Thursday, November 19, 2009

Post No. 138b: Re-Posting of Post No. 120: Taking Canopy Under the Cover of Religion

Earlier this week, while explaining why "enemy combatant terrorists" should not be tried in American courts, a member of Congress referred to them as "beasts." Later, a commentator expressed his concern that some of the criticism of President Obama had taken on a "religious fervor."

Right now, as we type this piece, Turner Classic Movies is airing the film which won the Academy Award for Best Picture for 1952, "The Greatest Show on Earth." Many have referred to it as one of the worst pictures ever to win that award, and many suspect that Cecil B. DeMille's support of anti-communist crusader Joseph McCarthy was a factor in the voting.

All of this reminded us of a piece which we generated earlier, about a C-Span2 Book TV presentation. We invite you to consider it again.

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Last week, we saw an interview of a Ku Klux Klan member. He made frequent reference to segregation as having been sanctioned by God.

More recently, one of our “supporters” suggested that we “sprinkle” our articles with Biblical references to generate more interest, particularly because God has chosen to assemble more of his passionate followers here in the Southeast.

(In a previous article, we noted our repeated requests that God speak to us, all to no avail. We actually envy those special people to whom God speaks. They’re apparently doing something we’re not, despite our willingness to participate in a conversation. The Logistician’s Father long claimed that he was simply not trying hard enough.)

The segregationist and our supporter, in conjunction with the noise generated over President’s Notre Dame Commencement speech, reminded us of a blunder candidate Obama made on the campaign trail. In April 2008, he said that it was not surprising that working class citizens, in small cities decimated by job losses, might cling to guns and religion to deal with their frustration.

Many felt that Sen. Clinton would benefit enormously from this misstep.

And perhaps she ultimately will.

And so it was timely that C-Span aired a presentation entitled, “God is Back,” sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “Taking Cover under the Canopy of Religion,” was coined by one of the panelists.

We learned that the “mega church” is actually an American invention – an extension of free market capitalism. In the 1970s, some religious leaders realized they were living in a very competitive environment. They suspected the application of business principles and marketing, along with getting more involved in the media and politics, would drive growth beyond their missionary efforts abroad.

One of the panelists noted that “Religion, American Style” has done so well in these “emerging markets,” that they have taken the business of religion to a new level. The growth has been particularly noteworthy in Guatemala and South Korea (where one mega church boasts 830,000 members).

It’s not just a matter of more people personally following religion, but rather the reassertion of religion as a force in life. Per the panelists, globalization is stoking the demand for religion.

China has roughly 1.4 billion people. Despite its purported communist underpinnings, it could become the largest Christian nation, Buddhist nation, or any other type of religious nation. Many suggest that the central authority of the Communist Party is fragile and subject to fracture.

The branch of Christianity most successful in riding this wave has been Pentecostalism, which places emphasis on a direct personal experience with God. (Perhaps that’s the ticket.) Globalization is driving insecurity, because change makes people insecure.

Insecurity historically has driven an apocalyptic attitude, and concern about impending doom. Pentecostalism also has a sociological element, which provides uprooted people with a philosophy in which they can emotionally invest.

To many, the Pentecostal Church service is the spiritual equivalent of infotainment. Entertainers from Ray Charles to Elvis Presley traced their musical roots to the melodies and arrangements they learned as children on Sundays.

As with everything in life, the panelists acknowledged a downside. When religion is at its most passionate, it is also at its most intolerant.

And most dangerous.

More blood has been shed in the Name of God, through religious wars, than for any other political purpose.

One perhaps counterintuitive aspect of the mega churches is the focus on small units to drive the agenda. One reason that Islam has grown so rapidly is that individual mosques have tremendous control and autonomy at their level, as opposed to functioning under a huge, centralized bureaucracy.

The strength in this approach is that it empowers people. The weakness? Doctrinal inconsistency, subject to variations of all types, and manipulation.

Our friend the Laughingman abandoned a Mormon heritage, traceable to Brigham Young’s initial march across the plains and mountains, to become an Episcopalian (not least to insure continued access to the company of Rev. Davenport’s daughter). Forty five years later, he remains a 4 times a month church goer… not least because he has discovered that getting down on your knees once a week, and reciting the Litany, is good for one’s sanity as well as one’s soul.

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us, but thou, oh Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders.”

He likens religion to a human operator’s manual. Pay attention to the Ten Commandments, and you can get through this life without causing harm to yourself or others. Ignore them, and it is hell living with the consequences.

We guess that candidate Obama got it wrong. Imagine that.


  1. Are religious people moral because they think that God is watching them, like a big CCTV in the sky, because that isn't real virtue is it?

  2. "More blood has been shed in the Name of God, through religious wars, than for any other political purpose."

    The statement is blatantly false and cannot be supported. It is a myth. All wars, even most so-called "religious" wars have had political and financial purposes. There are only a few wars that can be called "religious" and those were known as The Crusades, waged over a 200 year period. As bad as they were, they did not approach the carnage of the The Second World War.

    That is not to say much of what you wrote doesn't ring true, it's just I get sick and tired of hyperbole expressed as fact.

  3. The Jules raises a very interesting point. I have always contended that religious people put so much energy in condemning others because there is a competitive fight to get into heaven. With only limited space available, and if getting there is to be considered special, they must eliminate huge numbers of people and declare them unfit.

  4. Douglas:

    There's arguably some merit to your position, since very little in the universe can be described as "factual," with the possible exception of those things in the purely physical universe which can be explained by physical laws. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner mentioned this during a recent presentation on Charlie Rose.

    There is also very little in the non-physical universe which can be accurately described as having a true cause and effect relationship.

    Based on what we've seen in the area of societal discourse, unfortunately, "fact" is in the eye of the beholder.

    That being said, many would suggest that it is difficult to separate political, religious, and financial factors leading to war. Some would suggest that our current "war on terror" is all about money and has nothing to do with religion. Others would disagree.

  5. "We guess that candidate Obama got it wrong." We agree. However President Obama has invoked the blessing of the Father, or used the word GOD, more than any other of the last 10 Presidents. He even out "Godspeaks" George Bush an avowed tradition Christian by a factor of three to one.

    I can only wish that while he is talking the talk he would walk the walk! BB

  6. Douglas is not only a loyal follower of our blog, but one of our followers who always causes us to think about other issues. He complained of the use of hyperbole in a statement about religious wars above.

    Arguably, some statements on a blog might constitute factual statements, and others merely opinions. Should only factual statements be permitted by writers, no matter which side of the aisle on which they stand? Should every statement which is supposedly factual in nature be backed up by facts and statistics to support the statement?

    Or should statements which might arguably be opinions always have to be prefaced with the statement, "in our opinion...," or "in my opinion,...?"

    When we fail to clearly separate facts from opinions, do we do a disservice to the reading public, and particularly school age children? Should a clear statement be a requirement for those who write and publish pieces in the public domain? Or should we let the reader decide for him or herself whether a statement is factual in nature, or simply an opinion?

  7. There are only a few wars that can be called "religious" and those were known as The Crusades, waged over a 200 year period.

    It was the lure of plunder and Middle Eastern dukedoms, more than the yearning for the Holy Sepulcher, that prompted most of the crusaders to join the ranks.

  8. Thanks for your contribution Rodak.

    Now this is getting really interesting folks. Is it possible for us to identify any war where religion was the "sole" reason for the conflict, or even an 85% plus factor?

  9. Out of curiosity, we visited Wikipedia to determine whether there was an entry for "religious wars." The article noted that religion might only be a factor, commingled with other factors. That being said, we thought that a listing of those wars which some have denominated as "religious wars" might be interesting. We imagine that the next step is to determine the number of people killed in all of them, and then reduce that gross figure by the various percentage factors which historians have estimated the contribution made by religion.

  10. Inspector, when you get that total, let me know. I just read a little "fact" (I am assuming it is verifiable based on its origin) that 16 million people were killed by Hitler and his minions. One might say there was a religious aspect involved since 6 million were Jews. But we'd have to note that Jews were seen as a "race" and not simply as a religious affinity.

    Did you know that twice as many civilians as military died in WWII?

    Oh, by the way, I would say that any statement that does not start with "In my opinion" or convey that in any way is subject to question. Something said in a manner which suggests it is fact ought to be challenged. Otherwise, myths become real.

  11. Brenda: Thanks for weighing in. Out of curiosity, do you think that either George Bush or Barack Obama, or perhaps neither, or perhaps both, actually have a conversation or some other form of BI-LATERAL communication with "God" periodically?


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