For some people, churches are a blessing. They feel the need for pastors to guide them, to minister to their emotional needs, to provide hope, to tell them how to behave, and they look to congregations for support. But, in my opinion, having once considered becoming a pastor myself, organized religions are little more than social clubs. Like all clubs, they have clubhouses, they perform initiations, and they collect dues (tithes).
Most use symbols (crosses, fish, stars, crescents, etc.) to make it easy to identify one another. Some push a form of exclusivity, encouraging their members to do business with one another, to date one another, and to marry one another. Implicit in all of this is either a conscious or subconscious belief that the followers of their particular club are superior to others. That only through following the path of their club can people reach heaven and everlasting happiness.
Some of these clubs have made celebrities of their leaders, showering them with obscene wealth and submitting to their every wish.
Throughout history, these clubs have inevitably ventured into local, national, and international politics. They have not only gone to great lengths to recruit new members, often sending recruiters (missionaries) around the globe. Too often, they have forcibly pushed their beliefs onto others. They have relied upon their feelings of spiritual superiority to justify the torture and exclusion of anyone who strays from the path of righteousness, to excuse the rape of children and women, to justify the subjugation of others, the taking of land, and the taking of slaves.
They have labeled non-believers as heretics and, by implication or direct order (ostensibly from God), encouraged their members to kill those who refuse to submit. Indeed, many wars, genocides, and ethnic cleansings have resulted from the notion that one club’s beliefs are superior to those of others – the heathens and infidels.
Today, despite the 1st Amendment of the Constitution stating, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion,” many Christian club members demand that the U.S. be declared a Christian nation. They demand that symbols and scriptures of their beliefs be displayed on public taxpayer-provided property. Ignoring the law that prohibits churches from engaging in political activity, they openly campaign for candidates that will empower them. Despite our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion (and, by implication, freedom from religion), they demand that all taxpayers help pay for their children’s’ religious education in club-approved schools. And the most extreme are willing to force others to comply with their demands under threat of violence.
Yet, in Matthew 6:6 of the Christian Bible, Jesus is said to have admonished his followers to avoid being like the hypocrites. “For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.” To, instead, communicate with God in private. “…to enter into a closet and pray to thy Father; and thy Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Though it’s obvious that anyone can engage in silent prayer anywhere and at any time, many of Jesus’s supposed followers now demand that their children be allowed to display their faith in state-sanctioned prayers at public schools, on the football field and elsewhere.
And now, having engaged in a decades-long effort to seize the levers of power, the most extreme of these religious clubs have used that power to, once again, claim control of women’s bodies – more specifically, their uteruses. We must not allow this to stand. We cannot permit one or more of these clubs to control our government, to decide which of us are worthy of enjoying the rights and freedoms enumerated in our Constitution, to decide what a woman can do with her own body in the privacy of her own home or in her doctor’s office, to decide who can marry, to decide when, where, how, and who to worship.
There was a reason why our nation’s founders included the Establishment Clause in the Constitution’s 1st Amendment. Many of the original colonies had anointed certain religions to give them supremacy over all others. In Massachusetts, Puritans persecuted Quakers and anyone else who refused to submit to their strict beliefs. In much of the rest of New England, Congregationalists prevailed. Maryland was originally Catholic. And in many southern colonies, the Church of England was supreme. Colonial governments not only provided direct aid to these established churches through taxes. Their officeholders were often required to take oaths to support the tenets of the established faith.
Recognizing the injustice of such demands and remembering that their own families escaped religious persecution by coming to America, the constitutional framers created the Establishment Clause as a virtual wall separating church from state. We must jealously guard that separation. As churches have become larger and more powerful, we must rein in their political activities. We should tax them like the social clubs they really are, only providing tax write-offs for truly charitable activities. We must no longer allow them to divide us. We must hold those who use their pulpits to preach discrimination and hate accountable. We must reject their attempts to wrest individual rights from others.
We must take back our federal and state governments from the theocrats and the wannabe autocrats.