RSSCategory: Religion

Ex-nun who worked with Mother Teresa gives the pros and cons of the Catholic Church

February 18, 2013 | By | Reply More

Mary Johnson, now an atheist, used to be very much a Catholic. No more. As published in the Friendly Atheist, here is how she characterizes the modern Catholic Church:

The Catholic Church has a two-thousand year history of liberation and oppression, education and superstition, inspiration and exclusion. Today, in areas of the world where the rights of women and children and the poor are routinely denied, or where medical and educational facilities are woefully inadequate, the Catholic Church can provide a step up — when it’s not acting as a tool of repression. It’s clear to me that much of the Western world has outgrown the Church, though Church members often remain fiercely attached to a group they consider family. I believe the Catholic Church is becoming less influential, and I think that’s a good thing. The Church hierarchy is becoming increasingly less tolerant of dissent while Catholics in the pews are thinking more for themselves.


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Onion: Pope lacks stamina to lead the church backward

February 11, 2013 | By | Reply More

According to The Onion:

Citing his advancing age and deteriorating health, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation from the papacy Monday, saying he no longer possessed the strength and energy required to lead the Catholic Church backward.


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Frozen Inca girl

February 7, 2013 | By | Reply More

Amazing story of a well-preserved 500 year old Inca girl who was sacrificed 500 years ago. Sad story too.

Judging from the condition of the body, it is believed that she was drugged and left to die in the mountains. It would not have taken much time for her to die due to the high exposure. The Incan high priests took their victims to high mountaintops for sacrifice. As the journey was extremely long and arduous, especially so for the younger victims, coca leaves were fed to them to aid them in their breathing so as to allow them to reach the burial site alive. Upon reaching the burial site, the children were given an intoxicating drink to minimize pain, fear, and resistance, then killed them either by strangulation, a blow to their head or by leaving them to lose consciousness in the extreme cold and die of exposure.


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Scouts and Honor and Fair

February 1, 2013 | By | 2 Replies More
Scouts and Honor and Fair

My relationship with the Boy Scouts of America was not the most pleasant.  I was an oddity, to be sure.  I think I was at one time the only—only—second class scout to be a patrol leader. Second class.  For those who may not have been through the quasi-military organization, the way it was structured in […]


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Why isn’t the free flow of information sufficient lethal poison for religion?

January 18, 2013 | By | Reply More

At Salon, Valerie Tarico makes a case that the free flow of information is poison to religion:

A traditional religion, one built on “right belief,” requires a closed information system. That is why the Catholic Church put an official seal of approval on some ancient texts and banned or burned others. It is why some Bible-believing Christians are forbidden to marry nonbelievers. It is why Quiverfull moms home school their kids from carefully screened text books. It is why, when you get sucked into conversations with your fundamentalist uncle George from Florida, you sometimes wonder if he has some superpower that allows him to magically close down all avenues into his mind. (He does!)

Religions have spent eons honing defenses that keep outside information away from insiders. The innermost ring wall is a set of certainties and associated emotions like anxiety and disgust and righteous indignation that block curiosity. The outer wall is a set of behaviors aimed at insulating believers from contradictory evidence and from heretics who are potential transmitters of dangerous ideas. These behaviors range from memorizing sacred texts to wearing distinctive undergarments to killing infidels. Such defenses worked beautifully during humanity’s infancy. But they weren’t really designed for the current information age.

Tech-savvy mega-churches may have twitter missionaries, and Calvinist cuties may make viral videos about how Jesus worship isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship, but that doesn’t change the facts: the free flow of information is really, really bad for the product they are selling.

I am sympathetic to Tarico’s arguments but they just aren’t enough to explain the continued vitality of many religions and political-religions that dominate America. Many people have this strange tendency to self-filter, and strong tendencies to cherry-pick according to what their tribe urges them to do. Thus, I think Tarico has it half right–free-flow information is gnawing away at oxymoronic beliefs. This information is harmless until and unless something further happens–until believers open up their minds just a bit to entertain these toxic-seeming ideas that clash with their traditional beliefs. ‘

I don’t know how or why that happens (or doesn’t) in individuals. I’ve certainly known several people who have described that the overwhelming weight of information became too much for their religious beliefs to bear. Skeptic Michael Sherman and agnostic biblical scholar Bart Ehrman have described the process this way. But for every convert to free-thinker there are many who still cling to to their fear-induced religious beliefs. The article that will win awards in my mind is the one that will identify the “something more”, combined with an Internet full of ideas, that turns a believer in gods into a believer in healthy skeptical inquiry.


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More from Daniel Dennett on The Clergy Project

January 17, 2013 | By | 1 Reply More

Go to minute 37 of this video interview of Daniel Dennett (featured on I found this to be an extremely well-reasoned inquiry into the systematically and intensely hypocritical web in which many doubting clergy feel trapped. Dennett suggests that the religion industry feel bound by a religious version of the Hippocratic Oath. He speaks of the felt need of preachers to weave their teachings somewhere between literalism and metaphor, never daring to land on one or the other for fear of angering huge swaths of the flock (though I do suspect that most believers are conflicted in that they themselves harbor both of these cravings).

[W]e’ve spread out and looked at a few more, and we’ve also started looking at seminary professors, the people that teach the pastors what they learn and often are instrumental in starting them down the path of this sort of systematic hypocrisy where they learn in seminary that there’s what you can talk about in the seminary, and there’s what you can say from the pulpit, and those are two different things. I think that this phenomenon of systematic hypocrisy is very serious. It is the structural problem in religion today, and churches deal with it in various ways, none of them very good.

The reason they can’t deal with them well is they have a principle, which is a little bit like the Hippocratic oath of medicine. First, do no harm. Well, they learn this, and they learn that from the pulpit the one thing they mustn’t do is shake anybody’s faith. If they’ve got a parish full of literalists, young earth ceationists, literal Bible believers who believe that all the miracles in the Bible really happened, and that the resurrection is the literal truth and all that, they must not disillusion those people. But then they also realize that a lot of other parishioners are not so sure; they think it’s all sort of metaphor. Symbolic, yes, but they don’t take it literally true.

How do they thread the needle so that they don’t offend the sophisticates in their congregation by insisting on the literal truth of the book of Genesis, let’s say, while still not scaring, betraying, pulling the rug out from under the more naïve and literal-minded of their parishioners? There’s no good solution to that problem as far as we can see, since they have this unspoken rule that they should not upset, undo, subvert the faith of anybody in the church.

This means that there’s a sort of enforced hypocrisy where the pastors speak from the pulpit quite literally, and if you weren’t listening very carefully, you’d think: oh my gosh, this person really believes all this stuff. But they’re putting in just enough hints for the sophisticates in the congregation so that the sophisticates are supposed to understand: Oh, no. This is all just symbolic. This is all just metaphorical. And that’s the way they want it, but of course, they could never admit it. You couldn’t put a little neon sign up over the pulpit that says, “Just metaphor, folks, just metaphor.” It would destroy the whole thing.

You can’t admit that it’s just metaphor even when you insist when anybody asks that it’s just metaphor, and so this professional doubletalk persists, and if you study it for a while the way Linda and I have been doing, you come to realize that’s what it is, and that means they’ve lost track of what it means to tell the truth. Oh, there are so many different kinds of truth. Here’s where postmodernism comes back to haunt us. What a pernicious bit of intellectual vandalism that movement was! It gives license to this pernicious sort of lazy relativism.

As I read the above, I think every bit as much of politics as of religion.

More on The Clergy Project here.


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Bible, annotated

January 8, 2013 | By | Reply More

This is an image published by “God of the Week.”

The more detailed version of the annotated Bible, a favorite site of mine, is the Skeptics Annotated Bible.


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Criticizing the religious inaction of unbelievers

December 31, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More

Here we go again. Those of us who don’t acknowledge invisible sentient beings–OK, I’ll say it–imaginary beings, are being accused of having causal responsibility for the Sandy Hook massacre. Mike Huckabee is one of the loudest advocates of this insanity The Friendly Atheist is not accepting any such responsibility (nor am I).

A lot of [Huckabee’s] critics — many Christians included — cringed at those statements because they suggested that church/state separation and not forcing God down everybody’s throats were to blame for the crime. There’s obviously no evidence suggesting that.

Even if one acknowledges that non-believers (except for those of us who have advocated wacky NRA policies) aren’t any more responsible for Sandy Hook than any other American, we non-believers do look a bit awkward following tragedies. Believers put great energy into their public prayer services. They comfort the mourning families by dogmatically announcing that the dead are now alive in “heaven.” Many of us non-believers would like to say things like this to comfort others, but we generally choose to honest instead. That means that religious folks get lots of credit for helping the families of the dead, and we non-believers are seen as inactive bystanders. Or according to this article in the NYT, that’s how it looks.

This illustration of religious belief in action, of faith expressed in extremis, an example at once so heart-rending and so affirming, has left behind one prickly question: Where were the humanists? At a time when the percentage of Americans without religious affiliation is growing rapidly, why did the “nones,” as they are colloquially known, seem so absent?

To raise these queries is not to play gotcha, or to be judgmental in a dire time. In fact, some leaders within the humanist movement — an umbrella term for those who call themselves atheists, agnostics, secularists and freethinkers, among other terms — are ruefully and self-critically saying the same thing themselves.


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Conflicted Catholics

December 11, 2012 | By | Reply More

I know many thinking Catholics, and 98% of these people what I would term “conflicted Catholics.” When I’m together with more than one of them, they often spontaneously express their frustration, embarrassment and even rage regarding the Church. What drives this frustration? Many things, including more than a few of these questions raises by Adam Lee at Alternet in “50 Reasons to Boycott the Catholic Church.”

Despite these immense intractable problems with the Roman Catholic Church, most Catholics I know continue to associate themselves with the church. They are not willing to give up their religious community, in spite of these hurdles. This willingness to stick with the church is hard to understand for an outsider like me. I would think that 1/10 of this misconduct would have me running from any organization.


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