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Posted by on Apr 18, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 0 comments

The Love Shackle: Are Marital Religious Conversions Sincere?

 

 

Marriage remains the primary reason many people of faith convert from one religion to another, or from no religion to a precipitous discovery of sudden belief.  But why should anyone be forced to change their personal belief system based simply on falling in love?  Doesn’t true love demand tolerance, that is — allowing a spouse to believe what they want and loving him (or her) for who they really are?

 

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have been in the news a lot lately.  In the midst of another news cycle, we’re reminded once again that Ivanka once selflessly converted from Christianity (Presbyterianism) to Judaism prior to marrying her beloved prince, Jared.  Isn’t that nice.

Ivanka’s sudden religious epiphany had more to do with an intense desire to get married to someone well-to-do than any discernible intellectual exercise or inner spiritual experience.  In fact, the power couple reportedly broke off their engagement at one point due to strong objections from Kushner’s parents to their son marrying outside the faith.

So, why would a strong-willed, seemingly-intelligent, highly-educated woman reflective of the modern age do something straight out of the Middle Ages, subjugating her most heartfelt personal beliefs to the forced coercion of matrimony?  Let’s call this all-too-typical pattern of behavior what it truly is — an exercise in forced intellectual subjugation.  Oddly enough, it’s a perfectly acceptable form of slavery and servitude that’s still widely in practice.

The Kushner’s certainly aren’t alone, and I don’t mean to pick on them.  This isn’t a political attack.  Rather it’s a philosophical inquiry.  In fact, conversion coercion (a term I just invented here) has become so common that it’s not only now socially normal, but also prudently forgiven as an entirely rational decision.  Indeed, millions of religious conversions have taken place over many decades, no nation more familiar with this peculiar cultural practice than the United States, the ultimate melting pot of people with divergent religions and belief systems.  Matrimonial conversions were all too common in 20th Century America, during a time when religious bonds were considerably stronger than they are today, when boys and girls with different religious upbringings often went to the same school, fell in love, and then decided to get married.  Plenty of Catholics converted to Protestantism, and vice versa.  Christians married Jews, and converted.  More recent, we’ve even begun seeing Christians convert to Islam.  That said, I’m not familiar with any Atheists suddenly “finding religion.”  The building blocks of intelligence can’t be deconstructed, it seems, even by the power of love.

So, what makes religious conversion a mandatory ritual between some couples?  Wouldn’t love and tolerance be best exemplified by loving someone for who they really are, without the remolding process?  People of differing religious faiths, or faith versus no faith at all, have married, and lived happily ever after.  I’ve seen no scientific evidence that shared religious views increases the chances of a happy marriage.  People who are comfortable with themselves and their own beliefs shouldn’t feel threatened by a life’s partner professing an alternative view of our place in the universe.

Truth and honesty should dictate that no religion wants its believers to be converted by force.  But history reveals quite the opposite story — from the Inquisition to the Crusades to the genocide of the indigenous people of the Americas (all done in the name of religion).  Hence, it’s no surprise then that religions want new followers any way it can get them, either by using the carrot or the stick.  Marriage just so happens to be a little of both.

Is religion nothing more than a light switch to be flipped on at a moment’s notice, just prior to heading off to the alter?  Can a thinking person really alter their most fundamental belief system without some genuine curiosity and a longer process of discovery?  Well, exposure to new teachings might explain some sincere instances of religious conversion.  Yes, they do happen.  Surely, out of countless millions of instances there are some couples where one spouse signed up to join a different tribe and then gradually become mesmerized by and absorbed within the new rituals.  Still, this all-too convenient (and dishonest) outcome can’t possibly apply to the vast majority of forced conversions, leaving those pseudo-converted shackled to the cerebral equivalent of a ball and chain.  Sure, plenty of people might be able to “fake it” and go along with the charade for a while, many doing it for the sake of the children, no doubt.  But it all seems terribly contrived, and ultimately fake.

Closing the minds of children and insisting upon a strict religious orthodoxy is bad enough, and I’d argue abusive.  Proper education should require that all children get a more balanced view of the alternatives.  But shackling one’s husband or wife to a religious faith is a twisted manifestation of anguishing cruelty.  Forcing one’s religious views on another person, especially a life’s partner, isn’t love.  It’s the ultimate in insecurity and selfishness.

 

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Posted by on Jan 23, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 1 comment

The United States of Jesusville

 

 

Last week’s presidential inauguration lasted a relatively brisk 90 minutes.  About half of the official swearing-in ceremony was comprised of speeches.  The other half was filled with lively music and assorted patriotic fanfare.

Lost in the controversial aftermath of political protests and petty partisan bickering over attendance figures on the mall that day, was the disturbing amount of time given to religion.  The nation’s biggest platform was frequently turned over to religious authorities.  Prayers dominated the order of the day.  In fact, prayers accounted for nearly as much stage time as President Trump’s much-anticipated inaugural address.  There was the actual swearing in process also, buttressed by not just one, but two versions of The Holy Bible.  A copy of Trump’s own The Art of the Deal was reportedly ready on stand by.

For we secularists, calls for public prayer are typically but a minor annoyance.  Most of us do respect the rights of others to pray and/or show other outward signs of their faith.  We stand quietly while others choose to worship, even though we believe such rituals make about as much sense as praying to the Easter Bunny.  Everyone, everywhere should be afforded the right to demonstrate their beliefs (including we), both in private and public.  However, our patience does get tested.  Our tolerance is abused.  While we’re perfectly willing to pretend-pray and play along, we don’t like getting smashed over the head by the imposition of a pious religious order.  That’s precisely what happened in Washington last Friday.

President Trump’s 17-minute inauguration address was framed by six — count ’em SIX — prayers.  Three prayers were held at the beginning of the ceremony [Pastor Paula White,  who is Trump’s “spiritual adviser,” followed immediately by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and then Rev. Franklin Graham].  That was followed by three more prayers near the end [Rabbi Marvin Hier, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, and Rev. Sam Rodriguez].  All that was missing was the Little Drummer Boy and a partridge in a pear tree affixed to a giant cross that screams “Jesus Saves.”

Usually, non-denominational religious rituals include a benediction from each of the so-called “Big Three” — which is Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  But this year, Christians covered the point spread and smashed the over easier than the New England Patriots in the championship game.  At Trump’s inaugural, there were five Christians and one Jew upon the Deus.  What ever happened to the Muslim?  Islam was shut out.  Perhaps the imam’s car got caught in traffic at the “largest crowd ever to witness an inauguration,” according to White House propagandist, Sean Spicer.  We’ll have to check on that.

Were five Christian prayers necessary in order to bestow the imaginary blessing of the world’s phantom superpower upon the incoming Trump Administration?  Might just one, or two, or even three prayers have been sufficient?  Gee, even three seems like overkill.  One realizes that not only are all the religions divided among themselves, denominations too are subdivided into different belief systems, each requiring plenty of grandstanding and gerrymandering.  And so, a sort of Christian ice cream cone was stacked with all the most popular flavors of Baskin-Robbins at the inauguration.  The only thing missing was hot fudge and a cherry.

Once the swearing in ceremony officially ended — for those horrified at the sight of this historic moment, the swearing at began.  The billionaire ruling class accompanied by their congressional puppets and new cabinet appointees and excused themselves over to Union Station, just a 10-minute walk from the Capital.  That where the inaugural luncheon was officially held and began with….(take a wild guess)….yet another prayer.  Some verses were quoted out of a holy book written 2,000 years ago laden with contradictions which mysteriously even condones slavery.  I don’t remember what was said exactly.  I doubt anyone was listening, or paying much attention since everyone’s hickory smoked brisket was getting cold on the plate while the mullah rambled on about the ancient Corinthians.  There were a lot of thou’s and ye’s slung around, though.

In the spirit of bipartisanship, President Obama’s inauguration ceremonies had plenty of religious fanfare, also.  And, I was just as annoyed about it then as I am now with this new Administration.  In fact, religious gets used as a political prod by many politicians in both parties.  But this was akin to smoking the frankincense.  Curiously, most in attendance at these types of public events don’t appear take prayers very seriously, as evidenced by the bitterly deep political divide fueled by institutionalized greed and avarice for money and power that’s come to inflict the ruling class.  It’s as though once the praying ends, it’s open season and the political pickpocketing begins.  Let’s steal and kill for Jesus.

Next came Day Two.  Any notion that the first full day of the new Administration would take on a more serious tone was shattered when, on the following morning, less than 24-hours after seven prayers were offered, President Trump’s first order of business was to attend something called a “National Prayer Service,” held at Washington’s National Cathedral.  Somehow, instead of just Christians and Jews peppering the pews and slinging the sermons, a Muslim and Hindu miraculously passed through security.  Once again, we’ll have to look into that.

Prayers and preaching has no place in or at any official government function, assuming one shares a literal interpretation of the Constitutional separation of church and state.  Millions of American secularists share this view.  Fortunately, the previous Administration even acknowledged what’s become the fastest-growing of all factions on religiosity (which is the “nones” — meaning those having no religious belief).  We aren’t growing smaller.  We’re increasing in size.  But you wouldn’t know any of this given the holy liturgy of events over the past three days and all the lapdog attention afforded to Christian evangelicals.

Surely, there’s at least one thing on which we can probably all agree. believers and secularists alike.  There’s plenty of praying going on right now, right this very instant.  Even many of those who strongly oppose President Trump and his policies are out there praying.  They’re praying with as much conviction as anyone else.  I sometimes wonder how any spiritual being, real or imagined, could handle the disparate prayers of so many contradictory hopes and wishes.  All this praying is enough to make any god ignore the incessant chatter and flip the off switch.

 

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Posted by on Dec 7, 2015 in Blog | 4 comments

Was Mother Teresa a Fraud?

 

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MOTHER TERESA (while being filmed in a television interview speaking to one of her “patients”):  “You are suffering like Christ on the cross.  So Jesus must be kissing you.”

CALCUTTA CANCER PATIENT (suffering unbearable pain from being terminal ill and given no painkillers):  “Then please tell him to stop kissing me.”

 

Few pronouncements are more blasphemous than alleging Mother Teresa was a fraud.

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