The Prosperity Gospel Phenomenon.

There have always been con men; carnival barkers imploring you to take a chance on a game you cannot win; snake oil salesmen asking you to purchase products that don’t work; and, in the modern day, hedge fund managers and bankers selling worthless stocks.

Maybe the most despicable of all are the mega-church charlatans demanding large donations to save your soul. These are people who prey on the poor, the weak, the feeble and the gullible…who promise to guarantee you a place in heaven if only you contribute a little more money to their cause. All the while, they encourage you to pray for prosperity. You think you’re praying for your own riches. But, you need only look at the net worth of these “men of God” to see who’s really prospering.

For example, John Hagee’s net worth is estimated at $5 million, Joel Osteen’s net worth is estimated at $40 million as is Chris Oyakhilome’s. Benny Hinn is estimated to be worth $42 million; E.A. Adeboye $50 million; T.D. Jackes and David Oyedepo are estimated to be worth $150 million each; and Edir Macedo’s net worth is estimated at a whopping $1 billion. But these numbers aren’t as revealing as the appeals of Creflo Dollar for his “flock” to donate $6 million so that he can have a new private jet.

It’s clear that these evangelists aren’t praying for their followers. They are preying on their followers.

None of this is really new. People like Jimmy Bakker, Ted Haggard, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell have been living lavish lives off the backs of others for generations. What is new is the unbridled greed unabashedly displayed by people like Osteen. And, if they’re ever confronted by the public for their lifestyles, they simply say that God gave it to them and, if you’ll only pray hard enough, you can live this way, too.

Riiiiight! Just pray. Better yet, become another slimy pastor and you, too, can become a multi-millionaire.

It is true that you have a better chance of becoming wealthy if you identify as a Christian. After all, Christians hold 55 percent of the world’s wealth, despite representing just 30 percent of the world’s population. But then you have that little issue of Christ’s views of the wealthy. Does not the Bible quote him as saying, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven?”

How then do you pray for money? If you succeed in becoming rich, does that not condemn you to eternal damnation?

And though Christ implored his followers to “… go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret,” how can you justify large churches and cathedrals? Yet somewhere around a quarter of the property in the US is owned by churches…much of it tax-exempt.

Moreover, if your goal is eternal salvation, is there really any need to belong to a religion at all? Studies have shown that there is no real correlation between religion and morality. In fact, there may be an inverse relationship. Using the notion that the ends justify the means, Christians, Muslims, Jews and others are willing to kill non-believers and those from competing religions in the name of God.

Seriously? Your loving God wants you to kill those who do not believe as you do…even though the first of the 10 Commandments that define your religion is “Thou shall not kill?” It’s no wonder that a recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that the number of Americans who describe themselves as a member of a religion is declining.

Symbols Matter.

Following the shooting of 9 people at a Bible study group in Charleston, South Carolina, some wonder why so many have called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds. They claim that the flag is flown to commemorate the state’s history and those who died in service of the Confederacy. It’s a matter of honoring their ancestors, they say.


Since the nation’s largest ethnic group is German, should we then permit states to fly the Nazi flag on their capitol grounds as a way to honor those who died for the fatherland?

After all, there’s little difference. Both flags were used by enemies of the United States to help them identify their comrades on the battlefield. Both represented racist ideologies – the misguided belief in Caucasian superiority over all other races. Both flags are offensive to those who were victims of those ideologies. And both flags would be better erased from our collective memories.

Relegating these symbols to a museum as President Obama suggests is a fate better than they deserve. As the comedian John Oliver suggests, they “…should really only be seen on T-shirts, belt buckles and bumper stickers to help the rest of us identify the worst people in the world.“

Politicization Of Religion.

Let me begin by stating that, although I’m not a church person, I am a religious person. My spirituality and my belief in compassion for others is an essential part of my being. Religion can play an important role in keeping order and preventing some from infringing on the rights of others. I wish everyone would follow the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or, if you prefer, the Native American version: “Help me never to judge another until I have walked in his moccasins.”

I also believe that we would all be better off if we followed the serenity prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Almost every other aspect of religion is relative. Take the 10 Commandments. Though the most important commandment is to not kill, devout followers of many faiths – particularly those on the far right – routinely justify killing as a part of war or as a necessary part of policing. Though another commandment is to not steal, many of the pious ignore the commandment in the interests of greedy corporations and by gaming the system. Many of the so-called pious also ignore commandments pertaining to adultery (think Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, et al), bearing false witness (I’m referring to you Fox News Channel), honoring the Sabbath (that would get in the way of business), and coveting the possessions of others (How else are we to motivate the masses to purchase things they don’t need?).

And, even though many on the far right continue to claim the religious high ground, they continue to ignore the portions of the Bible that are inconsistent with their beliefs while demanding strict adherence to other portions of the Bible that suit their needs. They denounce abortion as murder yet call for our nation to engage in wars. They demand that monuments to the 10 commandments be placed on public property even though they refuse to follow them. They quote Biblical passages condemning homosexuality while ignoring the passages condemning divorce, the consumption of shellfish, and the wearing of more than two fabrics at a time.

Yet, every time they are confronted with their hypocrisy, they either deny the obvious, change the subject or simply state that all humans are sinners and they will be “saved” if they only ask for forgiveness.

How convenient!

One can only conclude that political right wingers are the ultimate relativists. They have no faith…no moral compass. They worship free markets and corporate profits over human kindness and compassion.

For far too many, religion is only a political tool with which to flog their opponents in the name of God. In that regard, they are no different than ISIS.

Rick Perry Reveals The Right Wing Agenda.

It would seem that 2012’s “Ooops” candidate has had another “Ooops” moment. In launching his 2016 presidential bid, he finally remembered the 3 federal departments he would eliminate: the Department of Education, the Department of Labor and the Department of Energy. And that’s not all. He would also eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, the IRS, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and, of course, Obamacare.

He’s also not very keen on the Department of the Interior and the legal system, saying “It’s [America] in jeopardy because of taxes; it’s in jeopardy because of regulation; it’s in jeopardy because of a legal system that’s run amok. And I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God and say, “God, You’re going to have to fix this.”

That’s the ticket.

Perry believes that we don’t have to worry about the state of our crumbling infrastructure, our militarized police departments, our over-stressed environment, our large corporate polluters, global warming, growing inequality, rampant racism, debilitating poverty, political polarization, and our for-hire Congress.

All we have to do is let God run the country. Oh, wait. How, exactly, can he do that? Since He doesn’t talk to all (many) of us, who will be his interpreter? Who will carry out His orders? Why Teapublicans, of course! According to the right, only they are the true patriots; only they have a close relationship with God; only they know what God wants.

Is that what you believe? That Teapublicans are the only moral, God-fearing politicians? If so, then how do you explain the pedophilia of Dennis Hastert? How do you explain the adultery of Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston and so many other Teapublicans? How do you explain the war-mongering of John McCain and Lindsey Graham? How do you explain the GOP’s uncaring attitude toward the poor? How do you explain the GOP’s embrace of the rich and powerful? How do you explain the GOP’s lack of interest in preserving the environment and all of God’s creatures?

You can’t…because it simply defies explanation.

The real problem for the GOP is that Perry was, in a manner of speaking, speaking out of school. You see, his beliefs are the same as those of most – if not all – of the declared GOP candidates. And the GOP would rather not have you know about them. They don’t want seniors to know that they want to eliminate Social Security and Medicare as “socialism.” They don’t want you to know that they consider public education “socialism.” They don’t want you to know that they are against worker’s rights and any form of collective bargaining. They don’t want you to know that they are deep in the pockets of the oil companies and are paid to do their bidding. They don’t want you to know that they simply don’t care about the poor.

Don’t believe it?

Then take a close look at what’s happening in Teapublican-controlled states like Arizona, Kansas and Wisconsin. In those and other red states, the GOP has cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy and balanced the budgets on the backs of the poor, as well as the teachers and students. The results have been disastrous, yet they don’t seem to care.

Instead of admitting their mistake and addressing the problems, the GOP is doubling down. They want to expand the misery to the entire country.

Why Let Politics And Religion Divide Us?

In the past 20-30 years, politics have been increasingly used to identify and separate us. We are no longer people who hold a variety of complex ideas that we believe could improve the human condition. We have been reduced to conservatives or liberals…Democrats, Republicans or…gasp… Independents. We cannot have nuanced views. We must join a tribe. And, according to our political leaders, we must support that tribe unconditionally. Our tribe can never be wrong.

In the immortal words of George W. Bush, “You’re either with us or against us.” There is no room for compromise. Indeed, the Speaker of the House – the man twice removed from the presidency – cannot even bring himself to say the word.

Similarly, religion has become more than a personal belief or a matter of faith. It has become a source of identity…an exclusionary club that shows our superiority. “Only my religion knows the true path to everlasting life and salvation. Unless you join us, you will be going to hell.” You can no longer be an individual. You cannot, as Jesus commanded, “… go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” You must join a club…the bigger the better.

You must share your beliefs with anyone who will listen and try to force them on everyone else. You must ask others to share the expense of your clubhouses by proclaiming them free of property taxes. You must accept the belief that God has chosen our nation, our party and our sports teams above all others. You must thank God for every touchdown, every goal and every victory. You must petition the government to create and protect monuments to your beliefs on public property. You must demand that the public pray as you would pray before and after any public event. And if they won’t, you must condemn the non-believers for waging a “war” on your faith.

Does it really have to be this way? Are we so uncertain of ourselves that we must rely upon organizations and others to define us? Is there no longer room for individualism? No room for a diversity of beliefs and attitudes? Can we not tolerate others who do not believe as we do? Must we try to force our beliefs on others? Must we victimize others through racism, sexism and a variety of other ‘isms?

Mere labels cannot, and should not, define us. Is it not enough to be defined as human?

Guns For Everyone, Everywhere!

For years, I thought the National Rifle Association could stoop no lower than its role as shill for the gun manufacturers. The US has never restricted gun ownership, but the NRA has routinely pushed for increased accessibility and ever more lethal weapons. As a result, Americans may now purchase a 50-caliber semi-automatic sniper rifle powerful enough to blow a hole in a car’s engine block at a distance of 1,000 yards. You may now own a semi-automatic assault rifle with high capacity magazines that will permit you to shoot dozens of people without the inconvenience of having to stop to reload. And, if the NRA has its way, you will soon be able to legally purchase a silencer for your weapons that will allow you to shoot people while avoiding detection.

Who wouldn’t need that?

What began as an organization dedicated to helping young men improve their marksmanship for hunting and for possible military service, has morphed into a lobbying group with a mission of eliminating all laws and restrictions with regard to the purchase and carry of handguns. Now the NRA is working on open carry laws that will allow any paranoid dimwit to openly carry a loaded weapon anywhere at any time. By contrast, in many cities and towns, martial artists are still unable to purchase or carry nunchuku, shurikens (Asian throwing stars) or certain kinds of knives. After all, without such restrictions, the national nunchuku murder rate might soar to…ummm…one. And convenience stores would be under constant threat of being robbed at shuriken point.

Sarcasm aside, those restrictions came from a day when the American public actually cared about preventing violence. From a time when the lack of a conspicuous presence of guns was a sign of advanced civilization. A time when the primary reason for owning a gun was for home protection and for hunting. A time before the gun manufacturers and the NRA convinced the most paranoid amongst us that carrying a gun was the only thing that stood between them and tyranny.

In order to keep the majority of Americans from understanding the true dangers of our obsession with guns, the NRA has successfully lobbied to prevent the government from tracking gun deaths, to prevent the registration of firearms and ammunition, to prevent universal background checks of gun purchases, to prevent so-called straw buyers from purchasing guns for felons, even to prevent pediatricians from talking to parents about gun safety in the home.

All of that is bad enough. But now the NRA is fighting proposed gun restrictions for those who have been convicted of domestic abuse and those who are mentally ill, stating, “Not only is this unjust and stigmatizing, it creates disincentives for those who need mental health treatment to seek it, increasing whatever risks are associated with untreated mental illness.”

In other words, the NRA wants everyone to own guns and to carry them everywhere. Anything less is, in the NRA’s words, “an assault on the Second Amendment.” The problem is that the NRA conveniently ignores the first part of that amendment. Yes, the amendment does say, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” But only after it states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…”

Reading the many papers written by the Founding Fathers, the intent of the Second Amendment becomes clear…since the new nation had no standing army, the Founders saw a need for a citizen militia to protect the nation. They had no concern of tyranny from within – the democratic process was considered protection from that. The real threat was from the British Army and the armies of other foreign governments. But now that the US has the most powerful military force on Earth, there is no longer a need for an armed militia. As a result, the Second Amendment has lost its meaning and its true purpose. All of those guns that are owned and carried by Americans are being used to shoot other Americans at a rate of more than 33,600 per year…roughly the equivalent of twelve 9/11 attacks each and every year!

The Founders could have never foreseen the lethality of the weapons available today. Just as they could not have imagined that a lobbying group representing a tiny fraction of the population would be so effective at convincing Congress to suspend common sense and reason.

Phoenix Demonstrations Expose Hearts And Minds Of Participants.

Last weekend’s so-called First Amendment demonstration really wasn’t about standing up for the Constitution. In addition to sending a message that, under the First Amendment, repulsive hate-mongers have a constitutional right to say whatever they want, it sent a message of religious intolerance. It was intended to deny Muslims their First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion. Of course, the right-wing idiots who congregated in the street outside a Phoenix mosque at prayer time to display their cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, also threatened to exercise their “Second Amendment” rights.

Hey, idiots, the Second Amendment guarantees you the right to own and bear arms as part of a well-organized militia in order to defend the United States. It doesn’t give you the right to threaten to shoot other Americans.

The people who resort to such threats have no concept of compassion, decency or responsibility. They hide behind the Constitution and the Bible, selecting only those few passages that support their narrow-minded views and ignoring the rest. They have no concept of what it truly means to be an American or a Christian. They merely want to provoke a violent reaction in order to have the satisfaction of saying “I told you so.”

That is the bad news.

The good news is that, despite the provocation and repugnant actions of the wing nuts, the Phoenix Muslim community showed great patience in the face of religious discrimination. There was no violence. And the really great news is that, this week, a group of Phoenix citizens came out to support the Muslim community. They assembled at the mosque to show that, even in Arizona, the hate-mongers are a tiny minority of the population…people who only care about their own rights while denying the same rights to others.

We would all be well-served to follow their example.