerrant “word of God.”

Example:  King Solomon is only a fictional character. There is no record of this so-called great and powerful monarch in the considerable historical documents of the period in which he would have lived and reigned.

Furthermore,  in Israel, perhaps the most excavated region on the planet, archaeologists have not uncovered a single bit of evidence of the vast temple he supposedly built. Apparently, the temple existed only in the minds of those who wrote the books of Chronicles and Kings and described the edifice in great detail. 

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I was raised a Catholic and a Christian as was Mr. Douthat.  At some point I determined that, while I deeply admired the teaching and example of Jesus, I did not think he was god and I did not think he believed he was god so I am not religious any longer. 

As my life has progressed I am amazed at how much Jesus’ teachings have stuck with me and at how little Jesus’ teachings have stuck with Christian believers.

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The problem, Brother Douthat, is that the atheists and secularists in this country generally act a lot more ‘Christian’ than the ‘Christians’ in the pews.

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What I still can’t fathom about Ross–and the many others that lament the decline of organized religion, Christianity or otherwise–is the presumption that the possession of an organized religious epistemology and creed is prerequisite for a moral outlook.

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But I still practiced my religious beliefs until religious leaders backed the former president 4 years ago and then last year. Even against all he did, including his horrendous handling of Covid in the name of economics. Some of these religious leaders even went along with his anti-mask rhetoric and mass gatherings.

The former president was not religious, he is a womanizer, he is rude and obnoxious to everyone. Yet many religious leaders still backed him. 

Religious leaders chose to back a non-religious leader over a religious leader.

To me that says cult.

Religious leaders need to support candidates that represent who will help the people.

Until that happens more people will become disenfranchised as I have.

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As a science PhD, there is a very simple reason why I don’t “get God”. It is because I prefer an evidence-based worldview. And, by evidence, I mean something that is verifiable and falsifiable, and does not just consist of murky warm feelings, vague philosophical arguments, or references in ancient writings.

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My Thoughts: I was baptized and raised as a Catholic. I attended Catholic grade schools and high school. Despite all the sermons and religion classes, I rejected Catholicism when I was 16. I did not accept that Catholicism was the one true religion and that those who were not Catholics were destined to limbo instead of heaven after they died.

I did not buy into papal infallibility and the church’s positions on birth control, divorce, pre-marital sex, abortion and women’s role in the clergy. The parish and diocese I belonged to were hotbeds of child abuse cases committed by priests. People were aware that these incidents were occurring and nothing happened until much later. The monsignor at my parish was more interested in soliciting contributions than saving souls and protecting children from his demented priests. The more I read into the church’s history, the more disillusioned I became.

I looked into other religions and found them wanting. I realized that the bible was part history, part fable, part mythology, part propaganda but certainly not credibly God’s word. I had not yet rejected God’s existence but I grew doubtful. I was uncertain and continued to read, study and ruminate about God as I got older.

Many of the people who I find devoutly religious experienced a momentous, sometimes catastrophic personal event or strong feeling that convinced them that God exists. I never had the feeling or maybe I ignored or misinterpreted it. I don’t have a God gene. I find an empty church more of a religious experience than a full one. I think the practice of meditation is more useful than prayer.

As I read religious history and literature further, I was more impressed with the arguments of Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Steven Hawking and other agnostics/atheists/scientists that there is/was no God.

All that being said, I would not criticize anyone for their belief in God alone. I will criticize certain unwise or irrational actions, beliefs and deeds based on contorted religious thinking. I find support by evangelicals for Donald Trump and many of his policies reprehensible. 

Last point, I try to live by the tenets of the prayer of St Francis Assisi. One does not need to belong to a religion to perform good acts. One just needs to be a caring and moral human being.

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