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.

What They Said

Smart commentary and analysis by writers much smarter and more thoughtful than yours truly…

Refusing to wear a mask has become a badge of political identity, a barefaced declaration that you reject liberal values like civic responsibility and belief in science. (Those didn’t used to be liberal values, but that’s what they are in America 2021.)

Unfortunately, identity politics can do a lot of harm when it gets in the way of dealing with real problems. I don’t know how many people will die unnecessarily because the governor of Texas has decided that ignoring the science and ending the mask requirement is a good way to own the libs. But the number won’t be zero.

Unmasked: When Identity Politics Turns Deadly Paul Krugman New York Times

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The Pew Research Center found that the number of nones in the population as a whole increased nine percentage points from 2009 to 2019. The main reasons that nones are unaffiliated are that they question religious teachings, or they don’t like the church’s stance on social issues.

There is a chasm between the vast scope of our needs and what influencers can possibly provide. We’re looking for guidance in the wrong places. Instead of helping us to engage with our most important questions, our screens might be distracting us from them. Maybe we actually need to go to something like church?

Contrary to what you might have seen on Instagram, our purpose is not to optimize our one wild and precious life. It’s time to search for meaning beyond the electric church that keeps us addicted to our phones and alienated from our closest kin.

Influencers Are the New Televangelists Leigh Stein New York Times

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Evangelicalism in America, however, has come to be defined by its anti-intellectualism. The style of the most popular and influential pastors tend to correlate with shallowness: charisma trumps expertise; scientific authority is often viewed with suspicion. So it is of little surprise that American evangelicals have become vulnerable to demagoguery and misinformation….. In 1994, Mark Noll, a historian who was then a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, the preëminent evangelical liberal-arts institution, published “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” In the opening sentence of the book’s first chapter, he writes, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

Recently, some pastors and other evangelical leaders have begun to express alarm at how unmoored some members of their congregations have become. More leaders in the American church need to recognize the emergency, but, in order for evangelicals to rescue the life of the mind in their midst, they need to acknowledge that the church is missing a vital aspect of worshipping God: understanding the world He made.

The Wasting of the Evangelical Mind The New Yorker · by Michael Luo · March 4, 2021

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The Republican Party has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.

I can already hear the howls about invidious comparisons. I do not mean that modern American Republicans are communists. Rather, I mean that the Republicans have entered their own kind of end-stage Bolshevism, as members of a party that is now exhausted by its failures, cynical about its own ideology, authoritarian by reflex, controlled as a personality cult by a failing old man, and looking for new adventures to rejuvenate its fortunes.

A GOP that once prided itself on its intellectual debates is now ruled by the turgid formulations of what the Soviets would have called their “leading cadres,” including ideological watchdogs such as Tucker Carlson and Mark Levin. Like their Soviet predecessors, a host of dull and dogmatic cable outlets, screechy radio talkers, and poorly written magazines crank out the same kind of fill-in-the-blanks screeds full of delusional accusations, replacing “NATO” and “revanchism” with “antifa” and “radicalism.”

The Republican Party is, for now, more of a danger to the United States than to the world. But like the last Soviet-era holdouts in the Kremlin, its cadres are growing more aggressive and paranoid. They blame spies and provocateurs for the Capitol riot, and they are obsessed with last summer’s protests (indeed, they are fixated on all criminals and rioters other than their own) to a point that now echoes the old Soviet lingo about “antisocial elements” and “hooligans.” They blame their failures at the ballot box not on their own shortcomings, but on fraud and sabotage as the justification for a redoubled crackdown on democracy.

The Republican Party Is Now in Its End Stages The Atlantic · by Tom Nichols · February 25, 2021

Sage 3

Seeking the wisdom of the past to explain the present…

News HeadlineWisdom (from the Ages)
Fox News cancels Lou Dobbs’ show; pro-Trump host not expected to be back on air. (LA Times)The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy: the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.
— JK Galbraith
Trump’s attempts to overturn the election have cost taxpayers more than $519 million so far, Washington Post finds. (Business Insider)“He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.” 
Groucho Marx
(Rep. Marjorie Taylor) Greene apologizes to GOP colleagues — and gets standing ovation. (The Hill)“The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” 
― Albert Einstein
‘No regrets’: Evangelicals and other faith leaders still support Trump after deadly US Capitol attack. (USA Today)“We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.” 
― Christopher Hitchens
Poll: 64 percent of GOP voters say they would join a Trump-led new party (The Hill)“The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.”  H.L. Mencken
Supreme Court Rules Against Calif., Doubles Down On Religious Rights Amid Pandemic (NPR)Nowadays, science provides better and more consistent answers, but people will always cling to religion, because it gives comfort, and they do not trust or understand science.—-Stephen Hawking
2 more Trump supporters who took a private jet to Washington, DC, have been charged in the Capitol riot. (Business Insider)“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”
― George Carlin

Sage 2

Aphorisms are rogue ideas. Susan Sontag

HeadlineWisdom
Trump refuses to accept Biden’s win as transition proceeds AP
It is hard for an empty sack to stand upright.
Ben Franklin 
Supreme Court Blocks New York’s Virus Imposed Limits to Religious Services (Justice Amy Coney Barrett played a decisive role) NY Times
“We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.” HL Mencken
Trump announces pardon for Michael Flynn in tweet CNN
The only valid political system is one that can handle an imbecile in power without suffering from it.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Trump legal team meets with Pa. lawmakers over election results Fox News
The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously. Hubert H Humphrey

Sage

While perusing through today’s headlines, I may be reminded of some ancient or recent adage that reflects an appropriate understanding or analysis to the news as shown below:

News HeadlinesWisdom and Analysis
Health officials make their final pleas for holiday caution as coronavirus cases spike. 
Washington Post

Weekend air travel hits pandemic-era record, despite health officials’ pleas to stay home
CNN
“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”
George Carlin
Man leaves $3K tip for a beer as restaurant closes for virus 
AP
Wishing good, merely, is a lukewarm charity; but doing good is divine. 
James Lendall Basford 
Fresno bishop warns Catholics against stem cell-based COVID vaccines, including Pfizer’s
Fresno Bee
All religions promise a reward for excellence is of the will or heart, but none for excellences of the head or understanding.
Schopenhauer

Why I Am Not a Catholic and My Non-Religious Objections to Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court

As part of full disclosure, I was baptized a Catholic, received the sacraments of Confirmation, Holy Communion and confession. I attended a Catholic grade school, a Catholic high school and one year of a Catholic university. I was married 43 years ago in a Catholic church ceremony. My wife is a devoted Catholic who attends mass weekly. I have friends and family who are devout Catholics and continue to attend church services. I have friends of other faiths and I respect their religious beliefs. I just don’t share them…

The Bible tells of the story of Paul who was converted on the way to Damascus after being blinded by a bright light. Unlike Paul, I experienced a deconversion but it was not very sudden and not as dramatic as his experience. It occurred over years. I experienced some qualms about the Catholic faith as early as age 12 when I heard priests say that those who were not baptized in the Catholic faith would not see the kingdom of heaven. That claim did not seem very fair to me but I also understand that many other religions preach the same doctrine. I also was not very comfortable about a belief in the existence of God. One of the priests in my high school started off the class by saying that he was going to prove the existence of God. Basically he promulgated the first cause argument, that if you go back into history and rewind the time machine that God was the cause of everything included creation. I remember the priest being very satisfied with his lecture until I asked, “In that case, who created God?” Was there some thing or someone in existence prior to God? 

So while Paul may have been on his way to Damascus, I was on my way to Doubt. But while my questions about the existence of God were not settled, my doubts about the Catholic Church were settled. I did not agree with their positions on birth control, abortion, divorce, women’s role in the church and papal infallibility.

I was also sickened by stories of abuses of children by priests. In my particular diocese, there were numerous cases of these abuses and worse, coverups by Bishops, Cardinals and Popes. Abuses of children by priests were worldwide. I found it very hypocritical that the Church thought it had a moral voice given the atrocities it had committed over centuries. While I recognize the good works of many priests and nuns as well as many Catholics, I found that the Church as an institution was very corrupt and should have no role in saving souls.

I would have expected some type of reform and housecleaning but little has changed. Old white men continue to run the Church as they have for centuries, poorly. There have been reports of various financial irregularities. I also spent some time learning of the Church’s dismal history, particularly Pope Pius XII’s activities or lack of in protecting Jews from the Holocaust.

I’ve never been comfortable with the Church’s position in politics. I remember when John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960, he made a special point that he would not integrate his religious beliefs with his duties as President of the United States. In other words, he was not going to take any advice from the Vatican or the pope. I can’t say that all Catholic politicians or Supreme Court justices have followed Kennedy’s example.

Of course the hot button issue for Catholics is abortion. However the Church’s position on birth control made this so much more problematic. The Church’s position on birth control also promoted poverty, hunger and crime in many countries. In 2016 Catholics preferred Trump over Hillary Clinton by 23%. Many Catholics believed that Trump had a respect for life. I question where this respect is for the 200,000+ people who have died from COVID-19 and for the many more that will die from Trump’s lack of attention to the disease.

The Church also came out within the past few weeks with their opposition to euthanasia. Described as “poisonous to society,” the church is prohibiting the distribution of sacraments to those who wish to end their lives. Two years ago, I watched my mother struggle and literally wither away from dementia. When I visited her nursing home, I had absolutely no sense that there was a divine presence in her building that gave a damn about her suffering. This is part of what the Church believes is there respect for life. I see it as unnecessary suffering and loss of personal dignity.

So in a purely partisan move to help his declining political campaign, Donald Trump has nominated Amy Connie Barrett for Supreme Court justice. Mrs. Barrett possesses some outstanding personal characteristics. At this point, her character appears impeccable. There are some who are concerned about her Catholicism. I may share some of that concern myself. But my opposition to Mrs. Barrett is based on other concerns:

First, I don’t believe that she should’ve been nominated unless Donald Trump is reelected in six weeks. In 2016, the Republicans blocked Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court despite the fact he was nominated in March to replace Judge Antonin Scalia. Republicans said that the next Supreme Court nominee should come from the winner of the November election. The same protocol should’ve been applied to Mrs. Barrett’s nomination.

Second, Mrs. Barrett has been nominated by an inept and incompetent man. His Administration is strewn with men and women who have been unable to perform their duties in the Cabinet or other areas of government. These men and women are people that Donald Trump has chosen. I have no confidence in any man or woman that Donald Trump chooses. I also have little confidence in any man or woman that would accept a high-level government position from Donald Trump.

Can anyone find an appointee of Donald Trump that is doing a good job?

Aphorisms for the Pandemic

“The less people know, the more stubbornly they know it.” Osho

“When one does not know how to convince, one oppresses.” Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker, Baroness de Staël-Holstein 

“The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and these are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence.” —Elbert Hubbard

“No one man can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices.” —Edward R. Murrow, of Senator Joseph McCarthy

“Illegal aliens have always been a problem in the United States. Ask any Indian.” Robert Orben

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”  George Orwell

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”  Anne Lamott, 

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” Groucho Marx

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”  Voltaire

“The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.” H.L Mencken

“God is not a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button to get things done.” Harry Emerson Fosdick

Aphorisms

I am a collector and writer of aphorisms. Aphorisms are short, pithy sayings that express concisely an observation, opinion, wisdom or truth. Aphorisms, like many ideas, come to me when I’m not sitting at a desk or with pen and notebook. They often spring up as I am walking, taking a shower or daydreaming. Listed below are some of my latest aphorisms:

  • Older people are like older cars without gas gauges. Both have traveled many miles and not sure how much gas or life is left in the tank.
  • If you make the same resolution year after year, it’s no longer a resolution but just wishful thinking. 
  • One can spend 15-20 minutes seeking, finding and purchasing an appropriate birthday or Hallmark card that the recipient skims in 5-10 seconds.
  • We’re always one tear away from joy or tragedy. 
  • What turns a woman from attractive to beautiful is her smile.
  • A woman can lose her youth, her beauty and her figure but as long as she can maintain her arts of making pleasant and interesting conversation and being a good listener, she will never lose her attractiveness.
  • Is there a more uncomfortable question than to be asked by someone to guess their age? Is there a more uncomfortable answer to the question of how we are old we are that estimates us much older than we are?
  • At 70, you are in the homestretch of life with the finishing line in sight.
  • When charity begins at home, it rarely leaves it.
  • At most churches, the faithful pray with their ministers; at some churches, the minister preys on the faithful.
  • The books in one’s library or bookshelf represents the portfolio of their intellectual investments.
  • Sitting quietly in an empty church generally is a more moving spiritual experience than sitting through a church service.
  • The worst personal rejection comes from those who mean so much to you when they show how little you meant to them.
  • Marathon running…times that try men’s soles.