Tag Archives: religion

Divine Design

In college I spent a lot of time with my best friend’s family, so when her father died a few weeks ago, that was the loss of a family member for me. Death makes me think about fate, hard as I try not to. Was it ‘his time’ as we often say? His spouse suffered most through his Alzheimer’s, for many years. No one would have wished him a hasty exit, but I think any of us would have wished for less lingering, once it seemed all awareness had vanished.

I have long refused to accept our lives are scripted. I reject any theological language referring to ‘God’s will.’ But when experiencing these life and death events it is hard not to question our destiny. Even if not scripted, it seems at least there are situations we are drawn to, and without question, external events that influence the choices we make.

Historical fiction is a beloved escape for me. I am often reading/listening-to a period in webRNS-God-Sistine-042518time when many Europeans, there and in the New World, believed hell was a real place and god resembled the Old Testament guy who was long on judgement and anger. This way of thinking produces narrow-mindedness. It is the perspective where Evangelical Christians, and some Muslim sects, are stuck. They live in the long-ago past, when the simple answer to every conundrum was: god’s will. These are immature, under-developed religions. Theirs is the Christianity of the Crusades.

When people of that way of thinking turn to politics and public policy, they again want simple answers to complex problems. For one, example, they forget their own ancestors were immigrants and feel entirely justified railing against those ‘illegals.’ And then there’s the women. In this country we are forced into to psychological burqas, by paying us less, restricting our access to healthcare, and the many other ways we are marginalized. Hell, they have us turning on each other. ‘No one is harder on women than women’ – I know you’ve heard that one, just as I know I’ve said it.

I was called a racist on Twitter a few days ago. I made a comment that I thought was carefully inclusive and said (paraphrasing here – I deleted the thread) something like, we have all been marginalized. The respondent said the big problem is entitled white women who don’t understand what it’s like [for black women]. Really? It’s all the fault of women? Over-simplified and inaccurate. What I will grant is that there is a shocking percent of women (not just white) who accept our marginalized status and vote to sustain it, or worse, say it’s god’s will. I will certainly grant that a shocking percent of white women helped elect the president who openly admitted he assaulted women. That should have been a deal-breaker for every single female voter. There’s some simplicity for you. If you think it’s funny to assault women, you can’t be president.  Except you can. Even when we could have expected to be on the same side in this culture of everyone choosing sides, we still can’t manage civil discourse. Anger perpetuates anger.

In my reading, writing, and thinking about religion, I distinguish between the dogma and practice that comes from theology, and the emotional/psychological experience of spirituality. Though distinct, they influence each other. The person who has a theological belief in god’s will, nurtures a psychology that foregoes personal responsibility, and even an emotional response that others are wrong. They aren’t bound to social compassion because if someone is born into poverty, it’s just god’s will. And isn’t it god’s will for women to be breeders? All other human activities are subservient to this biological divine imperative. This is why they focus on abortion and not living children. After all, childcare is a just women’s work, but an abortion is saying no to the divine order of patriarchy. Giving birth, even if raped, is a god-ordained event and no women have the right to make a choice in this area. Men, do of course, because they can just leave. Patriarchy is the ultimate in divine design for these folks. And it is the systematic over-arching oppression of women of all races. Patriarchy depends on oppressing others and absent patriarchy, slavery itself could not have flourished.

Though I reject my fate is destined or scripted, I still find themes in my life, and jacqui1stgrade_edited-1recognize how much in life is out of my control. In this I choose a spiritual interpretation. I believe there are lessons available to me for this life that I did not master in my previous lives. The lessons are all the more crucial in times of pain and transition. I think back on the life of my friend’s father. I think I can see some of the pain he lived with and how it both drove him and haunted him. An Episcopal bishop once said, “Pain that is not transformed is transmitted.” I saw evidence of both in the time I knew him. I also see evidence in the emotional legacy he passed-on to his daughters. Exactly like my birth family, the daughters did not enjoy the same benefits as the son, materially or psychologically. So the family mimics society, and society mimics the family; but that doesn’t change my desire to be treated more fairly by my father, my church, my country. I accept I will never be my father’s son. I do not accept the bad choices of others to treat me as less because of it. I can’t change their choices or the outcomes of those choices, but I will not embrace them as fate and certainly not divine design. -J.B.


Religion and democracy and blogging

Why does religion matter in a secular society?  First of all, I am thrilled this is a secular democracy, even when the democracy part isn’t working very well.  That means that there is not an official state religion and those governing are expected to separate their religious views from their governance.  In other words, clergy (of any religion) do not have the right to approve government action.

I don’t want a state religion because it will inevitably be a religion I don’t like; also, because it’s not fair.  Remember how we learned about what’s fair by either having siblings or getting to kindergarten?  Well, democracy should be fair.  It’s not fair to impose your religion on someone else.  I really think that is a kindergarten-simple value.

The vast majority of folks in these United States believe there is a God.  (Feel free to e-mail me if you want citations, I have several.)  We are increasingly a pluralistic society, with practitioners of many different religions in close proximity to each other (learn more in A New Religious America by Diana L. Eck).  The majority (over 70 percent) of religious people in this country claim to be part of some kind of Christianity.  That is the rub: how to manage undue influence by the majority religion.  That is a secular issue.  That is a subject that should matter to everyone, especially the non-religious and those in minority religions.  It matters to Christians who disagree with each other.  It matters in society and it matters in how religion is covered by the press.  And that, my friends, is why I write.

I have been writing this blog since April 2010 and the views are nearly at 3,000 now.  This particular column is intended to provide new readers with some general information on how and why these blogs are posted.  In high school, one of my favorite English teachers, Murphy, told me you can’t be a good writer if you’re not a good reader.  It was one of the smartest things he ever taught me.  I do not ever write a blog without research and some general reading.  Though I quite enjoy musing and an occasional rant, the actual writing is the result of research and reflection and is not just reactionary.  Honest.

I recently completed a master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania.  In order to graduate from Penn I had to be able to read, write and be competent at doing primary research.  My master’s research was a content analysis of the Philadelphia Inquirer in contrast with the Wichita Eagle (Kansas) and Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly (public television).  Sparing you tedious (and perhaps sleep-inducing) findings in this column, I will summarize by saying that I entered the research with low expectations and was still amazed at how poorly religion is covered by most of the press.

The reason religion in the news matters is because even if you are not religious, most of your neighbors have some religious orientation that may influence how they vote, and how they vote has impact on your life.  Sadly, intelligence in not required for voting, so when politicians trot out religious-related rhetoric, most people are ill-prepared (or disinclined) to understand the real implications of that propaganda.  (See my April 1, 2011 column “Newt the Nightmare” for a specific example.)

If you read a number of my columns you may conclude I am more critical of Christianity than other religions.  That is intentional.  The majority religion takes looking after.  Constant reminders are required to challenge the influence of the majority religion and the interpretations by its practitioners.  I have appointed myself to this watch-dog role.

I have a favorite animal communicator, Anita Curtis, who does amazing work.  She said that most of our domestic animal family (my words, not hers) have a perception of what their role is, or what their “job” is.  My cat, Sunny, has appointed herself to watch birds.  (Unlike my other cat Zoey who stalks bugs.)  It is very important to her to be able to go from window to window keeping an eye on those rascals.  She is quite serious about this job and seems to find satisfaction in keeping watch on behalf of the household.  Well, I have appointed myself to be the watchdog of religious rascals, and perhaps to no greater end than my cat watching birds.  I hope you find some measure of interest in reading my blogs as I find in watching Sunny watch birds.  –J.B.

There’s crazy and there’s crazy

There’s bungee-jumping-crazy and there’s having an audible conversation with someone that no one else can see.  Most of us can think of at least one relative that is eccentric or disruptive.  “The Lion King” has that great line: “There’s one in every family.  They ruin every special occasion.”  In that story, the disruptive relative crossed the line from annoying to dangerous and killed Simba’s Dad.

In one of my stints as bartender, there was a regular customer, let’s call him Rick, who came in every day and had exactly three beers.  He always paid without incident, though he never tipped.  All the bartenders were ok with that, perhaps because it seemed it took his entire being just to function in a society so different from himself.  His struggle was subtle, but not invisible.  He didn’t like it if someone was in his chair or when the manager changed the TV station from “Family Guy” to sports – I agreed with him on the latter.  Once an out-of-towner two stools down noticed Rick talking to himself and said something sarcastic about “that guy who’s had too much.”  Rick was not then, nor ever in my presence, inebriated or the least bit discourteous to anyone.  Nor was he ever packing heat.

The shocking availability of extremely destructive gun-power combined with rampant mental illness is a lethal combination that is only talked about after tragedy.  The United States has the most heavily armed civilians in the world with 90 guns for every 100 citizens (Reuters, August 28, 2007).  You would have to move to Yemen to live in the second most heavily armed citizenry with 61 guns per 100 people.

Statistics on mental illness are less reliable, partially because not everyone even agrees how to define it and so much is undiagnosed.  I’m asking you to consider the prevalence of mental illness for yourself by opening a newspaper or visiting a news web site and looking at the headlines.  In your opinion, how many of those stories have someone crazy in them?  On page one of the Philadelphia Inquirer (January 25, 2011) try this headline: “Moscow airport bombing kills 35.”  The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kansas) also has the Moscow bombing on page one, but on the local tab of their web site stories, the third headline is “Wichita woman ‘very critical’ condition after hammer attack; man arrested.”  The Peoria JournalStar (Peoria, Illinois) has a story on the local tab of their web site with this lead: “A member of a Western Illinois University fraternity was ticketed early Friday morning for choosing to eat lasagna instead of evacuating his building when the fire alarm was tripped, authorities said.”  Crazy has many flavors.

When I watch the political talking heads make stuff up, I call them crazy.  Their rhetoric is not as immediately life-threatening as the hammer-attacker, but the irresponsible and dishonest speech is destructive.  Congresswomen Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) is probably ‘crazy like a fox’ when she re-writes history in order to tell people what they want to hear to engender support.  The web site CrooksAndLiars.com calls her “Batshitcrazy.”  (Yes, that really is a web site.)  Anderson Cooper (CNN) challenged her on one of her speeches where she marginalized slavery and misrepresented the experience of many immigrants when they first came to this county.


Sadly, that leads us to the Arizona shooting.  CNN has a “Belief Blog” with a column by Boston University religion scholar Stephen Prothero, “My Take: Is Arizona shooting an individual or shared sin?”  Prothero wrote about our prevailing culture of “vitriol” and readily available guns.  About accused shooter Jared Loughner he said, “To insist that he was not influenced by that rhetoric is to pretend either that ideas have no effect, or that they somehow magically lose their effectiveness when they enter the brains of the mentally imbalanced.”


If you are willing to agree with me that mental illness is nearly epidemic in this country, then consider what dangerous situations might be lying dormant.  Just as mental illness and guns shouldn’t be mixed, neither should religion and mental illness.  There is the potential for dangerous results, just as what happens when religion is exploited for bad politics.  Of course the worst situation is when religion, politics, and mental illness work together to produce suicide bombers.

I have had first-hand experience with clinical depression.  I got better for a number of reasons, not all of which are pertinent to this column.  Because depression includes shutting down, I shed religion.  This was one of the most fortunate affects of the depression for me, because at the time I was only able to understand religion through the lens of the depression that was putting a dark and heavy cloud over my entire life.  Everything I saw, read and experienced came to me through a depression filter.  Religion did not inspire me, it depressed me.  It was not the cause, but it did exacerbate my condition.

Mental illness can’t be prayed away, in my view.  It is pervasive.  It is a powerful and complicated demon that is not easily exorcised.  Many people feel ill-equipped to respond appropriately, which is probably the case of Jared Loughner’s parents.  That’s understandable, but at the point he was amassing weapons, they owed it to the rest of us to give us some warning.

The tag in the Prothero column link is “it takes a village to make a killer.”  It’s time to view our world through the eyes of the struggling.  Next to each of us is someone who is chronically unemployed, stress-fatigued, marginalized, seriously lonely, or just crazy.  If we pay attention we might just be able to tell eccentric crazy from dangerous crazy.  And let’s keep the crazy away from guns and religion.  Call me crazy, but I choose to believe that compassion and awareness might be enough to reduce some of the tragedy that we are coming to take for granted.

Sex and Sports and Religion

Religion is not the only means for determining morality.  Religious folks don’t always understand that people without religious affiliation are still capable of being moral people.  The reverse is obviously true as well.  Religious people are capable of a complete absence of morality and frequently demonstrate lapses from ethical behavior.  In fact, it is essential to have a secular moral code so people of all religions (or no religion) living in the same society can survive each other.  The law isn’t always right, but it is a starting point.  It doesn’t really matter if it’s based on the “10 Commandments” or English Common Law.  It matters that we have a code of conduct that prevents us from killing each other.  Just short of killing each other, where should we draw the line?

Prostitution just doesn’t have to be illegal.  It’s all in the definition.  Is selling your soul a little bit every day to work in a cubicle while telling your lazy boss that she is a genius to protect your job prostitution?  How about having sex with your date only after an expensive dinner?  And then, of course, what about trying to barter sexual favors for sports tickets?  (A 6/24/2010 online story link is posted below.)  It’s time for “All Things Religious” to weigh in on this topic because of the newly launched blog by my friend who was convicted of attempted prostitution.


I’m not going to comment, or base my friendship with her, on what she did or how she has reacted since.  I do want to comment on the rest of us.  I don’t think any of this would have been newsworthy if the tickets had been to the opera.  Sports enjoys a religious status that many people take for granted.  How many times have you seen people crying over a lost game?  How about street rioting from a team’s win or loss?  I have been researching the content of the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Stories with religious content in the Sunday paper average less than five percent, which is roughly less than a quarter of one page for the front two news sections.  By comparison, the Sunday sports section is usually 15 pages.  Yet, there are more people in religious services every Sunday than attend all sporting events taking place in an entire week.  (I have a citation on this.  Comment below if you want to know more.)

The CNN article by John Blake (link below) asks better questions and has more examples than I have time for here.  This culture’s reverence of sports and the unholy mixing of religious proselytizing with sports attempts to elevate the temporal to the metaphysical but in fact demotes the divine to the trivial.


The only thing more potent than sports and religion is sex and sports.  That it is even possible to establish a blog on the topic is absurd – though I predict it will be well read.  Because we have the technology for Facebook and the opportunity for free blogs, doesn’t mean we have to talk about every Henry Miller moment that crosses our subconscious.  (For the record, I like reading Henry Miller.)  My erudite response to the sex and baseball blog is: YUCK!