Jesus Is All Important
Religion Is Peripheral
First of all, an explanation.
This article is about religion but you can’t talk about religion without naming specific denominations. I do that a lot here and people are bound to be offended. But the ones who won’t like this (those most closely aligned with religions) are the ones who need it most.
I wish it could be different but talking about problems with religion without naming specific ones would be like discussing a treatment for a “Disease” without naming the specific disease.
The religion I mention most is Catholicism. It’s one of the biggest and most widespread. It’s also the one with the most egregious scandals, as you will see.
Everyone is aware of the Catholic Church and, like it or not, whether you realize it or not, everyone is affected by the teachings and influence of this church. Seven of the nine Supreme Court Judges were raised Catholic and six of those are still practicing Catholics. You’ll be hard pressed to prove religion hasn’t influenced their rulings but more to the point, Catholicism has unwittingly cultivated some of the greatest scandals in modern history and there’s evidence to indicate the scandals aren’t a recent development.
Before I get into the meat of the discussion, it’s also important to note that nothing said here is aimed at Catholic individuals. I’ve known many Catholics who are wonderful people and tremendous Christians.
Catholicism is one thing, Catholic individuals are a different kettle altogether. This article is about religion, not the adherents.
Now that that’s established, the discussion.
Religion’s Poor Record
I recently read through a series of articles on child sexual abuse committed within the protective walls of the Catholic Church. It didn’t make for pleasant reading. It’s the kind of thing that incites the highest levels of indignation.
A single instance of abuse, of any kind, is enough to get your blood boiling but in this case it’s an avalanche. Or maybe a water fall – the abuse has been long lasting and widespread, and the cover-ups made it even worse.
- It isn’t occasional or incidental and the reports are prolific. You have to be blind to not see it.
- It didn’t happen periodically. It’s occurred throughout history.
- It isn’t spotty. It’s happened everywhere even in countries that aggressively police these matters.
All of this is well out of place when you’re talking about religion.
Religion Should Be A Safe Place
Church is synonymous with safety, or most people think of it that way. Religion and wrongdoing don’t fit well together. In spite of that, the number of disclosed cases is staggering and that’s only the cases with irrefutable evidence.
We don’t really know the full extent of the problem.
A report offered by Attorney General Josh Shapiro in 2018 mentioned at least 1000 cases of molestation by 301 priests and those were only the cases that couldn’t be denied and only in the State of Pennsylvania and the investigation only covered the last 60 or so years. There were likely many more, according to the report.
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is just a sampling.
- In 2002 The Boston Globe uncovered evidence of sexual abuse by thousands of priests.
- French investigators uncovered evidence that more than 330,000 children were abused by priests and other workers in the Catholic Church since 1950.
- Abuse cases have been documented in Ireland, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and several European countries.
- Under-developed countries, where the Catholic Church is quite prominent, standards for investigating, reporting and prosecuting are fledgling at best so it isn’t likely we’ll know what’s going on in those countries.
The reports we do have are extensive, detailed and represent the outcomes of highly developed modern day investigative practices. The findings are from recent history but even though this level of investigative work hasn’t always been the common practice, there is still evidence the abuse has occurred from the very beginning.
In the second century AD, Tertullian referred to “frenzies of lusts which exceed the laws of nature and are impious toward both bodies and the sexes.” He wasn’t complaining about abuse in the wider community but within the church. He also complained that these abuses, though well known within the priestly community, occurred within the cover of the church.
There is more evidence dotting the historical record between then and now but you get the idea.
Religion’s Defensive Response
Once the abuse became irrefutably clear and “covering up” was no longer and option, the Catholic church still balked. They impeded investigations, withholding records as long as possible. When balking was no longer possible, rather than repent in sackcloth and ashes, they defended the church with such arguments as, abuse occurs no more frequently among Catholics than it does within any other ecclesiastical organization and it’s on a par with the wider non-religious public.
Really! That’s the argument. The church that projects the most prominent image of rightness and maintains an air of spiritual superiority is really like everyone else.
The comparisons are based only on the hard irrefutable evidence which, as I pointed out, doesn’t represent the full extent of the problem. The abuse is worse and we can’t be sure how much worse it is. Additionally, the long history of cover ups shows the problem is organizational and systemic. There’s no rationale to excuse that.
It’s Not Just Catholics
It may sound like my intent is bashing Catholics but that isn’t the point. The structure of Catholicism does create problematic situations but that isn’t unique to the Catholic church. Religion is the problem.
I’m also not focused entirely on sexual abuse. That’s a significant issue and it clearly illustrates the problem but the focus here is religion.
Before I say more, and to keep you from getting the wrong impression, let me make it clear that this discussion is not aimed at Christianity either. I am a Christian and I do love Jesus and believe the Bible but Christianity and Religion are not synonyms.
It is fair to love your church but the love you have for church should never supersede the love you have for Jesus or the Bible.
Religion Held To Account
Every Christian is called to articulate arguments to defend the Gospel (Phil. 1:16). Religion, on the other hand, should be held accountable. When an individual Christian breaks the law, they are held to account. The same is true for any individual church or even an entire denomination.
When actions become abusive, we call it out.
Jesus never changes. The Gospel never changes, The Bible never changes but religion is more changeable than mercury. The Orange County Register reports there are approximately 45,000 Christian denominations globally and about 200 of those are in the US.
That may sound like Christianity is managing to spread nicely but the problem is every religion claims to be right over all others and they are all very different. The Catholics are particularly bad. With Catholicism, only Catholic communion counts and only Catholics can participate in Catholic communion.
They aren’t alone. Other churches play the same we’re-the-only-right-one game.
Even within denominations changes prevail. Baptists are a good example.
- Some practice closed communion where only members of a given congregation can participate.
- Some practice close communion where members of the same denomination can participate.
- Some practice open communion where anyone can participate.
And, of course, each one maligns the others for being out of step with the truth.
There are many other permutations. Catholics believe communion (among other things) is needed for salvation and many other religions don’t. I’ve also known individuals who wouldn’t allow children to take communion because they weren’t old enough to understand.
The first time I heard that, my initial thought was, do they get to eat Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner or must they wait for that too? If so, how do you determine when their understanding has developed sufficiently? Does it happen at different ages or what?
Every religion has rules and the rules are generally determined by the leaders.
- Catholics can’t use birth control.
- Baptist don’t drink or smoke unless they live in Kentucky or some other tobacco growing state. And several will use only fermented wine for communion. It’s the only right way to observe the ordinance.
- Mormons wear special underwear. I wonder how much capital that revenue stream produces for the LDS.
- The Amish won’t allow pictures to be taken.
Rules aren’t a bad thing but as you can see, there’s very little agreement between these religions even though all of them are classified as Christian! It’s illogical. How many different rules can you introduce before a religion ceases to be Christian?
There is no end to all the rules and that’s a problem but the bigger issue is many of these rules are attached to salvation. If you don’t obey the rule, you don’t go to heaven when you die.
The biggest issue of all is the structure of religion and the Catholic church epitomizes the problem more than any other.
Child sexual abuse often occurs when you have large numbers of adolescence spending extended periods of unguarded time in company with unrelated adults. Think Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, YMCA, Girl Scouts, and even high school. We’ve heard or read of cases occurring in all these situations. When discovered, the statutory response is to prosecute offenders vigorously.
But with religion there is a difference.
Religious organizations project the image of authority and that authority is absolute since it comes from God. The Pope speak ex cathedra which means he speak with infallibility. You can neither question nor argue against that. The only allowed response is accept, believe, and act accordingly.
So when an adult who is representing a divinely inspired authority tells you what to do, even when it involves the unseemly, the only allowed response is acquiescence. You may be screaming foul on the inside but God has ordained the experience so you have no choice in the matter.
Authority is just one issue. There’s another problem. Religion has another point of leverage that makes them particularly dangerous: righteousness. Religion isn’t only justified, they are righteous, holy, clean, sanitized and more.
It is difficult to say no to a person who is authorized. It’s even more difficult to say no to the person who claims to be righteous also.
Religion allows no one to wear, say, consume, or do wrong things. You can never tell what’s on the inside but the external representations are clearly in order. The trappings are intoxicating until you’re trapped. Pun intended.
When you step into a religious situation, you don’t see abuse coming.
What is true of the Catholic Church is true of other churches also but with the Catholics, it’s worse.
One vow all priests and nunns take is the vow of chastity. The idea is they are married to God and therefore give up all earthly physical relations.
I guess to some that sounds super spiritual but it doesn’t make sense. Sex, though demonized often by religion, was created by God and considered to be good for the well being of humanity. Being disciplined is one thing but denying biological, emotional needs is like telling God He made a mistake.
We can’t be better or smarter than God. The best we can do is be natural and that includes a healthy sex life. Take that away and you’ve created tensions that stress the normal bounds of human living.
With Catholics, what you have are a large number of adults deprived of natural biological needs – some with same-sex, pedophilic attractions – cladded with authority and placed in close proximity to susceptible, vulnerable individuals. They work under the cover of the church which in many cases is isolated and behind the scenes.
That’s proven to be a formula for disaster and instead of reworking the system, it’s all swept under the carpet.
Added to that is a second vow: poverty. All nunns and many priests take the vow of poverty. I’m not sure what the point is. If they aren’t doing anything to secure their financial future, what is the purpose. Where are they going? What contribution are they making?
Jesus was intentionally poor but it was for a very specific purpose and He planned to die long before He needed a financial nest egg.
I’m sure some are active and involved but a vow of poverty is perilously close to a commitment to lethargy. And that translates to idol hands. We all know how much trouble that can cause.
Whatever good effect religion can have is not being realized in the present state of things. We need to rethink the issue.
Never forget that Jesus is the main thing. Religion is peripheral.