My Quarrel with Religion in America
by Robert L. Kocher
I am not a member of any religious denomination and have no personal theological interests other than curiosity and analysis of how religious theology and institutions affect individuals or the country psychologically or politically. I believe in separation of church and state. I do not believe the United States should have a single nationally adopted religion. Neither do I believe separation of church and state requires deletion of reference to religion or God.
There are people who believe rejection of God or rejection of religion confers unlimited license for them to do whatever it is they want to do that religion prohibits or makes inconvenient. Hence, atheism has come to have a dishonest appeal. It is believed that if we do away with God, we can do away with responsibility or morality. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Religion is not the sole reason or method for conducting a sane existence. Those who follow the road of serious agnosticism or atheism (that means serious, not just some rebellious jackass trying to synthesize personality for himself as a professional provocateur or trying to pursue irresponsibility) are required to carry a heavy intellectual load and a level of serious introspection regarding personal responsibility.
For the above reasons, along with others—including lives of personal bitterness—there has been an obvious attempt to repress or disassemble religious institutions in this country.
At those times when I become involved in discussion of American law, I am prepared to argue implicit ratification of Constitutional meaning was established by uncontested or authoritative private or public behavior and practice at the time the Constitution was written, and since it was written. The closer the prevalence of the social and governmental practice to the time of the founding, the more probable the review by the founders, or those closer to the founders, and the more one can argue that public or governmental practice was authoritative Constitutional ratification. In specific instance, reference to the Creator in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution established a acceptability level of reference to God. If the phrase, “In God We Trust” has appeared on our coinage or paper currency for one hundred or two hundred years, it is unreasonable to believe such appearance seriously conflicted with the Constitutionally-intended meaning of separation of church and state.
As a heathen, I still find the determined attempt to expunge all reference to God in governmental and public life to be unConstitutional, contrived, primarily sadistically defiant in nature, and addressing a condition not needing remedy or correction. Sixty or seventy years ago, before the recent open anti-religious crusade, this country was under no danger of falling into religiously imposed repression. My observation is that we are under a far more serious threat of oppression at the present from an anti-religious fanaticism that increasingly demands to scrutinize our public and private lives and institutions for compliance to its agenda.
The Constitution of this country has been declared a living document. In essence, that declaration has been interpreted as license to invalidate it or purposely misconstrue it beyond any resemblance to its original intended meaning, and hence to invalidate its protection of rights for the average citizen. Declaring the Constitution a living document is really a method of devising its death.
The Zeitgeist of the Churches
The same zeitgeist has become influential in religious denominations so that they have become living changing institutions to the point of being meaningless. What exists is a sand dune subject to the gale winds of liberalism and arbitrary passing fashion.
Many of the churches have undergone a complete inversion of values from what they had fifty years ago, and are scarcely recognizable except by the same stone in the buildings. At one time churches preached a hardy utilitarian self-discipline, character, and sense of responsibility based upon the laws given to Moses and also incorporating the development of personal discipline necessary to survive on the frontier of developing America. Within those concepts, failure to exercise necessary prudent foresight or responsibility resulted in a deteriorating life-condition which was to be expected and was viewed as either a logical consequence or form of retribution for failure to undertake personal duty. Emphasis on foresight and personal accountability was a functional implementation of religious training. Adherence to this set of values and standards was prerequisite to credible membership in the creed.
Whether or not one believes in a God or the Bible, it’s an observation the churches once inculcated self-disciplined, wise standards of behavior that kept people out of trouble and for that reason they were assets to both individuals and the community. Foresight, self-discipline and accountability are useful or necessary in daily life. Practicing Christians or Jews didn’t die from AIDS, didn’t wind up in drug rehabilitation programs, didn’t have thirty-eight percent illegitimacy rates and didn’t have many of the other problems which have become social and political issues.
However, in recent decades trendy revisionist liberation theology has now been substituted for self-discipline or self-sufficiency. One scarcely hears any mention of the Ten Commandments or the laws, with the exception of thou shalt not kill—which is integral with an attempt to impose an assuring license of non-violence on others while immobilizing their angry retribution. Thou shalt not kill is emphasized because it is interpreted to mean other people shalt not defend themselves when being subjected to sadism.
Thou shalt not commit adultery is scarcely mentioned with seriousness, if not studiously avoided. Prominent ministers and/or ministers who hold political office, or who are involved in “social activism”, hop in and out of beds with various people under a revised social theology which regards biblical sexual teaching as an anachronism. A study a few years ago indicated somewhere in the order of 30 percent or more of American clergy were engaging in casual sexual relationships with congregation members. Those participating in this dance did so with the comfortable confidence of knowing that the chaperones have no serious objection to the music. It couldn’t be happening without its being condoned. If, as Charlton Heston says, you can’t trust the bible-toting president to be alone in the Oval Office with your daughter, the condition of religion is such that you aren’t any better off with an alarming proportion of ministers. Indeed, it is the degenerate condition of the clergy—groups of whom show up to visit the White House in shifts—that has to serious extent made the degenerate condition of the presidency possible.
The left front-page story of the Thursday, March 20, 1997 Washington Post headlined, “Presbyterians Pass Chastity Amendment—Aimed at Gays, Rule Mandates Celibacy for Single Church Officers”.
“After years of contentious debate, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has voted to require that all unmarried ministers, deacons and elders be sexually celibate.”
“The move was intended to ban the ordination of homosexuals, but it has rattled thousands of single sexually active heterosexual church officers who now face a serious dilemma: repent, resign, or lie and face church prosecution.”
The declaration barely passed by a narrow margin and many church officers planned open protest and rejection of the declaration. Seventy-five churches immediately expressed intent of open defiance. A “Covenant of Dissent” was being drafted in the belief that if enough church officials practice or support open defiance, enforcement will become impossible without destroying the church. The strategy is that when the prevalence is openly revealed, it will overwhelm any opposition within the church.
Two weeks earlier, the Archbishop of Canterbury made a similar statement directed toward the Episcopal Church, which elicited the same interpretation and reaction.
Why is the assumption made that the declaration was directed primarily at homosexuals? When did open cohabitation and other permissive sexual practices among heterosexuals become such an unquestioned assumption or acquire such diminished importance that any restrictive moral provisions on sexuality are viewed as extreme contortions aimed only at homosexuals? When did basic heterosexual morality become an arbitrary and trivial matter within mainline churches? When, for instance, did putting the make on congregation members become such an assumed allowable and trivial practice that interfering with it produced open rebellion and protest?
What seems to have arisen is the implicit assumption that sexual morality represents a superstitious rejection of enlightened sociological/anthropological/p
One thing becomes obvious. Apart from any theological considerations, many in mainline church ministries now believe the psychological and social consequences of liberal sexuality to be so unquestionably benign as to not prohibit participation by members of the ministry supposedly living exemplary lives as role models of responsibility and personal sensitivity. To put it in a less euphemistic form, many in the contemporary clergy have no moral reservations about engaging in, or recognizing, the dishonesty and insensitivity of liberal sexuality, the consequences of which have been socially and interpersonally disastrous. Patterns of sexual conduct in this country are not merely matters of isolated momentary pleasure, but (among other things) profoundly affect the condition of children, the stability of marriages, the character of male-female relationships and, indeed, as we examine at another time, the mental health of the culture. It is for these reasons, among others, that God (if there is one) or any other intelligent being seeking to produce a quality of life, would establish a sexual morality as a high priority. (I assume that’s one of the reasons proscriptions against adultery were written into the Ten Commandments, and God smote Sodom and Gomorrah as indication of fierce confirmation.) One might presume that intellectual capacity to consider this with seriousness would be a qualification to enter the ministry. Such, however, is far from being the case. Nor should it be a requirement to enter into organizations which have become chic de facto singles and swingers clubs for the “thousands of single sexually active heterosexual church officers” as well as married co-celebrants.
Psychological Environmental Pollution
It is my understanding that the Bible is considered the word of God in the Christian and Jewish religions. As a distant and increasingly less-amused non-believer I notice that what is being rejected or protested by many church officials are not arbitrary declarations or anachronisms, but very specific unambiguous instructions that are presumed to be the direct word of God. The pretense that a contradiction between clerical protests and the basis of their supposed faith does not exist, and the verbal contortions devised to avoid those contradictions, must be viewed by a mature mind of any integrity as both entirely ridiculous and dishonest. Beyond that, such contortions and denial—to the extent authorized, accepted, or even tolerated—represent a serious form of psychological environmental pollution destructive to the rationality of society at large.
However God, also, often seems to be an embarrassing anachronism to contemporary ministers whose explanations of their belief are, if not apologetic, often so tortuous and nebulous as to inspire more confusion or doubt than inspiration. Liberal ministers have eased into roles of incompetent trendy psychologists and liberal social organizers tripping after the latest fads. Their sociologizing and psychologizing is as shallow and corrupt as their religious life, providing the worst of both worlds. Some of them appear to be atheists or agnostics who nevertheless want to be called ministers and have a church. If a minister or bishop does believe in God, one can no longer be certain it isn’t because he’s high on some kind of underground drugs, or whether he’s high on drugs or high on God. And it’s doubtful in some cases whether they even know the difference–although it’s not as prevalent as the days when Bishop Pike wandered about stoned on hallucinogens seeing God everywhere. It sounds humorous, but it’s not meant to be. In view of their apparent tenuousness of faith and their embarrassment or indifference toward the disciplines and laws of biblical teaching, one is hard-put to explain why many of these people go into the ministry unless it is to use the clerical robes as an easily-acquired cloak of respectability. Many of the clergy in this country have successfully managed to adopt atheism without putting down the bible.
If there is cynicism toward the clergy, it has not been the result of serious effort on the part of most religious leaders not to merit it. The condition of the churches and the clergy have done more to discredit the churches than all the militant atheists in the world.
“Forgiveness” as Evasion of Responsibility
Emphasis on the discipline of religion or criticism of self-indulgence is seldom heard. Personal responsibility has been replaced by hippie-love-in-social responsibility in which the individual is responsible for others in the community. That same doctrine of social responsibility coincidentally and cleverly makes other people responsible for sustenance of the ones who are espousing it, relieving them of their duty for self-sufficiency, relieving them of duty for responsibility for themselves, and relieving them of duty not to impose upon or burden others. This relief from personal duty and responsibility is one underlying ultimate motivating goal and direction of liberation theology. In an abstracted form, this has led to the implementation of evasion of responsibility under a type of Christian socialism/Marxism or para-Marxism primarily preaching a vague external social responsibility.
From the position of being relieved of duty or personal responsibility in day-to- day life, the attitude has extended into one of unconditional demand for Christian forgiveness and support from others and for personal license, finally ending in a complete inversion of religious values. Instead of making demands upon themselves for self-discipline and self-improvement, the recent hippie-style or liberation Christianity is producing oppressive self-centered people who demand license for themselves and entitlement from those around them. Forgiveness from others for acts too insincerely rationalized and too easily committed has now become a demanded, religiously-mandated entitlement. Instead of personal responsibility or guilt, there has arisen an attitude of blithe indifference such that the sociological atmosphere (which is now dishonestly charged with exclusive responsibility for shaping behavior) motivates conversion from the gratification of ungoverned random experimentation to greater levels of serious introspection. Forgiveness is assured or demanded until that time mysteriously arrives.
In reality, if there is assertion that individuals or groups are to be licensed or forgiven their irresponsibility because of helpless ignorance, it should be further asserted that such ignorance exists in serious measure because the clergy have not been doing the job of addressing themselves to correcting that irresponsibility and
ignorance–or that the clergy have been more zealous in finding reason to accept excuses than correcting the excuses.
That which has been adopted parallels the basic thinking pattern in liberal American life. There is the deductive thinking process that attributes personal failure as being the exclusive consequence of the failure of social policy, and not the inductive thinking process which views the summation of a person’s life as being the summation of individual behavior. In the churches, as elsewhere, there is a vacuum in assertion of the importance of individual responsibility, discipline, and direction.
Among what has been lost is the implicit moral commandment that one has a moral and social duty to live one’s life responsibly enough so as both respect and not to impose burdens or obligations upon other members of the community. Not to do so is serious disrespect for others. If the churches are going to survive as institutions building moral character rather than being collecting places for fops, they must begin preaching from that premise. As a corollary, if the Republican party, or any other party, wants to be anything but second-rate left-wing Democrats, and want to salvage this country, they must also adopt this same premise, quit apologizing, and voice moral indignation.
Respect, responsibility, consideration, and disrespect is a far-reaching concept. Respect for future children begins with serious consideration of who you are in bed with—and under what circumstances. Respect for other community members begins at a early age in applying one’s self in school so that one does not end up being an incompetent ward of the community. I have not heard thinking in that direction from one member of the religious community on a national level for 40 years. It’s easier and more glamorous to protest the consequences of not saying it.
Churches in this country have lost their way. There has developed the common belief that reaching out to people means becoming diluted, or trendy, or degenerate, enough to be acceptable to the marginally interested and insincere. In so doing, they have not improved the marginally interested, while they have simultaneously alienated the sincere—and have nothing to offer either party. What is needed is cultivation of well-explained moral wisdom to attract members. Reaching out should mean more content. But content requires effort, and many in the clergy want a less demanding road.
Ministers as Trendy Fops
To many people, the churches, and the clergy, have become an embarrassment, if not the source of a sense of having been betrayed.
I had occasion to attend two lectures by religious authorities, one an Episcopal bishop, while the other was a doctorate in the United Methodist hierarchy. Their thinking processes were undisciplined and pathological. Their knowledge of history, including religious history, was poor. Their pretended knowledge of psychology was abysmal. They showed little capacity to integrate knowledge or experience. Their interpretation of church theology approximated what one would find in the philosophy section of Playboy magazine. They were little more than trendy fops.
One problem, and a failure, of religion has been that it has been founded exclusively on what is called faith. When that faith is challenged by differing assertions, adherents become defenseless and frightened in their absence of developed, reality-based intellect. In other cases, religious conversion and participation are based upon moving emotional experience. When something else subsequently moves people emotionally, or when the emotional glow wears thin, they are left abandoned and vulnerable. Even within their religion, they are left vulnerable. When their religious institutions become corrupt, they are too dependent or emotionally bound to resist that corruption. Too many among the religious are left desperately seizing on religion in terror to avoid their intellectual helplessness. That is not a healthy hold on a congregation. It is not an appealing condition to convert into. The clergy need to function as rational psychologists as well as guardians of faith. Any minister who does not devote as much time sermonizing the rational basis and need for morality, for ethics, for personal psychological honesty as he does sermonizing the Bible is guilty of betraying his congregation. There needs to be as much reality-thumping as Bible-thumping.
There is what should be the fundamental theorem of psychology. Regardless of the existence of a deity, there are actions that are destructive to one’s own life, destructive or painful to the lives of others, and destructive to the existence of a country or civilization. This destruction occurs with a high degree of statistical probability that those who would like to argue otherwise will find terribly inconvenient. The sooner this is universally understood, the better. The honest acknowledgement of that destruction should define a basis for moral behavior for the religious and non religious alike.
The Gates of Heaven
This thing about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to pass through the gates of heaven is being misapplied, over-reached, and over-used. The logical conclusion of this emphasis is that those who apply themselves in daily serious effort, or who live responsibly and prosper as a consequence, are evil. There has arisen in religion a complacency in bearing false witness against the diligent. Someone who has spent years building a business or tending a farm should slap the face of anyone uttering it—for the vindictive dismissal of the effort that was required, for the personal insult to those who live lives of diligence, for the insulting pretense of intellectual or moral responsibility on the part of someone making the statement, for the misuse and misinterpretation of religion, and because those making such statements are taunting spoiled brats. Would that I shall ever see the day in modern religion when there is as much exhortation to assume responsibility as to share the results of someone else’s labor.
Constant nonsense about the injustice of the existence of poverty in the world is a passive-aggressive form of vindictiveness. Somewhere along the line there has developed a distorted system of reasoning under which if one man tills his fields while the adjacent man does not, the condition of poverty of the second man becomes the first man’s sin. The worse the second man’s indolence and irresponsibility, the greater the first man’s sin. Sin is deliberately misplaced upon one person for the behavior, attitudes, and decisions of others. A person’s sinfulness is no longer determined by his own acts of volition, but by acts by others over which he has no control. It is typical of socialistic thinking in which people are prepared only to think of their condition in terms of the present moment while avoiding consideration of past irresponsibilities underwriting that condition. Those who support or proselytize such thinking processes are irresponsible, abusive, and evil.
Repressed resentment and covetousness can take many forms, including theological.
The temptation to combine a touch of sadism with a touch of superiority is its own intriguing form of sinfulness which is sometimes too appealing to resist. It’s rather heady and tempting stuff to stride among people and flagellate them with abusive platitudes about the existence of poverty. But, those who condemn the condition of poverty in the world should be required to take intellectual responsibility rather than just license for subtle sadism. To the extent one feels self-licensed to condemn the existence of poverty in this world, one also has the duty to solidly condemn those systems that recurrently produce it. To the extent one feels self-licensed to criticize the existence of poverty in this world, one also has a duty to endorse those systems that have done the most to offer opportunity to escape from it. To the extent one feels self-licensed to condemn the existence of poverty in this world, one also has the duty to condemn the concrete behavior that produces or contributes to it. What I see instead is cathartic expression without integrity: The moral condition of those who work is determined not by their own disciplined efforts, but is deteriorated by the state of those who don’t. Man’s own state of grace is determined not by his own efforts, but by the lack of effort of those over which he has no influence, or by his lack of becoming an enabler for those who would destroy him.
We have developed the rule that only the morally responsible can be accused of irresponsibility, but never the irresponsible. The responsibly successful have become disenfranchised pariahs in religious because the milieu is looking for someone to feel sorry for, and by consequence of having adopted the standards of virtue religion should be preaching, the successful have no place–and indeed may be an embarrassment.
Liberalism/socialism, and religion, have romanticized and beautified the conception of need in this country and elsewhere. But contrary to that conception, the needy are not all saints or helpless victims of circumstance or victims of oppression. Many of them are shallow irresponsible hedonists who have become adept at employing sociological theories as ploys to secure license to take from other people and force other people to pay for problems the complainants have created for themselves.
In summation, many mainline religious denominations have become pathologically unstable, inverted, shallow in content, and are clear psychological liabilities, both to the individual and the community—and are not fit places to send children.
If I had children, I would forbid them any contact with 95 percent of the churches in this country. I would not want them to be contaminated by the moral and intellectual bankruptcy, the shallowness, the misplaced guilt, the lack of integrity, the inverted values, the fear, and the laziness endemic in many religious denominations. The other five percent would be required to undergo close examination.
For those who have felt uncomfortable or think they have seen congregations feeling guilty or uncomfortable during a sermon, invite me in as a guest pastor to give a sermon, and I’ll show you what discomforting truth is. On a good day I can have congregations and clergy alike scrambling out windows and doors in terror over having heard unadorned reality.