Why Religion Is Failing.

In many European nations, churches and cathedrals stand empty, saved from the wrecking ball only because of their historic value. In some cities, the buildings are occupied by tourist information centers; by clothing stores; by shopping malls; by nightclubs; even by strip clubs. Given the current sad state of affairs exhibited by many religions, this should come as no surprise to anyone.

Contrary to the numbskulls on Fox News Channel, it has nothing to do with any perceived “attack on religion.” Rather it is the consequence of self-destruction; of religions actively causing harm to themselves.

In many countries once dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, people have left the Church, horrified by the Vatican having turned a blind eye to sexual predators who have worn the trappings of priests. Many young people have abandoned other denominations due to a lack of relevance in their lives. Many accurately see churches as little more than tax-free social clubs. And many are disturbed by the tendancy of church leaders to engage in politics and to promote misguided, often provably false beliefs. The recent speech by James Dobson at what was billed as a nonpartisan, nondenominational National Prayer Breakfast is a perfect case in point. During his speech, Dobson labeled President Obama “the abortion president,” calling him responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent, unborn children. As a result, a Democratic Congresswoman understandably spoke up and walked out.

She should have known better than to have attended in the first place.

Dobson has long been a shill for political conservatives. He views himself as a kingmaker amongst conservatives. He has immersed himself in organizations devoted to passing legislation that discriminates against those he dislikes. Indeed, one of his groups was behind the discriminatory bill known as Arizona SB 1062…a bill that has been signed into law in Mississippi and elsewhere. Dobson is one of the evangelicals whose primary message is believe as I do…or else.

Dobson is but one of the many church leaders who regularly cross the line and use their status as “spiritual leaders” to sway politics. Many “pastors” have turned their pulpits into venues for political action. They have proselytized as much about politics as Biblical concepts. They have urged their followers to vote for candidates who meet their own narrow-minded views. They have rallied their flocks to support violence. They have turned military interventions into holy wars. They reject science and secular education. They cynically use natural disasters as examples of the failings of our society. They obscure the real teachings of Christ and selectively choose passages from Biblical texts to attack homosexuality and the poor.

And that’s just the Christians. Muslims and Jews have done much of the same and worse!

Given how far many religions have degenerated, it’s little wonder that more and more people, especially educated young adults, describe themselves as not being attached to any religion. It’s why traditional churches are shrinking. And, although some evangelical churches have seen growth based on a strong anti-abortion, anti-gay message, the overall trend is downward. Enlightened leaders such as Pope Francis may be able to reverse that trend, but it’s doubtful. Those leaders are outnumbered and out-shouted by Dobson and his ilk.

A New Kind Of Pope.

Much has already been written about Pope Francis, but I can’t resist adding my two cents worth. For much of my life I found myself contrasting various religious leaders. The most remarkable contrast was between the Dahli Lama and Pope Benedict XVI.

Where the Dahli Lama sought to find the similarities of all religions, too often Pope Benedict focused on issues that divide. While the Dahli Lama dressed in the simple robes of a monk and eschewed the trappings of power and wealth, Pope Benedict seemed to embrace them. While the Dahli Lama displayed humility and humor, Pope Benedict too often allowed the Church to condemn those who strayed too far from his conservative viewpoint. Indeed, under Pope Benedict, the Vatican chastised a group of American nuns for placing too much focus on poverty and economic injustice, the core teachings of Christ.

Under the leadership of Pope Benedict, many bishops and priests felt comfortable engaging in partisan politics; some even threatening parishoners that they would “go to hell” if they voted for the wrong candidate. Worse yet, under Pope Benedict, several Archbishops continued to give cover to predatory pedophiles within the Church.

Enter Pope Francis.

Suddenly, we have a Pope who speaks for the poor and the downtrodden. In fact, he intentionally chose to be called Pope Francis in honor of the patron saint of the poor. This is a Pope who denounced runaway greed and economic inequality; who condemned the “idolatry of money;” who stated that the Church has spent too much time focused on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage; who even went so far as to say that atheists and non-Catholics would be redeemed by doing good. He has embraced the homeless and even washed the feet of prisoners. Pope Francis not only speaks about the principles of Christ. He follows them.

What a refreshing change!

I’m not Catholic, but I believe that our purpose in life should be to help others; to be kind. And I agree with author Thomas Cahill who said, “There are really only two movements in the world. One is kindness. And the other is cruelty.” Let’s all try to embrace the first.

For more insights into the “People’s Pope,” I encourage you to watch Bill Moyer’s interview with Cahill. I’m sure you will enjoy it.

Mourning Mandela.

It has been said that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. No statement more accurately describes Nelson Mandela.

Mandela began his career as an activist by non-violently demonstrating against South African apartheid. When the white South African government responded with exceptional brutality, Mandela and his followers reluctantly turned to terrorism. But rather than kill people, their intent was to blow up buildings in order to make a statement and disrupt the government.That led to Mandela being tried for conspiracy to overthrow the government and being sentenced to life in jail. With most of the world supporting sanctions against South Africa and, with Mandela as a symbol for freedom, the government was eventually forced to release Mandela and apartheid finally came to an end.

Yet Mandela’s political career was just beginning.

Having won freedom for himself and his people, Mandela directed his energies toward healing the wounds of apartheid. He was elected president of South Africa and, rather than seeking retribution for the crimes of the previous government, Mandela promoted national unity. Is it any wonder, then, that Nelson Mandela is now celebrated by most of the world?

That was not always the case.

Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Richard “The Dick” Cheney and other conservatives considered Mandela a terrorist and placed him on the terrorist watch list. Although Reagan publicly spoke against apartheid, he vetoed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. His veto was over-ridden by Congress. But Reagan defiantly refused to implement many of the sanctions against the South African apartheid government, and Mandela was kept on the US terrorist list until July of 2008.

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who follows today’s GOP.

Since implementation of the Southern Strategy beginning in the late 1960’s, the GOP has almost completely rejected its glorious past as the party of emancipation, consistently coming down on the wrong side of history. The GOP refuses to vote for comprehensive immigration reform. It has fought against gay rights and gay marriage. It has relentlessly attacked a woman’s right to make medical choices regarding her own body. Republican legislatures have pushed through unnecessary voter ID laws in order to restrict the voting rights of minorities.

Despite Mandela’s victory over discrimination, despite his Nobel Peace Prize, despite worldwide acclaim and despite the sorrow so eloquently expressed by people the world over, even now, some in the GOP refuse to acknowledge his greatness simply because Mandela believed in economic equality as well as racial equality. That made Mandela a communist and a danger to the wealthy and the powerful, a claim that defacto GOP leader, Rush Limbaugh, recently leveled against Pope Francis.

The fact is, Nelson Mandela fought the good fight. He helped to liberate tens of thousands of people. He inspired millions more. We should all strive to do even half as much. Most especially those in the GOP.

“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.” – Nelson Mandela

Pope v. Vatican.

After being named Pope, it seems that the Holy See is seeing some things the Vatican doesn’t like. During his homily at Mass in Rome, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of doing good as a principle that unites all of humanity

The Pope said, “The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

In other words, you don’t have to be Catholic, or even Christian, to go to heaven. Wow! I bet that left a mark on the Vatican!

And that’s not the only controversy created by Pope Francis. A few weeks later, he acknowledged the existence of a gay lobby within the Vatican. Oh my! He even ordered the Vatican to act on sex abuse and take action against pedophile priests. That’s a refreshing change from the seeming indifference of Pope Benedict and his predecessors.

Pope Francis has even ruffled the feathers of conservative followers by speaking out against the “tyranny of money,” urging more state control of free markets in order to cut global poverty. He (gasp) spoke of the need to protect the environment. And he encouraged followers to bring hope to others, “especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison.”

Given the conservative direction the Church has taken during the past decades, these admonitions are going to be tough for many Catholics to accept.