Fear and Loathing of the Religious, From Christians to Scientologists

03/24/2015 04:02 am ET | Updated May 24, 2015


Religion is all in a lather these days. Can you hear it in the news? Read it in the posts on social media? Sense it in the dialogue ratcheting up as we begin the next election cycle? On some level, and in some sects, that fear and loathing has always been the case, but what was once the benign and loving heart of old-fashioned believers who fed the poor and cared for their fellow man has metastasized in more recent years into a deeper demand for separation built on intolerance and a belief that "the other" is the enemy.

We've got Christians so horrified by homosexuality that they're passing bills to protect God-fearing members who are more comfortable discriminating against the demographic than serving them breakfast (see Indiana and Arkansas, for starters).

We've got other Christians (see Michigan) so outraged by the potential of orphans being placed in LGBT homes that they're passing legislation to make sure those orphans stay orphans, rather than allowing them to be mothered in a home with "two mommies."

We've got politicians preaching to Christian choirs about their hopes of repealing the Affordable Care Act, a landmark New York synagogue attempting to kibosh a human rights event between Palestinian and Jewish organizations; we've even got Scientologists so riled up about Alex Gibney's upcoming HBO documentary, Going Clear, they're gaming Google ads in a desperate attempt to hijack the conversation.

What the hell has happened to religion? When did "all that is holy" translate into bigotry, fear, intolerance, and bullying rather than, say, "the love relationship between the creator God and created man" or "the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, others and all of life?"

On top of that (yes, let's get beyond spirit to something far more prosaic): THESE PEOPLE DON'T EVEN PAY TAXES! You'd think that dispensation alone would command a commensurate response of love and kindness, but no; instead, it seems the entitlement from contributing to the country's infrastructure via income tax has done nothing to circumvent the increasing, systemic infection of fear and anger. To the point that it's now almost impossible to consider "religion" without also thinking of negativity and narrow-mindedness. What's God got to do with any of that?

I am not a religious person, but I respect honest spirituality and admire those within any faith who live up to the ideals of their belief. I myself was raised in a rigorous Catholic home, and spent 10 years in Scientology, so I got my religious bona fides at both ends of the cultural spectrum and, let me tell you, in my particular case, they were not dissimilar in the ways they use fear and exclusion to keep adherents firmly on the compound. I would need more word-count than I've got here to fully explore the paradoxes involved with both religions, but, really, any clear-thinking person can innately understand that NO authentic religion should involve itself with intolerance and abuse... or any dogmatic interpretation that defends it, whether St. John, Moses, or L. Ron Hubbard.

To my way of thinking, if one wants to wear the mantle of "religion," enough to demand special legal considerations or that coveted tax exemption, one ought to also fully embrace the inherent, uncorrupted mission of spirituality, not just the perks. How can any Christian faith rely on the beneficence of government dispensation yet pervert the purpose of legislation to codify discrimination? How can members of the Jewish faith support a mission statement to "repair the world," then not support peace talks intended to do just that? How can an organization as controversial and contentious as Scientology refuse to honestly and willingly examine their historical flaws and abuses with an eye toward betterment, all while behaving like thugs in wife-beaters going after anyone who chooses to leave or speak out about their personal experiences? How on earth does any of that behavior promote the soulful, spiritual tenets of belief?

It doesn't. Because "religion" for far too many is not about those higher-toned, mystical mandates. It's about power, control, and the accrual of income. Which is tragic. And having tragic results.

There are many definitions of religion. In fact, it is considered by many to be one of the most confused words in the world, one that means very different things depending on who you ask. But if we accept at least the most basic meaning to be "a belief in a higher power," or "the addressing of life as spirit," let's be very specific about what that allows, what that limits, and what that gives franchise to. When fundamentalists of any kind talk about "taking back America" and mean shutting down programs that help the needy, we know we are not talking about spirituality. When legislators define "religious freedom" laws as necessary to "protect religion," while offering permission to discriminate, that's not God-like in any way, shape, or form. And when members of a group are so controlling, fearful, and unwilling to face fact that they'd attack with intent to destroy good people who've chosen to leave that group, or filmmakers who've chosen to document it, we are not remotely in the realm of soulfulness.

As the country ramps up for the next election, and the players involved begin laying out their platforms, let's please not allow the word "religion" to co-opt and pervert the very American ideals of acceptance, tolerance, and open hearts and minds. It's already begun; we can hear it in the words of the very first declarant; we hear it in the rumblings of those considering a run, all of which is warning enough to the intelligent, diverse, and global-thinking members of this nation. Pay attention to the words and make sure no one, none of us, gets taken by surprise. Allowing the most negative interpretations of religion to set the tone, take the stage, and run off with the heart and soul of our country is the least American thing we could possibly do. Let's make sure that doesn't happen.


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