Tag: Religion

Walk the Line

Let’s be clear. Nothing is funnier than Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The combination of the surreal, the obtuse, and the plain vulgar is still hilarious decades later.

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The Python comedy troupe was well-known for skewering religion, social class, and other touchy subjects. But even these brilliant Brits had an Achilles’ heel. Python’s few forays into racial humor were uninspired, coming across more as juvenile than biting.

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And No Religion Too

One of my fondest memories of childhood is attending Christmas Midnight Mass at my family’s Catholic Church. My cousins and I would bask in the glittering pageantry, well aware that as soon as we got home, all the presents beneath the tree would be vanquished under our attacking hands.

I’m about to become a father. Naturally, I should look forward to taking my own son to Midnight Mass.

Well, I’m not. Because he will not be raised Catholic. In fact, he will not be raised with any religion at all.

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Sez Who?

We all know about Martin Luther King Jr.’s resistance to the unjust laws of the Jim Crow South. King believed that achieving justice sometimes necessitated breaking the arbitrary rules that flawed humans had devised.

Similarly, in Latin America, where many of our families originated, priests often took a stand against the repressive authority of the oligarchies. Sometimes, as with Archbishop Oscar Romero, they paid with their lives.

So it’s clear that religious leaders should urge their followers to disobey laws that are unjust or run counter to the principles of their faith…right?

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That’s a Fact Jack

Illegal immigration is down.

Climate change is real.

There were no WMDs in Iraq.

These are well-supported facts with the strength of data and/or obvious proof behind them. Yet millions of Americans don’t believe them. We’re not talking about conspiracy nuts or argumentative jerks.

We’re not even talking about the obvious players in the dumbing down of America.

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Fourth and Long

Two recent polls caught my attention.

The first was taken at the height of Tebow-mania, when many otherwise rational adults believed that a mediocre quarterback could actually win the Super Bowl.

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Power Play

Perhaps you didn’t notice when a national political leader said that America was entering the “Decade of the Hispanic.”

You can be forgiven, because the speaker was Henry Cisneros, and he wasn’t talking about our current decade. He was talking about the 1980s.

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Fortunate Son

You’ve heard of the luck of the Irish. So what is the luck of the Hispanic?

Personally, I think the Latino propensity for serendipity is symbolized by Hugo Reyes, also known as Hurley, from the show Lost.

Despite being a fun-loving, friendly Latino, Hurley kept seeing everybody around him get killed in some random or grisly manner. He constantly bemoaned the fact that he was cursed.

Certainly, many Americans relate to Hurley. For the last decade or so, we’ve all felt jinxed. It’s been a nonstop joyride of economic turmoil, endless war, terrorist threats, and political chaos.

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Crystal Clear

Just a short drive from my apartment in Los Angeles stands a monument to religious excess.

It is the Crystal Cathedral, built back in the 1970s when an evangelical preacher named Robert H. Schuller had a great idea to rake in the parishioners. All he had to do was spend millions on an architectural marvel that undermined everything the Bible says about modesty and humility.

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Love Thy Neighbor

Recently, everyone’s most charismatic anti-Semitic homophobe, Mel Gibson, expanded his repertoire. According to widely distributed recordings, Gibson has gone beyond disliking just gays and Jews. He also despises women, blacks, and Latinos. I’m talking about those direct threats to his ex-girlfriend and his causal dropping of both the N-word and the W-word.

Now, a common question, besides the snide pondering of what his pals Danny Glover and Jodie Foster think of all this, is how could such a devoutly religious man be so filled with hatred? After all, Gibson directed The Passion of the Christ (a slice of hardcore propaganda for Christianity if ever there was one) and has been vocal about his faith.

As a brief aside, I may have mentioned – once or several hundred times – that I was raised Catholic, as many Hispanics are. I dropped out of the Church when I was a teenager.

One reason I left the Church was that I grew weary of being told I should feel guilty for every thought or action, no matter how innocuous. But I will give credit to my old parish for one thing: It at least told me that I should feel bad if I ignored Jesus Christ’s teachings.

To my surprise, many Americans don’t even have the self-respect to acknowledge when they are contradicting their spiritual foundation. I’m referring, of course, about the recent study that found a positive correlation between religion and racism.

We all know that most U.S. churches are racially homogenous (over 90 percent of them, by some estimates). But this study found that in these ethnically pure places of worship, “strong religious in-group identity was associated with derogation of racial out-groups.” This means that many Christians are looking at one of Christ’s great commands – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) – and amending it with the phrase “unless they look different than you.”

The researchers found that “religion is practiced largely within race” and as such, “religious in-group identity promotes general ethnocentrism.” This study focused on white Protestants, but the researchers believe that their findings apply to other groups because “all religions teach moral superiority.”

I’d like to say that all this surprises me, but it doesn’t. I’m sure we have all met religious people who struck us as somewhat less than holy. I still remember the older man who told anyone who would listen that he was saved, because he had accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. And then he dropped a few choice comments about minorities.

And my wife told me about the time she was stuck in a car with a group of well-to-do (and supposedly devout) Christians. To her surprise, her fellow passengers joked about running over African Americans on the way to their destination. They were going, of course, to a wedding… in church.

My wife is no longer friends with these people.

What amazes me is the overt contradiction that these feelings should create. Yet there seems to be little internal conflict.

Even religious homophobes who are secretly gay spend time praying to “cure” their supposed affliction. Their tragically wrongheaded approach at least causes them angst.

But many Christians apparently see nothing wrong with praising Jesus and then dismissing one of his central principles. Perhaps the more studious racists in the study can justify it with the ancient argument that all the other races are decedents of Ham, Noah’s ostracized son, and are therefore worthy of scorn. But somehow, I doubt this theological viewpoint comes up too much.

Regardless of how religious people justify it, the effect is real. The researchers “failed to find that racial tolerance arises from humanitarian values, consistent with the idea that religious humanitarianism is largely expressed to in-group members.”

In sum, I can say I’m a good person if I’m nice to people at my church. And it’s best if I don’t think about it too much beyond that.

As such, Mel Gibson has plenty of company.

Again, the study implies that every religion has this dirty little secret. One could argue, in fact, that modern religion demands a certain level of hatred for the mythical Other.

For example, the Amish are as religious as it gets, submitting their lives to a strict version of what they believe God wants. And yet, this very devotion to spiritual belief also requires a certain level of xenophobia. It’s necessary to maintain their theological (and theoretical) purity. Even if the Amish went looking for converts, I doubt they would be in a big hurry to accept a black person (by the way, if the Wayans brothers would like to develop this concept into a zany comedy, tell them to call me and we’ll do lunch).

So was there anything positive about this study? Did the researchers find any group that might offer some hope for the future?

Yes, there was. The researchers said, almost as an aside, that “only religious agnostics were racially tolerant.”

Well, that’s just great. How are we supposed to fit that into a sermon?


A Question of Purity

A friend of mine really wants to get married. He’s at the stage of life where he feels like he has to settle down, have children, and do the whole domestic thing.

The reasons that people feel this societal pressure could fill up blog posts for years, but I’m going to sidestep that rich vein to concentrate on something he said that is more relevant to this blog.

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