Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Abusing freedom of religion

Any freedom has limits. Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose. Your right to free speech ends when you shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

And your right to religious freedom ends when you you force young teenage girls into marriage. An accusation of that led state troopers to raid the Yearning for Zion Ranch in rural Texas, removing hundreds of women and children.

A former member, Carolyn Jessup, author of "Escape," describes life within the polygamist sect as one of strict control and manipulation. Babies were "broken" by a practice similar to the water-boarding used to torture suspected terrorists. Girls reaching puberty were pushed into marriage with middle-aged men.

The group's true believers would no doubt argue that whatever they did was within God's will and should fall under the protection of freedom of religion. But the right to believe as you wish and to gather for common worship does not include the right to break the law. It does not include the right to hold members virtually captive. And it surely does not include the right to harm children.

Some will take this aberration to be proof that religion is inherently dangerous. But the worth of any human endeavor can't be judged by the worst example of how it has been twisted. We would all agree that families are good in theory and most of the time in practice, but some individuals use their families as punching bags. Some families model cruelty, not love. But that's not what families are for, and it's not the best that they can be.

Apparently this fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon Church is not what any church should be. Neither was Jim Jones' People's Temple or David Koresh's Branch Dividians. But they are the tragic exceptions, not the norm.

Thoughts?

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

A good rule of thumb for when a church has slipped across the line into being a cult is if the congregation starts living on church property. Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule (Scientology comes to mind), but any church that employs mind control, brainwashing, and anything that might be considered torture (beyond poorly-written sermons) has gone too far.

pornstudent said...

If someone thinks God wants them to do something, I can understand why they would.

If God told me to do something I didn't want to do, I'd try to understand his reasoning (he's supposed to be wise) and I'd ask if it were a suggestion or a commandment (would I get punished if I didn't obey?).

Anonymous said...

If we must judge religion by groups such as these, should we not also judge atheism by the Stalins, Lenins, and Maos of the world?

Iztok said...

"If we must judge religion by groups such as these, should we not also judge atheism by the Stalins, Lenins, and Maos of the world?"

The idea that gulags and death camps are the end game of reason and skeptical inquiry is wrong; no atrocities are the result of being too skeptical, too reasonable, too rational, questioning the prevailing dogma or wanting evidence for claims. This argument only serves to keep the pressure away from questioning religion.

Anonymous said...

iztok:

No, the above argument only shows that cruel and tyrannical behavior is a failing common to humanity, not one limited to any set of beliefs. Otherwise, if it were the logical end of religion, you'd never see the exact same behaviors from atheists as well.

Iztok said...

anonymous, there is a difference. This religious cult acted like this because and in the name of the religion. So there is connection between these acts and religion. While there is no connection between atheism and the acts of people you've mentioned. I never said that atheists are not capable of doing bad things, they are, and they do bad things. But they don't do them because and in the name of atheism.

Again: "no atrocities are the result of being too skeptical, too reasonable, too rational, questioning the prevailing dogma or wanting evidence for claims."

However, atrocities are a consequence when one is not skeptical enough, not reasonable, not rational and not questioning dogma.

Example is 9/11. I think we can all agree that hijackers did what they did because of their unquestioned belief (no matter how misguided). This wasn't act of lack of faith but too much of it. Now think which dogma promotes faith as a virtue? Is it atheism or religion?

Anonymous said...

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Danbo59 said...

Anonymous wrote, "...but any church that employs mind control, brainwashing, and anything that might be considered torture (beyond poorly-written sermons) has gone too far."

The above is a perfect definition of "Scientology." If there ever was a cult, Scientology is the poster child.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said, "Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one"

Idle words from an idle atheistic dreamer who thought the world's problems could be solved by everyone jumping into bed with whomever happened to be close by and by living one's life in a drug-induced euphoria. The man was a disgusting pig, hands down.

Red said...

Anonymous Said:

"Idle words from an idle atheistic dreamer who thought the world's problems could be solved by everyone jumping into bed with whomever happened to be close by and by living one's life in a drug-induced euphoria. The man was a disgusting pig, hands down."

Jesus Said:

"Judge not lest ye be judged"

Just because the human man John Lenon went down some dark roads to find his Divine truth, does not mean that his conclusion is wrong. The greatest luminaries and mystics of all time have often descended into their own personal "hells" in order to emerge into the truth and light of a new understanding of their own Divinity as part of God, expressed as them.

We have a dual nature; we are both finite and infinite, animal and God. We do much better when we let the Glorious Possibility of our divinity shine through than when we let the animal run amok.

This man you call a "disgusting pig" had some profound truth that he shared with the world through music. Does that make him any more of a "disgusting pig" than Ted Haggert, when he told Christian youth to stay off drugs and that "God is Love". His message was right, his actions were wrong. Why blame and call names? Seek the Good in all and Good you will find, even in a so-called "disgusting pig".

By the way, this song is still played millions of times a year and still offers a ray of hope and light to the world. How are you offering hope and light to the world? By calling people names?

piggly wiggly said...

That is one of the greatest songs ever!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous wrote, "...a ray of hope and light to the world."

God is that ray of hope and light in the world. Lennon''s song, which imagines a world without God, offers only despair in the end.

Anonymous said...

No, religion has done nothing but divide us all. Humans have been fighting over religion for years upon years. It breeds intolerance and hatred towards people who are different. It enstills fear in people. It is a very negative way of living.

Danbo59 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Danbo59 said...

Anonymous wrote, "[Religion] breeds intolerance and hatred towards people who are different. It enstills [sic] fear in people. It is a very negative way of living."

My religion breeds tolerance and love of others -- all others. We're taught that sin (not sinners) is the only thing we should hate.

My religions instills no fear in me. It only instills love and joy in me that someday we'll all "go home" to our Creator.

My religion has done nothing but increase my positive outlook on life here and life in the hereafter.

As Jane has said, some people look at the worst behavior of religious people and ascribe the cause of that behavior to the religion itself, instead of assigning it to the person, or to the person's flawed interpretation of their religion.

The fruits of God's Grace are dependant upon the disposition of the person receiving the Grace. Grace is given, nonetheless, but it's how we respond to that Grace that determines the fruit born of it.

Anonymous said...

"The above is a perfect definition of "Scientology." If there ever was a cult, Scientology is the poster child."

Danbo, I agree completely. I mentioned them as an exception because I was thinking that they don't have church members living on CoS property... but now that I think about it, they sometimes do.

Scientology is straight-up evil, if you ask me; even worse than what these folks in Texas were up to.

pornstudent said...

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." - Jesus, Matthew 10:34

Danbo59 said...

pornstudent writes, "'Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.' - Jesus, Matthew 10:34."

That's right, Jesus came to bring a sword -- a sword to strike down sin and death (evil). In doing so Jesus came to divide those who choose God from those who choose Satan. Notice the choice is ours -- not His.

At the end of our lives it is we who face the consequences of our own choice here on Earth.

pornstudent said...

"Jesus came to divide..." Danbo

pornstudent said...

"I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." - Jesus, Matthew 10:35

Anonymous said...

Not that I agree with forcing young girls/women to marry, but if you are going to say that a parents' religion can't be used to justify such actions, then why is it OK to cite religion in condemning the behavior of a homosexual teen or youngster? Many parents use such condemnation to force their children to deny their true sexual identities in the name of their religion. Why is that not just as heinous?

And the argument that the Bible condems both doesn't hold water in the context of this argument. The polygamous sects in Utah and elsewhere have religious beliefs that go beyond the boundaries of the Bible. A religious belief does not have to conform to any of the major American religions to be valid in terms of the law.

So how about it? Why is it OK to condemn homosexual behavior to the point of "curing" your child of his "aberration," and claim legal protections for doing so, but NOT OK to claim legal protection for forcing a daughter to submit to what you believe is God's will: marriage to an older man?

Thinkingman

(Couldn't figure out how to get this blog to accept my usual ID and password)

Danbo59 said...

Thinkingman, no one is denying the FLDS their right to believe that sexual abuse of children is their religious right. Likewise, no one will ever get me to believe that homosexuality is acceptable.

In both cases we are judging actions, not people. The difference with the FLDS scenario is that their actions are against the (secular) law. If child-adult marriage were legal, we wouldn't be having this conversation past the point of religious morality.

I don't beleive the majority of homosexuals can be cured -- if you wish to call it that -- of their inclinations. I believe being homosexual is part of who they are. But as a Catholic, I believe that homosexuals are called to chastity in the same way that an alcoholic is called to abstinence from alcohol.

X said...

Anonymous said...

"God is that ray of hope and light in the world. Lennon''s song, which imagines a world without God, offers only despair in the end."

Well that sure is an interesting statement and its meaning hangs completely on your definition of "God". And of course, Lennon never mentioned GOD at all in that song. Lennon was inspired by the Divine, but its not a Divine that you recognize so you call it anti-God. Lennon was imagining a world without the harmful ideas of RELIGION and the concepts of external HEAVEN and HELL. These IDEAS are responsible for countless human misery and cruelty.

Lennon was calling for peace and brotherhood and living for today, ie, really living as if today is what matters, not some fantasy about what happens after you die.

By God, do you mean a wrathful being, ie, the God of the Old Testament? That God brings death and destruction, hatred of others, and genocide. I don't call that being/idea a "ray of light".

The God Jesus spoke of was spirit, indwelling in all, coaxing man's nature upward to Divine thought through Divine love.

The old testament God (as described in the Bible) was jealous, petty, and did bad things to good people. His laws were first and foremost about how to obey him and worship him. The very few commandments about not stealing, or killing were already in the law in other civilizations of the time - for thousands of years - so nothing new there. Most of it was how to worship this "God Idea" and what people should do to those that don't - kill them.

So you read the bible and you think you know who God is, and what God wants, and you write your opinions and call them "truth" and berate others that you don't like.

The Old Testament was a manufactured document read by almost no one (most people could not read) and used by the ruling religious class to attempt (and I think it was a sincere attempt at the time) to help people find God through adherence to a ridiculous set of EXTERNAL laws. The Old Testament GOD IS A DESCRIPTION. A very BAD and OUTDATED description of GOD. That awful, outdated HUMAN definition of God IS NOT GOD.

Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God is Within" and "The Kingdom of God is at Hand". Jesus said he did not come to change the law, but to fulfill it!!! Do you think he was talking about those ridiculous and harmful laws of the Old Testament or that he held to the same description of God as the Old Testament? NO. Jesus' message was the OPPOSITE of the Old Testament - it was the message that the prophets of the Old Testament had not been able to deliver. Unlike the Old Testament message of conforming, Jesus' message was about TRANSFORMING our THOUGHTS and affirming our UNITY with GOD and letting that UNITY inform all our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

When you say "God is" I hear you saying "The GOD they told me to believe in, this very petty human misunderstanding of God that was written down and used to beat people over the head until they agreed to it" that GOD is an errant human IDEA.

Lennon imagined a world without that IDEA!!!! Can't you see the difference? Jesus said to give love to receive love, to be forgiven by forgiving, by offering peace when confronted with violence, etc. Lennon envisioned a world of a brotherhood of man, not divided by those harmful ideas. They are highly compatible visions.

Why don't you see that?

Danbo59 said...

X, the God of the Old Testament is the same loving, caring and perfect God as the God depicted in the New Testament.

Before you condemn the God of the Old Testament (can man judge God???) for being "cruel," remember that this same God allowed His only Son to be beaten, tortured and hung on a cross to die for the sake of all mankind and the remission of their sins.

God's punishments are just. He gives each of us a "cross" to bear. But He never gives us more of a cross to bear than we can bear. A good friend of mine told me, "When we are at our weakest, God is strongest in us!"

X said...

Danbo... I agree with your friend. Can't say the same about the rest of what you wrote. Why would God need a human sacrifice? It doesn't make sense to me. But that is ok, I find you a very strong advocate for your beliefs and I can feel your passion for them. And I do behold the Christ I see in you. Have a good one.

Danbo59 said...

X asked, "Why would God need a human sacrifice?"

Wrong question, but a good one nonetheless.

God didn't need a human sacrifice. We did! The point of it all is that Jesus -- knowing what was written of Him in Scripture -- freely chose to lay down His life for us. He could have "wimped" out; called upon His Father to send down legions of angels to fight for Him, but He did not. He knew His Father's plan and freely submitted Himself to that plan.

If someone steps in front of a bullet for another, shall we question the motives or love of that savior's parents who taught their child the virtue of self-sacrifice?

By the way, I see Christ in you, too, my friend! Let's keep our eyes on the prize, so to speak.

Peace!

X said...

Danbo, you are are driving me crazy, but in a good way.

Using your analogy, why was God shooting the gun? The mob may have been the ones crucifying Jesus, but according to your theology Jesus chose to die because it was the only way God would allow "sinners" forgiveness and entry into "the kingdom of heaven". If God had not had this requirement, it would not have been.

I'm my understanding, we never fell from grace except in our ignorance of our innate Divine nature. Like a wave in the ocean of God, we are individual, unique expressions of God in the world. The Whole is in the Part. You can't take the ocean out of the wave, or the other way around.

But my definition of God is very very different from most I've heard in Christian church. I'm not saying they are wrong, nor am I saying they should agree with me.

My working idea is about 180 degrees from that. God is not apart from us, separated from us by our sinful inheritance from the Garden of Eden myth. God, ie, the kingdom of heaven Jesus spoke of, is within, always, we can never be separated from God except by our own thoughts and in turn actions. And that separation is only an illusion, for you can't take the wave from the ocean. Jesus chose the ordeal as the ultimate demonstration of the Divine in Man transcending all physical agony and even death itself.

God is a spiritual force, the very force of life (of which death is a part), the power of love and the inheritance of every living thing. "Sin" is forgetting this and acting as though it is not true. "Salvation" is learning this and living accordingly to realize the Kingdom, not after death, but right here, right now.

I'm a seeker, this where I've come to so far. You have a different path, but I think they lead to the same truth. I'm guessing you probably don't agree with that, but that's ok, too.

Jesus is master and savior but he didn't die for my sins. He lived to teach me how to live. And for that I am grateful.

Danbo59 said...

X wrote, "Jesus is master and savior but he didn't die for my sins."

Ouch. That about sums up our differences, I am afraid. In order to be Savior He has to save you from something. Death is the equivalent of -- while at the same time being the result of -- sin.

And God didn't "pull the trigger" on man (leading to Jesus stepping in it's way). Man attempted 'suicide' by his Fall in the Garden of Eden. Man pointed the gun at himself and pulled the trigger.

You wrote, "...we never fell from grace except in our ignorance of our innate Divine nature."

Again, ouch. We most certainly did fall from Grace. Satan tricked and corrupted us. It wasn't man's 'ignorance' of his Divine nature, it was his belief that by 'eating of the Tree of Life' he would obtain equal standing with God. Pride.

Iztok said...

"Jesus is master and savior but he didn't die for my sins."

According to most Christians Jesus was/is their scapegoat.

Scapegoat: one that bears the blame for others

Danbo59 said...

Iztok wrote, "According to most Christians...."

Obviously Iztok has taken a poll. Data reference, please!

Anonymous said...

iztok:

Sorry, you're wrong again. Atheism and the imposition of it was exactly why Lenin, Stalin, and Mao did what they did. And, yes, they did it in the name of atheism, of anti-supernaturalism, of rationalism.

"No atrocities are the result of being too skeptical," you argue, but that's not atheism. The atheist isn't a skeptic; the atheist has already come to a conclusion as to his beliefs about God. The agnostic is a skeptic, properly speaking.

Which leads to my conclusion: there's nothing inherent to either theism or atheism (or agnosticism, for that matter) that leads to mass-murder, gulags, oppression, or the like. It is instead the human desire to control and force one's beliefs on others rather than persuade with words, a desire that has infected both the religious and the irreligious since time began. A human condition, in other words.

Anonymous said...

One final point: go look up the League of the Militant Godless if you think crimes in the name of atheism can't be perpetrated.

Again, common to all humans.

pornstudent said...

X,
I enjoy your comments. It's nice reading something from a believer besides the same clichés.

Iztok said...

Danbo59, not data poll. It stems from what most Christians say they believe about Jesus and definition of scapegoat.

Jesus died for your sins, didn't he? Hence he was/is your scapegoat.

Iztok said...

"The atheist isn't a skeptic; the atheist has already come to a conclusion as to his beliefs about God. "

That is not true. We just don't believe in god because there is not enough evidence. Most of us, should evidence support would change our mind. Strictly speaking atheist claims there is not enough evidence for one to believe in god. Please use lower case god when referring to what atheists don't believe, because if you just write God, then majority of population on this planet is an atheist as majority believes in some god but not God.

It would really help if you could use proper terms and common definitions.

Lazarus said...

Hey Folks, my name is Lazarus. I've posted to this thread a few times without paying attention to the authentication. One time I showed up as Anonymous and somehow as X having the discussion with Danbo (which I really enjoy Danbo, so thank you).

I've been off the site for a bit but I so enjoy Ms Pope's writing that I check back here often. I of course appreciate the thoughts of all that contribute here. I'm not looking for agreement to my perspective, but to answer the questions others pose for myself. All knowledge is self-knowledge in the end, I think.

Anyway, Danbo, you and I have a different take on the New Testament. There were also a few comments from pornstudent and Iztok, so let me respond to those. I'll look forward to more healthy discussion.

Pornstudent said:

"X,
I enjoy your comments. It's nice reading something from a believer besides the same clichés."

Thanks Pornstudent. That's a great name by the way. I don't describe myself as a "believer", but I don't mind that you used the word. To me "believer" has so much baggage associated that saying it causes most people an near-involuntary assumption that I'm a fundamentalist, which I'm not. But I think I know why you said it and I'm cool with that. Just explaining myself a bit.

I don't really have a "faith" the way I hear most people use it. I have ideas about spirituality and I try them out. I don't have faith of my divine nature, I have witnessed it in action and seen the results of working with it instead of against it. Now, an atheist may say that my experience is different from my INTERPRETATION of that experience and of course, they would be correct. But I have spent many decades of questioning, hypothesis, and testing our my spiritual theories while working with this divine inner-self. My conclusions are actually working theories.

To me the opposite of doubt is not faith, it is certainty. I encounter the divine of which I am a part when I take away the certainty (ie, literal reading of scripture) and enter the MYSTERY. The mystery is the unfolding journey of a life lived to learn truth. I have suffered, but I have suffered to learn and when I have learned I have suffered no more. At least regarding the particular thing I learned. That is my basic philosophy of life. My life is a gift of experience of which the divine is the underlying framework, which remains hidden without the deep longing to connect to this source of love and truth. My work is to find that love and truth within myself and therefore within all living things.

I cannot say I have a cannon of faith because I don't think that is healthy for me. It would be like a second grader saying they have learned all there is to know and no longer question anything about themselves, the universe, or their place in it. And I truly feel as if I am a child along my journey. A 42 year old child - ha ha.

I'd also like to thank the atheists on this site because they have helped me understand what atheism is and I am not threatened by it at all. In fact, I respect its honesty and search for truth. I've learned from reading this blog that atheism isn't about hating God or religion. Atheism is about a pursuit of truth through a scientific-type study of the human condition. It begins with questions and looks for answers in what can be learned through this type of inquiry. I have also sensed that what many atheists oppose is a limited and literal definition of God. I completely respect that. What greater pursuit is there but the search for truth. We are both trying to get to city hall, but we just take a different bus to get there. That's fine by me.

I guess lastly I will say that I cannot tell Danbo he is wrong in his conclusions. I find great error in them for myself, but that doesn't make me right and him wrong. Danbo's writing helps me ask questions of myself I might not otherwise ask and therefore I think he is a valuable asset to my spiritual journey. I also see the same divine unity in him as I see in others.

Ok. that's my .02. looking forward to more discussion with this intelligent and passionate group.

pornstudent said...

Lazarus - "We are both [you and atheists] trying to get to city hall [the truth], but we just take a different bus to get there. That's fine by me."

I've never heard Christians say we atheists can come to know the truth in our way as much as they can in theirs. And I think that's what ires me most about them -- they think they're going to be in Heaven loving and being happy while the rest of us are burning in Hell. Maybe it has nothing to do with what is true, maybe it does, but your comment makes me feel good.

Thanks. Please continue sharing.

Lazarus said...

To Pornstudent:

This blog is teaching me a lot about myself. Because of what I've read here, I bought a copy of "Letter to a Christian Nation" and found it very interesting. It seems a lot of the atheist/believer debates center around the absolute certainty believers have about their definition of God and their chosen belief in their "knowledge" of God. It is their certainty based on interpretation of ancient texts or what they were told to believe that seems to ignite the ire of the atheists. One of my favorite "truisms" is "The Opposite of Faith is not Doubt (such as atheism), The Opposite of Faith is Certainty (such as fundamentalism). I didn't write that myself, but its proven so true over time.

I was surprised that nothing in LTACN was offensive or disagreeable to me. I am probably one of the "problems with religion" that the author describes. In his opinion, even the non-fundamentalists are an issue in self-deception and the harm it inflicts on the world. I just think that the author is missing something in his assessment of religion, and that is personal spiritual experience.

When I focus my mind, put my hands together or lay them on a wound, a palpable heat emerges, removing pain, knitting wounds, and restoring peace to the mind and heart. This has happened 100's of times, mostly with people that have no particular religious belief that I am aware of. I've had some fundamentalists witness this first hand and go absolutely bat-sh*t that I was using some kind of evil "power", which is of course, nonsense. It is my emerging understanding that we are all much more energy than we are matter (which might end up being the same thing) and as beings of energy, we can work with it.

My point is that personal spiritual experience changes everything. You cannot deny something once it has happened to you. Its as simple as learning a new word, and then hearing it everywhere. Of course, there is a difference between our experience and our interpretation of that experience, but I don't find other's interpretations troubling. What I'm calling spiritual healing, others might call energy healing. What is spirit if not energy under the direction of mind? Is it just the words we use that trip us up so much?

In my unfolding understanding I'm beginning to see "God" as a combination of Love and Energy or perhaps Love as Energy, Love not as "feeling" but as ABILITY. (I got that from a movie, can't remember which one). The point is, the more I divorce myself from outdated, inadequate and harmful definitions of "God" and embrace the experience of living with this "divine energy", my life is changing in beautiful ways. I'm a better person and I do better things to other people. I take nothing personally. I see beauty in every face. In this regard, my life is the Master I seek to teach me. In this regard, God is not a "personality" but a source of energy that I must choose to engage with and in doing so, exchange with.

What is my proof for my "working theory"? My experience. I don't try to wrap it up in platitudes about absolute truth or good and evil. Those are man-made and downright harmful to this unfolding understanding. At least for me. Others are free to do and believe as they wish. Why? Because you can't have a rational argument with someone who's entire belief system opposes rationality. Might as well argue with a tree stump. I try to separate someone's personality and religious/political opinions from their amazing and glorious possibility.