The "Institution" of Religion
Separation of Church and State
I must preface this chapter by giving credit to all those who genuinely believe that they have been called by a “God” to do “His” work among people. Now, what that work is can be greatly debated, but it seems to me that the task should be a simple one: promote peace, equality, human rights, and dignity for all people. Naturally, that means helping the poor find food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and jobs. Beyond that, I see little value in “men and women of God.”
I know that sounds harsh, but the reality is that since the establishment of the Catholic Church in Rome (it is only the first and not necessarily the worst institution that has or does exist), religion has been a political animal that has used and abused good-minded people for the purpose of perpetuating its own existence. How is it possible that the simple teachings of a man from Nazareth has been translated into untold wealth (there is no way to put it into dollars) being spent constructing magnificent cathedrals, awe-inspiring statues and paintings, and supporting the millions (not sure how to count them) of church officials, priests, bishops, accountants, armies, etc. Surely this is not what Jesus would have wanted. Wouldn't Jesus be appalled at what his life's work has been misused to create!
Religion is just another fund-raising method for those who see a way to make a living/earn an income without doing any really productive work. In the United States alone, there are nearly a half a million preachers, ministers, priests, etc. who are supported by donations, tithes, tax-exempt properties, and the sale of religious materials. While I know that many of these people are sincere and believe that what they do is important and valuable, I have a different view of their “calling.” If a God really did CALL you to his service, then this God would have provided you with a salary, a car, medical coverage, and all the other things which would be necessary to live (and not from the pockets of the poor certainly) while taking care of His people. (Yes, I know the standard answer here is that God has stated in the Bible that people are to tithe or donate to support God's work, 10% I think. However, that seems rather self-serving to me. Whichever apostle who wrote that must have been thinking ahead about financing his endeavor. Yes, that is rather cynical of me, but then I have witnessed religion being used for everything from racism to killing to discrimination!) It seems to me that all of these people should have other jobs, professions as it were, which take care of their expenses without the need of people's donations and support which should be going to providing services and food and help to those people who need it. They can donate their time to doing the work that they claim that they were called to do.
I know of one specific “Christian outreach program” which does very good things for kids, mostly teens. However, the work of this organization, other than promoting itself and collecting donations from several thousand people every year, takes place (for the most part) only during the summer months when these kids are out of school. I don't know exactly how much this “non-profit” takes in every year, but I do know that its overhead is in the range of $100,000 every year. Considering the number of kids being “served” each year, that seems like a very high cost per kid. I don't doubt the sincerity of the head of this organization or his genuine devotion to this “ministry,” but I believe that it just plain costs too much. Helping kids spend their summers around “good role models” is a noble idea. To my knowledge, all of these kids who have passed through this program have become good citizens. I have not heard anything to the contrary. However, the only reason that the program exists is because the man who established this program is supported by “Christian donations.” That, to me is very self-serving. I think the world of this man, but I'd be more impressed if he worked a regular job nine months out of the year and spent his summers doing this without pay.
I'd love for the general public to have access to the financial records of every “church” or so-called religious entity so that donors would know exactly what their donations really support and who they are helping. I'm sure many of the local, small congregations are actually helping someone other than their preacher, but I doubt that is true of most. Mega-churches and television preachers do more to support the institution or the “preachers/evangelists, etc.” than they do to actually promote what Jesus is said to have done in the Bible.
What's worse today (or maybe it just seems to be more today than in the past) is these institutions using their “pulpit” and “donations” to influence the political decisions made in this country. There's a reason why the founding fathers insisted on separation of church and state. If you believe the reason that this country was founded was the desire for religious freedom, then you should insist that your church or religious leaders stay out of politics and stop trying to lobby Congress and the President to pass laws based on religious beliefs. Not everyone shares religious beliefs, so using a particular belief as the basis of law means that religion is the law. That's unfair to other Americans who don't share that particular religious belief. That's the purpose of separation of church and state.
I suppose the point is moot, but my first impression of religion when I became an adult, educated, and able to be more discerning, was that it appeared to be directed more at the poor, uneducated, or disenfranchised. Perhaps that's because this segment of the population is more gullible, more prone to reach for anything that makes their lives more meaningful or satisfying. Who else would someone who seeks followers go to for support? The wealthy are less likely to be duped, though there are more of the “upper crust” of society in the modern world who are exactly that, dupes! It seems that those who wish to scam or dupe or “sucker” others go to those least likely to see through their intentions and goals. Religion traditionally follows that path and is generally more accepted because the poor or uneducated or disadvantaged have less to live for or lose. It makes perfect sense, doesn't it?
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