18 September 2019

Religious leaders

I'm sure most readers have heard the classic definition of the difference between a cult and a religion:

"In a cult, there is always one person at the top who knows the whole thing is a scam.  In a religion, that person is dead."

I increasingly wonder about the second part, though.  The default assumption is that most religious leaders are among the most devout believers of all -- there's no one more Catholic than the Pope -- but in most cases their observed behavior simply doesn't fit.

Take the Catholic Church, for starters.  The pattern of child molestation by priests has been ongoing for decades, likely centuries -- in many countries, spanning the reigns of countless Popes.  The Catholic hierarchy globally has followed a pattern of shielding abusers from prosecution, shifting them from place to place to keep them out of trouble (thus allowing them to find fresh, unsuspecting victims), denying the problem, hiding evidence, denouncing accusers, blaming victims and intimidating them into silence..... Is this the behavior of men who truly believe they will one day be judged by a God who knows everything they've done?  Or is it the behavior of men primarily concerned about the worldly power, prestige, and wealth of the Church as an institution, and about their own positions within it?

Protestant institutions, too, are rife with cases of leaders engaging in sexual abuse and other crimes, misappropriation of money, extramarital affairs, and on and on.  Again, if these leaders truly believed that lives of virtue would win them eternal life in Heaven while "sin" might doom them to eternity in Hell, I can't imagine that they would behave in such ways.  Surely whatever satisfactions they get from their actions now would pale to nothing beside the prospect of eternal reward or torment -- and surely a true believer would expect God to judge the abuse of religious authority especially harshly.

Then there's the way religious practices evolve in the wake of culture (I do not say "along with" culture because the religions are usually 50 to 100 years behind).  For example, the Old Testament makes it clear that homosexuality and witchcraft are to be punished by death, while Jesus declared (Matthew 5:17-19) that every last detail of the Old Testament law remains in full force until the end of the world.  During the Dark Ages, law and practice reflected these taboos.  But in more recent centuries, as Western society has become more secular, and belief in magic has declined while tolerance for homosexuality has grown -- most major Christian denominations have quietly backed off of support for punishment by death in such cases, even while retaining a more garden-variety level of bigotry toward gays and pagan religions.

Again, do they think Jehovah and Jesus didn't really mean what they said?  Is getting along with an evolving secular society more important than loyalty to the word of the almighty creator of the universe?  Meanwhile, the few who do continue to preach the actual Biblical doctrine, such as Fred Phelps, are viewed by most Christians as cranks who give the rest of them a bad name.  Yet Jesus said, "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of Heaven" -- don't they believe him?

(Yes, I know about the fatuous modern "re-interpretations" of the Old Testament condemnations which claim they're not really about homosexuality or witchcraft or whatever.  During the Dark Ages, generations of devout Christian scholars studied the Bible intensively without those re-interpretations ever occurring to them.  Now a few people have "discovered" that the Bible "really" reflects a modern moral consensus which its authors could never have imagined and which took shape only within the last few decades.  Such claims are nothing but absurd rationalizations by moderns who can't face what their holy book actually says.)

It's hard to pull off a con successfully if you yourself are fooled by it as much as your marks are.  The "Wizard" of Oz created the projection of Oz the Great and Powerful to deceive and intimidate the masses, not to deceive himself.  He didn't personally believe the bullshit he was selling to everyone else.

The behavior of most religious leaders is staggeringly inconsistent with what they claim to believe.  Are they de facto atheists coldly and hypocritically perpetrating a scam in full awareness of what they're doing?  Or does a lifetime of wallowing in mumbo-jumbo allow them to twist reason and conscience into such a tangle that they can do and "believe" completely contradictory things and force themselves not to notice?

Do they themselves even know?

17 Comments:

Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

Good questions. I've often wondered that, too. But in the long run, does it matter if they're fanatic believers or just cynical hypocrits? Either way, they're dangerous.

18 September, 2019 05:10  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

The Catholic Church has some serious problems.

18 September, 2019 06:45  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Oh, organized religion.
It’s just a Ponzi scheme where people give them money and power in exchange for... nothing? Or permission to be horrible people?
The upper echelons profit like crazy (just look at the Catholic bishops living in luxury or Jerry Falwell jr, to cite just two). Their followers are as dangerous and cynical as they are. No question about that.

XoXo

18 September, 2019 06:48  
Blogger Mary said...

Great post....
And yes they are all dangerous and religion has been one of the most evil things man has ever invented. It’s nothing more than instilling fear and hate to gain power and control. And it’s easily done by keeping people complacent and willfully ignorant and incapable of critical thinking

18 September, 2019 07:17  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Really a good read here, and my guess is many folks wonder about these things that are religious themselves, maybe not talk about it in church, or try to think it doesn't go on (although, that would be difficult). I'm a little different, as far as the definition between a religion and a cult ... because all these institutions have charismatic types leading them ... so, to me, it's like the same, regardless of definition. I feel that this boy- cornholing thing in the Catholic church has probably went on for centuries ... how else could you get so many men to devote their lives to celibacy/ marriage/ relationships or whatever with females? ... I mean, simple masturbation won't cut the mustard, and folks still have desires ... you unofficially give them an endless supply of young booty, that also grooms them as boys, to later indulge themselves if they stay in the circles, as adults in the priesthood, eh? (not all, but a significant enough amount, I'm sure some Catholic priests indulge in ladies, or even hookers, on the side, they just don't like boys as much). I notice, Protestant type denominations tend to go with the young girls more ... perhaps, that's because they think that, better to bang a gal than a dude, in God's eyes ... I don't know, no doubt something is messed up, but it works for them I guess, as far as meeting their sexual needs. Absolutely, though, most of these folks couldn't actually believe what they preach. I remember many years ago, you wrote about Fred Phelps, I still have the writings (I called him "$5 Freddie" back then, for them old Salvation Army looking suits he wore), this was way back, before you had this blog. But, you were saying something like, how Freddie is simply preaching what the bible sayz, when people (christain people, even) were whining about him ... so true! Hell ... all one has to do, is read the Bible themselves ... it is very clear ... and yep, just like f*cken Islam ... same shit in a different wrapper.

18 September, 2019 07:56  
Blogger Lady M said...

Interesting read. I think they are all agnostics at the least. They do not know what they are peddling is true. They have no proof and they know that. Just a lot of wishful thinking. If they truly believed, they would have no need to seek medical intervention. After all, if you were going to heaven, why bother? What makes them truly heinous is how they con others.

18 September, 2019 09:35  
Blogger Sandra Cox said...

Interesting, thought provoking post.
To my mind, it's like evangelicals following Trump.

18 September, 2019 13:47  
Blogger jenny_o said...

Again, well-written and well-argued. I despair of mankind ever ridding itself of what I consider the scourge of religion. Leaders are part of the problem, yes - they profit enormously in power and prestige and even wealth, but followers also gain - they have the ease of not thinking for themselves and a good many enjoy a feeling of superiority over their non-religious neighbours. No matter; the concept of organized religion is not good for our world.

18 September, 2019 16:27  
Blogger Happy Phil said...

Thou shall not kill.

Virtually none of the Abraham based religions adhere to this commandment. Why would anyone expect the religious leaders and followers to respect any of the other commandments?

18 September, 2019 17:04  
Blogger Rational Nation USA said...

Another excellent post infidel.

If they don't themselves even know the cognitive disconnect is truly remarkable.

Organized religion is a bigger con than Trump. Admittedly a difficult thing to do.

18 September, 2019 18:26  
Blogger dellgirl said...

This is interesting and really thought-provoking, I've never thought about this before reading about it here. I'm very glad to read your POV and explanation about it. Thanks for sharing these compelling insights.

Wishing you all the best!

18 September, 2019 18:48  
Blogger Mary said...

Happy Phil...that is a perfect comment and such a simple truth

18 September, 2019 19:48  
Blogger Adam said...

They always have their own funny hat.

18 September, 2019 20:11  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...


The last place to turn to for moral guidance is religion! That's been clear for centuries. Religion has justified slavery, misogyny, racial superiority, genital mutilation, homophobia, and other insults to humanity. Shall I go on? Yeah. Nice paintings, architecture, and sculpture inspired by religious themes. Other than that, is it worth the agony it put humanity through?

19 September, 2019 08:51  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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19 September, 2019 11:06  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Debra: Indeed, hypocrites might be even more dangerous, since they feel they have to prove their bona fides. But I hope that pointing this out will make a few people take them less seriously.

Mary: Many serious problems.

Sixpence: True. The Vatican has a hoard of wealth few kings could match. Kind of odd when Jesus said to give everything away to the needy.

Mary: Thanks! I'm convinced it's the most powerful and frightening tool of mental control ever devised.

Ranch: In Sub-Saharan Africa it seems more common that Catholic priests rape women rather than boys. I guess there are local variations in religion.

Phelps was one of the few True Christians left. No wonder he couldn't fit in.

Lady M: That's another good point I should have mentioned. Most Christians who are dying, or who have relatives who recently died, don't behave as if they really believed in Heaven.

Sandra: Thanks. That's one good thing Trump has done -- he's made the hypocrisy of the Evangelicals so blatant that it's impossible to ignore.

19 September, 2019 18:22  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jenny_o: Thanks! Well, religion is at least in decline generation by generation, and it's declined far further in Europe. I don't know whether it can ever be eradicated completely, but there's grounds for hope, and the weaker it becomes, the better.

Happy Phil: Well, strictly speaking that Commandment translates as "Thou shalt not murder", meaning don't kill members of the in-group (fellow Israelites). But even so, right after delivering the Commandments, God supposedly ordered a massacre of Israelites who had worshiped the Golden Calf, so the morality of it is still incoherent.

Rational: Thanks. Unfortunately humans have a remarkable capacity to hold contradictory ideas simultaneously, especially when they have something to gain by doing so.

Dellgirl: Thanks -- I appreciate your reading with an open mind. Providing a new perspective is what I most hope to be able to do.

Adam: I always think the Pope's hat looks like one of those containers take-away Chinese food comes in. Maybe he carries his lunch up there.

Shaw: As a smart blogger once said, religion is not a source of morality, it's a source of excuses for behaving immorally. As for all the artistic achievements, the people who created those things would have been just as talented with or without religion. They put their talents to religious uses because they lived in religious societies. If they'd lived in a different kind of society they'd have created different, but equally great, works.

Anon: Thank you.

19 September, 2019 18:32  

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