In which the atheist rants at some length without conclusion on matters of religious hypocrisy.

There’s this thought I’ve had about huckster preachers who scam their congregations and promise eternal rewards for handing over their temporal earnings. This is just a matter of public-facing behaviour of those who claim to be generally christians.

In these cases, they, it seems to me, can’t actually be ‘real’ Christians – they can’t actually believe in the afterlife they preach. If they did, they would obviously live their lives differently (rich man / camel / eye of needle – you know the drill) knowing that a vengeful god would have it in for them at the other end of things.

I throw around vague terms but the people I mean include American preachers who lead megachurches and live in mansions, Catholic priests who collect tithes for Rome but whose congregations live in poverty. And a few other types.

Those who believe in deathbed conversions have to step carefully given how easy it is for death to sneak up without warning.

Do I have a philosophical case to make regarding the benefits of atheism or living a Christian life without the hypocrisy of those of the cloth? Great question.

Listen. I’ll say it again. I’m a lapsed Jew with occasional tendencies towards Christian imagery in my writing and a firm belief that Jesus was a nice Jewish boy who got in with the wrong crowd but eventually made good. In addition, I’m fond of end of the world apocalyptic movies like The Omen and that one with Schwarzenegger from the 90s.

On the other hand, I carry animus towards exploitative religions and religious behaviour no matter their origins. Anyone who works against the protection of the young / the helpless / those in danger or in harm’s way is, however, working against the tenets of basic biblical teaching. The same holds for government officials who vote against the best interests of people in favour of corporations but show up in church on Sunday as if the latter cleansed them of the former – not doing the Lord’s work, really.

What does the huckster who leads such a congregation actually believe? Is there some special feeling that the afterlife of their preaching will be theirs anyway, despite the harm? I’m reminded of an article I read years ago about the tobacco industry. The writer was at an industry convention and there were cigarettes by the carton simply on display. ‘May I take one of these?’ ‘Of course, take two.’ In this moment, the writer realised the executives he was interviewing didn’t themselves smoke and he asked them about it. The reply, ‘No, we leave that to the stupid and the n****ers.’ (I’m 80% certain the article was in Rolling Stone, and probably in the early 1990s.)

Is this how megachurch preachers see their congregants? Live by actual biblical teaching? Nah, we’ll leave that to the gullible. We’ve got ours, jack. It seems to me that if you believe in a Christian version of the afterlife, then bilking followers (and at the far end of the spectrum, preaching actual hate) will keep you from that promised land. If you do believe, then doing good works, is the key.

There’s a strain of Christian philosophy in which what the believer believes has more weight than what the believer does in determining entrance to the afterlife of choice. If you believe a certain way, then your works aren’t necessary to get into heaven and that if you don’t believe, no amount of work you do will get you there.

Brother Andre Marie over at (note – there’s a bias here) suggests that the fundamentalist (Calvinist/Lutheran/Baptist) view is that faith is sufficient, whereas the Catholic take is that humans must participate in their salvation by doing good works. Faith alone is insufficient. The Jewish take (as emphasized in the Haggadah, read at Passover) is that we tell the story of Exodus as ‘what the L-rd did for me when he brought us out of Egypt’, thereby acknowledging the deity and taking part in our own salvation.

Again, I’m an atheist. I haven’t studied divinity (though I do have a friend with a degree in the subject and should corner her on her thoughts on the matter) and my reading of the bible tends to be to make sure I get an allusion correct rather than using it as words to live by. That said, as one who is at least aware of the tradition of rabbinic debate on all kinds of topics, this kind of concept slicing makes sense as brain-stretching thought exercises. However, it is the worst kind of game playing when you’re talking about making life better or worse in the now for large (if not huge) numbers of people.

The main reasons to practice a religion include community, indoctrination, desire for salvation, utility as a guide for living, the existence of a supreme deity gives meaning or structure to life. All quite good and meaningful. The issue becomes where the organisation of religion oversteps into the lives of believers/followers. The Catholic requirement of confession is an aspect of this – belief and inclusion in the community include giving priests all the secrets of the community to hold. Those who don’t confess are shunned and those who know the secrets of those in power are compelled to release them at personal risk, the seal of the confessional notwithstanding. From the outside, it’s another tool of coercive behaviour. From the inside?

I also know that there are issues with writing about religion as a monolithic thing. One is that I don’t want to consider religion as a block of problems intractable of solution. For many, religion/faith *is* the solution. I want to consider merit in the teachings of religion and not discount what it provides to many. This goes hand in hand with rejecting Burroughs’ tenet in Words of Advice for Young People. ‘Don’t trust a religious SOB. Get it in writing.’

I’m beyond the age at which I find this humorous or useful anymore. It’s a matter of contempt – holding a person to be beyond worth due to professed belief or membership in a group. I may find that in examining the subject from the position of contempt will open me to accusations of intolerance. This is worth considering too.

I’m not easygoing when it comes to religion. I’m adamant about my agnosticism – I don’t have blind faith in a god of any kind. It falls in the category of religion not providing a better answer to questions that have been answered through application of the scientific method. I generally don’t put my trust in that which doesn’t subject itself to repeatability. (I know that there are some interesting limits to this as discussed in Adam Conover’s interview with oncologist Azra Raza.)

Each person has the choice to follow or not follow leaders, be they religious or secular, to parrot the BS found in social media, and to hold those with differing views in contempt. Bloody conservatives, stupid liberals, gun owners, and firearms absolutists being current objects of contempt in the matters of how we as humans at this late date hold others to be outside the pale of discussion.

god-hates-flagsThe issue I want to examine in greater depth is how those in positions of religious leadership preach one thing, or one set of things, based on salvation and faith in one interpretation of a set of teachings but flout the same standards, often flagrantly. The obvious example is the Westboro Baptist folks who quote a couple passages of Leviticus to preach a gospel of hate and derision.

The question of whether one can condemn the gay to hell both in this life and the next based on one bit of Leviticus, but still eat lobster is at the heart of this discussion.

If kashrut, polycotton blends, and interaction with men during menstruation are no longer matters of much contention and attention, then why homosexuality?

Of course, the reason is that homosexuality is a distraction from all the rest of what the huckster does that is obviously sin. ‘But I’m not gay – that’s the worst thing – this is what keeps the nation from being a shining city on the hill.’ And oddly, you end up with antigay preachers who are also practicing sodomites, hypocrisy being another aspect of hucksterism.

There’s obviously more to consider, but I wanted to get these notes out of my notebook and into the blogosphere.