After the preliminary rituals had been attended to, Skids put his fingertips together, reclined in his chair and with a rather impish look on his face, said,
“So I heard you’re teaching Sunday school now.”
Well yes, I just started doing that.
“I suppose everyone needs something to do on a Sunday morning,” Skids said with the slightest trace of disdain. “I could never be religious, myself.”
What makes you think I’m religious?
“You’re part of a church, aren’t you?”
Yes, for a long time now. Is there something wrong with that?
“I don’t know. I couldn’t do it. I don’t trust them.”
“Wherever a church or especially a denomination is involved, you’re automatically dealing with these human organizational edifices with whole hierarchies and dogmas and political systems and hordes of starry-eyed acolytes that feel it’s their duty to offer up their tithes, their brainless subservience and their vapid daughters to the organization. Once having done all that, many of these sheep find themselves willing to become torch-bearing practitioners of the organization’s bent ideologies. This permits them to take advantage of all the cushy privileges of belonging to the denomination while ignoring what their church is doing, or worse, doing it along with them. If you ask me, religion is just another consumer product.”
I think you’re only seeing a small part of what churches do.
“Oh no, I see all kinds of things. There’s Fred Phelps, Warren Jeffs, David Koresh, to name a few. Just to be nice, I’ll forget the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the Council of Trent, and all that jazz. All kinds of atrocities are being committed as we speak—in the name of God.”
I see. So if I decided to take your car keys and steal your car, but I said God told me to do it, it would then become God’s fault?
“You’re missing the point. The preponderance of evil that comes out of the worldwide practice of religion is staggering. You have people flying jets into buildings, blowing up buses, killing policemen in Ireland. The whole world’s gone crazy, and most of the nuts are religious.”
What about the tens of millions killed by atheists: Josef Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Saddam Hussein, Hitler—
“Hitler was a devout Catholic!”
Really? Is that why he killed thousands of Christian clergymen, including many Catholic priests?
“They were killed for political reasons.”
Wow. Hitler sounds like some Christian.
“Ever read Mein Kampf? It contains declarations of his Christian faith.”
The book was written to capture the minds and hearts of a nominally Christian nation. Ever heard of propaganda?
“I sure have. Isn’t that what you call the kind of crap people like Benny Hinn and Oral Roberts foist on their flocks? Remember when Oral Roberts told everybody God said He was going to kill him if he didn’t come up with $8 million for the ministry?”
I do. What I’m not sure about is why you’re so convinced he was sincere. Is it because he said it with a straight face? People claim to be all kinds of things—doctors, lawyers, psychics, humanitarians—all for underhanded reasons. Somehow that doesn’t hurt the industries, though. If I were to follow your thinking, every time I heard about someone posing as a doctor I would raise my fist in triumph and say, See? Medicine is nothing but a sham!
“Now you’re being ridiculous. You know as well as I do that well-meaning religionists do a lot of evil in the world.”
Religionists? I’m not even sure what those are, but I’m pretty sure God hasn’t said He requires anyone to be one.
“Very funny. Anyway, let’s put it this way: people who believe in God are dangerous. They get together in large groups, and because of their sheer numbers and the degree of organization, they have a lot of wealth and social influence. They use all of it to push everyone else around. But here’s the worst thing: 99 percent of them are brainwashed— controlled by the people at the top.”
So 99 percent of people who attend church are brainwashed?
“Yep. And once you get all that wealth and power concentrated in the hands of the few, the organization becomes corrupt.”
First of all, I’m sorry it’s so inconvenient to the rest of you that worshippers get together in order to enjoy fellowship and stay spiritually healthy. Really a bummer for you. At any rate, as to corruption, these fellowships often morph once wrong-headed people are managing the tithes, but the fellowships usually start out as smaller groups who break off from larger ones to get away from the very things you hate: corruption, negative perspectives and politics. Haven’t you noticed by now that any authoritative organization, secular or religious, suffers through the same cycle of corruption and renewal? Power (and money) corrupts, remember? I’d like to hear how the abuse of religious authority differs from the abuse of secular authority?
“Secular authority cannot possibly compete with religious authority. The church has always been the exclusive arbiter of good and evil, with the power to forgive any sin. This ranges from the sacrament of confession to the selling of lifetime dispensations, as in Pope Pius X’s reign of religious terror, all contrived to provide him with a hedonistic lifestyle—“
I thought you weren’t going to talk about ancient history, but go ahead.
“Thank you. Third, religious institutions tend to perpetuate themselves in power—“
And secular factions don’t?
“Stop interrupting. Unlike with the secular abuse of power, there are no elections, and criminal proceedings against church members are rare. Such is the power and authority of the church that religious leaders and laypeople enjoy almost total immunity from punishment and freedom from responsibility.”
Freedom from observable punishment and responsibility, you mean.
“What are you talking about?”
This is your problem: you want to see corrupt religious leaders and church members punished publicly, but, short of legal culpability, their only judge is going to be God, and He doesn’t necessarily hang people in the public square. I’m sure you feel as though you gave religion a fair shake at some point, but I’ll bet you were looking for demonstrable reasons to believe and didn’t find any, because spirituality and devotion to God are matters of faith. God cannot be approached like a scientific experiment.
“Why would I want to approach him at all? Someone who has to threaten people with everlasting punishment just to get them to fall in line is a lot like a spoiled child.”
Maybe hell is like AIDS. Are we threatening our kids when we describe the disease to them and tell them not to be promiscuous or they’re going to contract HIV? Anyway, what are we arguing about? These are things that can only be apprehended by faith. If there are a God and a hell, I’m pretty sure He’s not going to abolish hell just because some of us tell Him it’s wrong to send people there.
“You religionists never could handle a good fight. You always fall back on the ‘faith’ bit.”
Skids hates it when I stop arguing with him. But I lose interest. After all, I like to use my brain as much as the next person, but when you are approaching something which is as deadly serious as this (i.e., “What am I to make of Jesus?”), you are led by one thing. You can’t be led by both faith and intellect; one or the other will inevitably take precedence. So in the end, a person has to choose which he will allow to guide him. It is the difference between what is seen and what is unseen.