Category Archives: Religion

Planning for my next millennium.

Rev. Zita and Rev. Kelly

 

There are a lot of very embarrassed people out there right now. Well, that or they have already shut down the phones and websites, grabbed the money and run. Given the amount of media hype over the last twenty years, I’d say it is probably the latter.

I’m talking about all the interesting people who have been hawking books, websites, survival kits, bugout bags, videos, classes and spare toothbrushes over the last couple of decades. They’ve made a lot of money by claiming the world was ending and they could get you what you needed to survive. If they were scamming us, they have vanished by now. If they were sincere, then they are either very surprised or are trying to figure out what went ‘wrong’.

Oddly, I have a problem with the continuation of the world being ‘wrong’, but then I didn’t buy a generator, learn to make candles or stock up on baked beans. Since I have survived the apocalypse, I have decided to make the best of my next 1,000 years. I even have ideas.

Rev. Zita’s top ten list of ways to spend the next Millennium:

  1. Read everything that Warren Buffet has ever written. For a billionaire, he seems like a pretty cool guy.
  2. Vote Independent. The regular parties are just so last eon.
  3. Finally decide on a hair color.
  4. Invent my own religion based on sacred sarcasm and the Zen of lifting the perfect sardonic eyebrow. Groucho Marx will be our prophet.
  5. Create the perfect hot sauce. I’m actually well on my way with this one.
  6. Learn to dance without beer. Need I say more?
  7. Write a manual on how to live the perfect individual life. Including references and diagrams.
  8. Learn to use technology correctly. Seriously, I’m so far behind that it’s sad.
  9. Help people to see that the world can be a very good place if you want it to be one.
  10. Learn to enjoy the life I’ve been given without freaking out at every little thing Chicken Little says.

I’m going to get out of my life the things I put into it, and I intend to put some very good things into my life. You should too. Make a list for your next thousand years, and we can share them. If we get enough responses, we can put up the best suggestions and goals for everyone to enjoy. What will you do for the next Millennium? Tell me, I want to know. We all could use some good ideas.

Find your peace and have some fun.

Rev. Zita.

Is Religion Bad for Your Brain?

Science and religion have always had a very tumultuous relationship. If they were married, I’d be recommending lots of counseling and calling divorce attorneys for them. Science is always attempting (and often succeeding) in disproving some of the more flamboyant claims of religion and Religion is persistent in decrying the ‘faithless’ efforts of science to explain the world around us in reproducible terms.

While reading some random news posts, I ran across an article in Philly Health that suggested that some of the more extreme evangelical religions may reduce the size and capabilities of the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory.  You can read the entire article here: http://www.philly.com/philly/health/132456883.html?c=r. The tests were done on older adults and were more geared to be part of an elder care study, from what I read.

I don’t think they were trying to insult anyone’s religious beliefs, but it got me to wondering: If a religion that prefers you to seek all answers to all questions in its sacred texts can lead to atrophy of a key area of the brain, would a religion that encourages analytical thinking and exploration actually prevent some forms of degeneration?

I admit that I am reaching , here. The study was not geared to the biblical literalists in any way; I just took a faint concept and ran with it. On the face of it, it does make sense. If you are restricted in your source of information and have little contact with external stimuli, the brain would have no reason to maintain or renew neurological connections associated with memory. An extreme example would be completely cloistered religious or isolated groups that severely restrict contact from ‘outside’ their immediate environment. All responses would be entirely by rote rather than requiring new solutions or analysis to be created in response to new situations or information. Sadly, I do not know of a study that has been done on member of any cloistered groups in this area, so it is pure speculation on my part.

Unfortunately I also don’t know of any religion that insists on and encourages continual learning and questioning, either.

The conflict between Science and Religion is based on their fundamental principles. Religion on the whole is based on Faith with a capitol ‘F’’: believe in what has been revealed to you without question. Science is based on the idea of questioning everything from the very start and takes nothing on faith. Both have their place and should not attempt to usurp the other’s place or function, since that usually leads to very bad things happening. If you doubt that, I suggest you look at the rigors of communist anti-religious purges or the current series of religious wars going on.

As a last note, I’d like to recommend a look at the ‘Aphorisms for Heretics’ in our archives here on this site, especially aphorisms 5 thru 8 and number 25. I am a proponent of continued education, but I also encourage belief in that which brings you comfort. Just don’t overdo it and remember to keep your brain healthy.

Find your peace, friends.

Rev. Zita

Atheists Under Attack

Admittedly this is another, where does this guy get off? posting, but seriously, where do these people get these ideas? OK, I need to slow down here, I am speaking of Pastor Mike Stahl of the Living Waters Church. Personally, I think this guy is on an ego trip, especially considering that the URL for his church is not anything about it, but rather the URL is Pastor Mike’s Church. That says a lot right there.

Pastor Mike, and I use the title loosely, wants to create a national registry of atheists; just names, pictures, and general locations, not actual addresses, to inform the public about the atheists that live in their neighborhoods. His claim is that this registry will allow “true Christians” to minister to atheists and warn them about the “dangers” of the atheist lifestyle. Instead, I see this being a trigger to vandalism to local businesses, violence to people, and another way to spread hate in our communities.

This view is not just from the announcement of the registry, but from Pastor Mike’s comparison of atheists to sex offenders and extremist terrorism. I just can’t understand where Pastor Mike gets the idea it is OK to belittle a group of people for their beliefs. Nor can I think of any religion that teaches that this type of behavior is OK.

Pastor Mike, if you find this blog posting, I beg you to stop what you are doing and let people be. Instead of spreading poison and hate, spread love and peace. It better fits the role you are trying to fill.

Should Churches Pay Taxes?

It has been traditional over the centuries to extend a rare privilege to all religions: Tax exemption. Is that really necessary anymore?

 I was reading an article on mega-churches the other day. I was astonished by the sheer size of these empires of faith. Many have assets calculated in the millions if not billions of dollars—they own real estate, publishing houses, video and film production companies, public relations firms, advertising, radio and television stations, music publishing, farming and agricultural companies, manufacturing; the list can be very long, depending on the sect.

While all churches and religious organizations have a primary duty in the spiritual realm, it is an inescapable fact that they all operate within the physical and mundane world around us. As part of that world, they utilize public services such as roads, police and fire protection, military protection when needed, medical and emergency services. All of which are paid for by public taxes.

It can be argued that as non-profit groups they are allowed a share of those services for taking on tasks such as caring for the homeless, charitable work like food kitchens and other very noble services. These are tasks that are necessary for a civilized society, but admittedly ones that the civil government often fails to perform adequately. Since they theoretically are not in this for a profit motive, they have to have their burden eased in order to perform their good works better. Plus the tax deductions allowed for contributions to these tasks make it easier for people to donate and support these services.

On the other hand, it can be argued that some of these religious sects are the oldest continuously existing corporate bodies in the world. They have accumulated their extensive assets through donations and bequests, often over centuries. They charge for membership (tithes), they charge for services performed for members, they often require periods of ‘voluntary’ labor in one form or another from assisting with the yard work at the local church to mandatory missionary endeavors lasting years.

In many cases, there are books, videos and CD’s offered for sale or for a ‘donation’ that espouse the sect’s viewpoint and theology. Purchase of these items is usually strongly encouraged, often from the pulpit itself. Classes in topics ranging from Biblical study to self-help, meditation, and personal defense are offered and again, a fee is usually charged. Fund raisers are sponsored at regular intervals and all these proceeds go into the accounts of the religious organization.

I am in favor of churches paying taxes. Perhaps at a reduced rate, but I feel very strongly that if you work in this world, sell something tangible or own your own bank, you should pay taxes to support the services you take advantage of. It’s called paying your share, and while a church may be devoted to their God, they are still manned by humans and should be treated accordingly.

Find your peace, friends.

Rev. Zita

Note added by Rev. Kelly: for those of you who are curious, Heartfelt Ministries and the Practical Heretic are registered as businesses and do not have a tax exempt status. No pot calling the kettle black from us.  Peace!

Who are these Guys?

Who are these moral authorities?

 

I was watching the responses to the passage of New York’s Same-sex marriage bill, and I started to wonder a few things. Normally this gets me in trouble, and if you know me, you know why that is, but this time I think the issue is a little bigger than a prank somewhere.

Why do religious leaders think they have authority over the sexuality of their followers? Who gave them that authority? Where did it come from? Why do people obey it? Last but not least, why is it when these leaders make those very stringent rules, the same leaders are the ones that violate them most egregiously?

We’ve all seen the church scandals on the web and in the papers. First this evangelist and then that one is accused of either sleeping with the wife of some church official or secretary, or they’ve been seeing some male prostitute for homosexual favors or doing drugs, or yada, yada, yada. The Church scandals are so ubiquitous that nobody is even making jokes about it on late night TV anymore. It’s pretty bad when even a comedian is bored with your crimes and misbehaviors.

These are the guys who have the nerve to protest when two consenting adults, of sound mind and body, want legal recognition of their relationship like free and upstanding citizens. When two people no longer want to hide their affection and choose to share their lives in a mature and responsible fashion, shouldn’t we applaud? We should be happy that they respect marriage so much that they are willing to fight for it, come hell or high water.

The so-called protectors of family values are pretty much self-appointed as far as I can tell. I can’t find any real basis for their assumption of this authority, other than them pointing to things written by their own authors, which is a circular argument and does nothing to prove anything. Yet they claim the right to enforce their views on everything from sexual behavior to reproductive medicine.

Unless you are a practitioner of Tantra, sexuality and religion are two separate things, no matter how many times you scream “Oh God!!” a night. With the much publicized failures of these moral authorities to follow their own rules, they have more or less abrogated any claims they may have had to protecting the morality of we, the sad and very disgusted populace. If they can’t behave according to their own rules, why should we?

I don’t know how or when exactly religious authorities decided to extend their stringent rules and regulations into our bedrooms, but it needs to stop. It has been going on for centuries and nowadays with the internet we see their failures all too clearly. We need to really take a step back and actually look at what is going on. We need to ask the question: why are you telling us what is right when you do everything wrong?

Find your peace, friends.

Rev. Zita

Faithful vs. Religious

I have a great respect for faithful people. They live by what they believe, will stand up for it when faced with difficulties, and are generally very nice people. I do have an issue with religious people. You know which ones I mean, the ones with a check list that fervently counter everything you say or do with a quote from the bible or with a statement that starts My (preacher, reverend, pastor, minister, or other religious leader) says ( and fill in the blank). Absolutely no independent thought whatsoever.

I honestly believe that most religions are out to help us produce “good” in the world; to love our neighbors, to respect the people in our lives, and to really try to spread those feelings on to other people. The people who are trying to do this are faithful, and they have taken the spirit of their belief system to heart and have immense faith that it will lead them to do the right thing, always.

On the other hand are those people who are religious. Those people have a list of rules in hand, and these rules may be hundreds or thousand of years old or just said from the lips of a “modern prophet.” They do not thing about what their religions means, stands for, or effects other people. These are the people who scare me; they take their check list of rules and make sure they do the actions described there in, but rarely do they think about what those actions mean nor do they take the spirit of the religion to heart. This action reminds me of the person who thinks that they can “buy their way into heaven (or other spiritual reward)”

Which one is going to create permanent change? I can say that I tend to shy away from people who tell me to follow this rule or that rule and their response to why is “because God said to” or “that is what Jesus commanded.” As a adult, I find it insulting and disturbing that “because” is an answer. Instead, I am much more likely to listen to the person who leads their life according to the spirit of their belief system and tries to pass that along to another person. That person who leads with actions and not rules is the one that will create permanent and lasting change in their own lives as well as others.

Why I Dislike Revelation Theology

I’m still here!

Reverend Kelly pointed out to me that my post on the Rapture was pretty angry. Yes it was, and I have a few reasons for that. I’d like to explain why revelation theology gets me a little hot under the collar.

First of all, we’ve had almost two hundred years of this and every single prediction of the ‘end of times’ has been false. Not once, from the Great Disappointment of the 1840’s to May 21 2011, has any of these self-declared prophets been even a little bit right. With a track record like that, you would think that an announcement of this type would be greeted with a discreet call to the local mental health association.

Second, threatening people with an apocalypse seems an awful lot like blackmail. Many of the groups that espouse this view also make a great deal of money from books, videos and classes on the subject. The “Left Behind” books and movies are a prime example of this ideology-as-fundraiser. I am also told there are apocalyptic Christian-themed video games on the subject. I can’t even begin to express my feelings on that.

Thirdly, I feel sorry for the people who believed these guys with their whole heart and now have to deal with the embarrassment of having been had. Does anybody take their emotions into account? They weren’t taken by God, will they now believe they weren’t good enough? That they weren’t Christian enough or didn’t tithe enough to the church? Abandonment, fear, unworthiness, loss of faith, doubt, anger, and a slew of negative reactions are going to plague these people. I’m not making fun of them, it’s a sad thing to realize something you supported so publicly was utterly wrong and now you have to live with that.

I just hope none of these people hurt themselves or anyone else because of this.

Lastly, I am going to have to wait while the “prophets’ explain that they made a mistake, that the time wasn’t calculated correctly, that a new date has been set or that the extreme piety of their group so touched God that he has changed his mind. For a while, anyway.

Not once has any of these guys ever manned-up and just flat out admitted they were wrong.

Human civilizations rise and fall, we know that from our histories. Times change, cultures change and nothing lasts forever: change is the only constant in the universe. This is not something to be feared. This is something to be excited about. This is a source of constant renewal in our lives, a theme of ever-growing lives and a world that always surprises us with its stark contrasts and sublime beauty.

Not to be all Gordon Gekko, but Change works; change is good. It may not always be pleasant, but it will happen with far more inevitability than the rapture will. My world has not ended and  I can hardly wait to see what happens next; I’m sure it will be interesting at the very least.

Find your peace friends.

Rev. Zita.

Am I in a cult?

Am I in a cult?


“The difference between a cult and a religion is social acceptance’:  Aphorisms for heretics, #44. Blog entry from the Practical Heretic, heartfeltministries.net

There are a lot of alternative religious groups out there in the world. Most are peaceful, wanting only to help their members to live better in an increasingly complex and confusing world. Some may be variants of Christianity, others may follow Eastern religious teachings, some are Pagan and some may follow UFO sightings. Some want you to stockpile weapons, protest at military funerals, surrender all your property or buy many publications they have thoughtfully provided, including shipping and handling.

If you have found some new friends, congratulations! I hope they are good company for you. If they want you to knock on doors a certain number of hours each week and deliver badly-written pamphlets, you may want to go bowling instead.

How do you tell if the group is a cult or a religion?

There are a few good signs that will warn you, if you are looking for them. They may claim a special mission for the world, or that they are being harassed and persecuted. (As a note, any group that is having serious legal issues should be avoided. There is often a good reason the police are knocking.)

If the leader claims to be the physical incarnation of ANY deity or spiritual figure, put down the tract and back away slowly. This is a bad, bad sign of instability at the very top of the organization.

If they encourage research and debate, as well as learning everything you can, this is a good sign they are sincere and mean well. Any group that tries to restrict your access to information or a dissenting opinion should be avoided.

There are other signs as well. Religioustolerance.org is a Toronto-based group that has a very unbiased website listing many new groups. (http://www.religioustolerance.org/cultintro.htm)  They have pages on most major religions as well as many of the more current New Age or Alternative groups, and as far as I am able to determine, they make a huge effort to be neutral, factual, and accurate. If you are looking for information, this is a great site to use.

Cultwatch.com is another very useful website. They have a list of characteristics and warning signs that delineate a harmful cult. (http://www.cultwatch.com)  Well-written and strongly advocating that the reader does their own research outside of the organization they are thinking of joining. Also includes many useful news links for stories around the globe.

http://www.howcultswork.com is a website that gives a point-by-point overview of the techniques used by exclusive groups and the reasoning behind them. Their warnings may be a little overblown, but they do give some very good warning signs.

As a general rule, if your new friends isolate you from your old friends and family, advocate violence and theocracy, or want you to break ANY laws, my advice is that you should run the other way. You may or may not want to call the police as well.

I started this article with a quote from the Aphorisms for Heretics from a previous Practical Heretic entry. Let me finish it with another: “Never trust anyone who tells you to check your brains at the door.”

Find your peace, friends.

Rev. Zita

This is a Strange Question, but…

What do you like about your religion?

It’s a strange question, I know. I can hear it now: “Like? Its religion, what’s to like about it?”

I asked several people this question over the last couple of days and got some interesting answers ranging from “I like the sense of community” to “I like the music” or “it’s good to talk to everyone once a week”. Other answers were more like “our pastor is really nice”; “it’s more for the kids, y’know? It gives them a good grounding in the right things”. The most honest answer I received was “its church. There’s nothing to like; you go because you’re supposed to go, that’s all.”

It’s kind of a trick question. I’m not really asking about your church, but about your religion. For most people there is no difference.

A church is not just the building it’s housed in, but the community that uses it. It’s the people that gather together for a specific reason every week or two for a meeting. At this meeting there is a set of actions and behaviors that take place. This is called worship. Music may or may not be performed, either by a choir and accompanist or by the entire group. Other activities may be attached, such as study of holy books, socializing, sports activities, educational activities and the like. Most of the functions of a church are socially connected, when you think about it.

A religion is defined as a commitment to or practice of a set of beliefs or practices devoted to the service of a deity or principles. This can be as loose or as regimented as the individual needs, whether it’s “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or the rigidity of Kosher law or Sharia, it would appear that there is something out there for everyone.

So my question could be redefined as this: What do you like enough about your religion that it brings you back, week after week? What is it about your beliefs that you actually like? What’s the appeal?

Is it knowing that someone has set boundaries for you; that there are carefully drawn out limits on behavior and thoughts?

Is it a sense of service to something outside you?

Some people say it is the idea of salvation; but from what are you being saved? And please don’t say ‘sin’, because that’s merely a catch-all term for anything not allowed by one’s own religious practices. There are definitely crimes going on in the world, but sin is far too broad a term to have real meaning.

Is it the drama that attracts you? Most of the legends and mythologies behind modern religions and especially the ancient ones are very dramatic, wonderful tales of adventures and sacrifices made to make the world a better place. Good vs. Evil has to be the most basic storyline of them all.

Is it really the music? Handel’s ‘Messiah’ and ‘Amazing Grace’ are passionate, moving pieces of lyric composition that tug at the heart in many different ways. Walk into any decent Baptist church and that choir will have you moving faster than any disco you’ve been to. They are amazing.

I’m curious, so please, think about it and drop us a line. What holds you, moves you, draws you in and keeps you coming back? Is it love, passion, fear, gratitude? What do you like about your religion?

 

Whatever it may be, I hope it helps you find your peace, friends.

Rev. Zita.

Technology and religion

Did you know that you can get an app for your iPhone for almost any religious belief? You can download an app that will give you a random Bible verse at the touch of the screen, teach the Quaran to you, or even give incense to the Hindu god, Ganesh (the one that looks like an elephant). If you want to find an app to help you celebrate your beliefs, it is out there and available in an app store. These apps even come with buttons to tweet your followers that you are going to be offline pursuing spiritual matters and not communicating with them that day or weekend.

I think that this idea goes along with our topic this Saturday during the discussion group on how we include our religious beliefs in our every day lives. With so many of us carrying around phones, iPads, and other portable devices, this seems the next logical step for religion to take, the cyberworld.

How do you live your religious beliefs in our modern world? Does your phone have an app or are you still practicing in a low tech way? Maybe your religious texts are now on your computer where it can read them to you, instead of reading it to yourself. Please leave us a comment that lets us know how your beliefs come out in your life.