Church


November 2, 2014: 2:12 am: Church, Grace, Philosophy, Rants

Brain Pickings

Everybody asks during and after our wars, and the continuing terrorist attacks all over the globe, “What’s gone wrong?” What has gone wrong is that too many people, including high school kids and heads of state, are obeying the Code of Hammurabi, a King of Babylonia who lived nearly four thousand years ago. And you can find his code echoed in the Old Testament, too. Are you ready for this?

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

A categorical imperative for all who live in obedience to the Code of Hammurabi, which includes heroes of every cowboy show and gangster show you ever saw, is this: Every injury, real or imagined, shall be avenged. Somebody’s going to be really sorry.

When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, he said, “Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.” What kind of a man was that? Any real man, obeying the Code of Hammurabi, would have said, “Kill them, Dad, and all their friends and relatives, and make their deaths slow and painful.”

His greatest legacy to us, in my humble opinion, consists of only twelve words. They are the antidote to the poison of the Code of Hammurabi, a formula almost as compact as Albert Einstein’s “E = mc2.”

I am a Humanist, or Freethinker, as were my parents and grandparents and great grandparents — and so not a Christian. By being a Humanist, I am honoring my mother and father, which the Bible tells us is a good thing to do.

But I say with all my American ancestors, “If what Jesus said was good, and so much of it was absolutely beautiful, what does it matter if he was God or not?”

If Christ hadn’t delivered the Sermon on the Mount, with its message of mercy and pity, I wouldn’t want to be a human being.

I would just as soon be a rattlesnake.

Revenge provokes revenge which provokes revenge which provokes revenge — forming an unbroken chain of death and destruction linking nations of today to barbarous tribes of thousands and thousands of years ago.

We may never dissuade leaders of our nation or any other nation from responding vengefully, violently, to every insult or injury. In this, the Age of Television, they will continue to find irresistible the temptation to become entertainers, to compete with movies by blowing up bridges and police stations and factories and so on…

But in our personal lives, our inner lives, at least, we can learn to live without the sick excitement, without the kick of having scores to settle with this particular person, or that bunch of people, or that particular institution or race or nation. And we can then reasonably ask forgiveness for our trespasses, since we forgive those who trespass against us. And we can teach our children and then our grandchildren to do the same — so that they, too, can never be a threat to anyone.

Christianity has had a war going on for years:

On the one side are the hawks. Generally Conservative/Republican voting people who see the failure to use military action to punish evil as making an alliance with it against the sanctity of life.

On the other are the doves. Generally Liberal/Democrat voting pacifist (or pacifist leaning) individuals who see the sanctity of life as being of paramount importance and would prefer to be killed then to take the life of another.

They both set up their concept of the sanctity of life as the centerpiece of the Gospel — and reaped the rewards of such: Huge money via a military-industrial complex on the one side and logical support for passivity on the other.

Everybody won — or something…

Ironically Kurt Vonnegut — the guy so many Christians have fought to ban the books of — got it far better then so many others:

He saw how we as a civilization, a culture and as individuals have utterly failed to grasp the centrality of the gift of love, compassion and mercy Christ came to bring — and then we ended up playing stupid games balancing the remaining errors.

Christ’s question wasn’t about the sanctity of life in first place — it was about vengeance, control and the ways we justify our greed and our evil against others. And, His position was that the alternative was forgiveness.

How quickly we forget He held love and mercy as the central commandment…

October 14, 2014: 4:10 am: Church, Philosophy

The Atlantic

Religious beliefs are remarkably various. But sometimes it can seem that there is only one way to be an atheist: asserting, on the basis of reasoned argument, that belief in God is irrational. The aging “new atheists”—Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett, for example—pit reason against faith, science against superstition, and declare for reason and science.

It pictures the universe as a natural system, a system not guided by intelligent design and not traversed by spirits; a universe that can be explained by science, because it consists of material objects operating according to physical laws. In this sense, atheism embodies a whole picture of the world, offering explanations about its most general organization to the character of individual events.

Ironically, this is similar to the totalizing worldview of religion—neither can be shown to be true or false by science, or indeed by any rational technique. Whether theistic or atheistic, they are all matters of faith, stances taken up by tiny creatures in an infinitely rich environment.

I’m an atheist because I think of the universe as a natural, material system. I think of it, on the basis of my own extremely limited experience, as an infinitely replete but morally indifferent thing. It isn’t bent on saving me, or damning me: It just is. I find comfort in that, as well as pain; wonder as well as loathing. That’s my experience, and my atheism is a reflection of that experience. But it’s not an argument; it’s an interpretation.

I have taken a leap of atheist faith.

Religious people sometimes try to give proofs of the truth of their faith—Saint Thomas Aquinas famously gave five in his Summa Theologica. But for many people, belief comes before arguments, originating in family, social and institutional context, in desire and need. The arguments are post-hoc rationalizations. This can be true of atheism as well. For me, it’s what I grew up with. It gets by in my social world, where professions of religious faith would be considered out of place. My non-faith is fundamentally part of how I connect with others and the world.

The idea that the atheist comes to her view of the world through rationality and argumentation, while the believer relies on arbitrary emotional commitments, is false. This accounts for the sense that atheists such as Christopher Hitchens or Dawkins are arrogant: Their line of thinking often takes the form of disqualifying others on the grounds that they are irrational. But the atheist too, is deciding to believe in conditions of irremediable uncertainty, not merely following out a proof.

The above linked full article pretty much speaks for itself.

It’s just so rare to see a credible thinker like this rise above the bombastic ranting from both the atheist and fundamentalist corners it begged to be reposted.

September 8, 2014: 3:38 am: Church, Philosophy, Rants, Religion run amuck

Mysterious Universe

Perhaps the greatest mystery of the tunnels was to be found deep in the lower levels, where temperatures reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit and the air was so choked with noxious, sulfurous fumes as to be nearly un-breathable. It was here in these hellish conditions that Paget and company found a sharp bend at the end of a particularly steep passage that seemed somehow designed to prevent anyone who approached from seeing what was to be found at the end until they turned the corner. When Paget and Jones rounded that sharp bend, they were confronted with an underground stream of boiling water that they would later call The River Styx. Projecting into this super heated stream was a landing, the purpose of which could not be discerned. On the other side of the stream, another passage ascended up into an antechamber that Paget called “The Hidden Sanctuary,” and continued on until a hidden staircase led up to the surface and exited at the ruins of water tanks that had once fed the Roman spas.

In the end, Paget and his team would spend nearly a decade clearing and exploring this vast tunnel system. During this time, Paget and Jones studied the mysteries they had uncovered and became convinced that the tunnel system and its boiling river were meant to be a representation of the entrance to the Greek underworld of Hades itself. After years of searching and obsessing, Paget had finally found his legendary cave of the Sybil, or at least the cave he believed the legend was based on.

To support his theory, Paget pointed to the Aeniad, and argued that Aeneas’ and the Sybil’s trip to the underworld bore a striking resemblance to the layout of the Great Antrum. Paget believed the course that the tunnel system took closely followed Aeneas’ journey and indeed faithfully mimicked similar trips to Hades throughout Greek legend. The estimated date of the complex, around 550 B.C., is also consistent with the time the Sybil was said to have existed. Paget and Jones surmised that the intricate tunnels of the complex were meant to recreate a similar journey through the underworld and that the boiling river represented the River Styx, at which it was speculated a boatman would have once waited at the landing to take visitors across, just as in Greek legend. It was theorized that this impressively realistic depiction of Hell would be enough for the priests of the temple to convince anyone foolhardy enough to venture through its tunnels that the underworld was very real. In short, this vast, elaborate tunnel system was thought to be more or less very convincing deception to convert followers, and may have even showcased a person playing the role of the Cumæan sibyl.

The above linked is a rather long article — and the rest of the illustrations and photos are alone worth the read.

But, as contrived as it all now looks, it strikes me…

Isn’t this a lot of what we tolerate in our governments and do when we play church?

Here is an ancient religion and culture. That culture probably invested millions of man hours into the process of carving out or at least expanding an existing set of tunnels. Man hours dedicated to nothing more then the creation of a fiction whereby people could be kept in constant fear.

Oh, the priests obviously knew they were just facing boiling water and sulphur fumes and that their system of control stood on absolutely nothing. But, they went ahead and created a fiction such that the iron grip of control their class held over the population could be, at least in one area, substantiated as legitimate.

Sorta what happens when the government trots out some hapless fanatical looser who just roasted his own testicles in an attempt to blow up a plane and justifies stripping the civil liberties of most of the developed world in the name of terrorism.

Sorta what happens when a reverend, in an equal attempt to control, threatens the judgment of God.

The politician is one thing — it’s just what the species does until properly disciplined.

The Reverend is quite another…

On the one side stands religion and political power wielding FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Despair).

On the other side stands the person of Christ (whom the Reverend claims to represent) who fundamentally came to end ALL religion and spent his entire life telling the truth about the machinations of his people’s religious ruling class.

But, we’re far quicker to discipline the politicians…

September 1, 2014: 4:21 am: Addictions, Church, Grace, Rants

PsyBlog

People who are overconfident in their own abilities are considered more talented by others than they really are, a new study finds.

These overconfident individuals are probably more likely to get promoted, to become the leaders of organisations and even nations.

On the other hand, people who are not so confident in their abilities are judged as less competent than they actually are.
“…[since] overconfident individuals are more likely to be risk-prone, then by promoting such individuals we may be creating institutions such as banks, trading floors and armies, that are also more vulnerable to risk.

From our smallest interactions to the institutions we build, self-deception may play a profound role in shaping the world we inhabit.” (Lamba & Nityananda, 2014).

I see this in the field of psychology as well. There are so many experts out there packing out entire churches teaching utter nonsense about erotic materials (Usually misnamed porn), addiction to such and the like.

They passionately deliver a disproven message our professors were mocking in grad school 20yrs ago and then hand out the elastic bands to wear around your wrist (To give yourself a snap if you think a naughty thought) as a means of credible treatment… They strut, they preen, they pummel the listener with guilt and shame and they set up the spouse to do the same.

And people follow — in droves…

Why?

Because real science always sounds qualified or quantified, is backed by the research of others, speaks within parameters and offers probabilities — not wild promises.

That sort of a tone just doesn’t make anyone an Evangelical star, a crusader for righteousness, pack out sanctuaries or make lots of money selling course materials…

May 24, 2014: 3:59 am: Church, Rants, Religion run amuck

Explore

The sad reality of the above is that it barely tells half of the story.

All you have to do is walk into the hallowed halls of religion to see all of the above – plus:

You should pray more.
If only you had more faith.
God must be punishing you.
Are you sure you don’t have unconfessed sin in your life?
Just claim your healing in Christ!
Have you fasted and prayed?

And, the above also gets inflicted on physical illness, relational struggle or personal brokenness/addiction with equally reckless abandon.

At least on the secular side we have comic strip artists and the crude, sexist and utterly profane rantings of people like Dave Chappelle to take potshots at this order of positive-thinking nonsense.

But, in the church? We’re too busy being self-righteously angry at people who would dare to speak like (or even post a link to) Chappelle while forever being accepting and tolerant of the little old ladies of the church who spout so much worse…

April 17, 2014: 5:12 am: Abuse, Church, Religion run amuck, Sexuality

Daily Beast

The scandal around Phillips is just the latest in a long line of ugly shocks to the far Christian right that threaten to destabilize and possibly capsize the community. As The Wire reported in early March, Bill Gothard, the leader of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, resigned his position in the wake of a series of accusations of alleged sexual abuse from dozens of women in the organization. IBLP, like Vision Forum Ministries, is a major clearinghouse for adherents to Biblical patriarchy, teaching members to shun contraception, embrace extreme forms of female submission, and, of course, use homeschooling to shelter young people from the outside world. Unsurprisingly, IBLP is also associated with the Duggar family, who participated in the organization’s many training seminars on embracing Biblical patriarchy and who called Gothard their “number one recommended resource” for family advice. He has exerted political influence in other ways, as well, befriending Sarah Palin and bringing her in for his International Association of Character Cities conference.

Similarly, both Bob Jones University and Patrick Henry College—schools that were established in no small part to give these homeschooled and sheltered kids from far Christian right backgrounds a place to go to college—have been at the center of accusations of indifference and even of allegedly covering up reported sexual abuse on campus. BJU received a lot of heat when they fired an outside firm that had been brought on to investigate accusations of sexual abuse, only to rehire them when it looked like they were punishing the firm for being too thorough in exposing the problem. Patrick Henry College was the recent target of an exposé in The New Republic that explored how young women who brought sexual abuse complaints to the school were frequently drummed out of the college or made to felt that they had somehow brought the abuse on themselves.

The “pitch” of Biblical patriarchy, as epitomized by Michelle Duggar, is that women will be coddled and worshipped in exchange for giving up their ambitions and the autonomy to practice an extreme form of female submission. The unpleasant truth is that a culture that teaches that women are put on earth for no other purpose but to serve men is not going to breed respect for women. Instead, these incidents show a world where men believe they can do whatever they want to women without repercussions. Is it any surprise that a subculture that promises absolute control over women will attract men who want to dominate and hurt women?

19 kids and counting appears to ultimately have been a calculated gamble. A gamble that a fresh and appealing face could be put on a brand of fundamentalism so absurdist and destructive it makes the totalitarianism of Islam actually look sorta normal. A gamble that warm fuzzies and the illusion of a wonderful family could be used to sell a system of control — at least to the rest of Christendom — before reality caught up with that system.

And, it almost worked. But, what they didn’t factor in was that PR campaigns do generate interest — from people with research skills capable of connecting one silenced victim with another and getting them all un-silenced. What they didn’t factor in is that there are so many cracks in the facade that only hiddenness has protected it from collapse for decades.

At this point, pretty much everything but the PR campaign has been exposed as being shot full of those cracks — and it likely will not last much longer either…

But, sadly, the damage is already done. So much of general society now thinks this fringe set of insanity defines Christianity…

Leonard Cohen’s comment on cracks pretty much stands as prophetic here…

“Anthem” The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government –
signs for all to see.

I can’t run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
a thundercloud
and they’re going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring …

You can add up the parts
but you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
April 13, 2014: 5:37 am: Church, Grace, Religion run amuck, Theology

Pathos

Top Ten Tips For Evangelizing (From An Atheist).
1. Be Like Jesus: Hang With The Sinners and Judge The Judgers
2. Form Genuine Relationships With People, Don’t Treat Them As Projects.
3. Actions Speak Louder Than Words.
4. When Talking About Religious and Philosophical Matters, Ask More Questions And Do Less Preaching.
5. Don’t Give Unsolicited Advice or Judgments. Support People and Wait For Them To Ask For Your Input If They Want It.
6. Appreciate That Nominal Christians Are Still Christians.
7. Don’t Try To Force Others Into Christian Participation.
8. Understand Atheists and Embrace The Opportunity Confrontational Atheists Afford You.
9. Respect Other Religions Even As You Evangelize Their Members.
10. Love Your Enemies, Not Just Your Tribe.
The most admirable part of the story of Jesus, even to an atheist like me that thinks that both Christians and non-Christians give Jesus an overblown reputation, is the way that the Gospels portray him as a morally condemnatory preacher who focused his sermons against those who abused their wealth and religious power, rather than against those demonized already by his religion, while he spent his time hanging out with the outcasts loathed by his community. From his use of a hated Samaritan as a role model in his story about what kind of love God most demands of us, to his reputation for hanging out with the hated tax collectors and the prostitutes who were held in so much contempt, to his endless attacks on the rich and on the self-righteous religious leaders, the Jesus of the Gospels is a role model of how to simultaneously have strong opinions about morality without being a judgmental and alienating person.

We do not have stories in which Jesus rails against the tax collectors and prostitutes. We do not have stories of him sitting around with them haranguing them about how they must change their lives. Yes, we have the moment where he tells the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more” but the crux of that story is his heroic effort to save her from a bloodthirsty mob of self-righteous people. We live in a society that has more than filled up its quota of Evangelical Christian Pharisees organizing contempt and condemnation for the sinners. We have plenty of highly visible Evangelical Christians invested in saying “sin no more”. They should be vastly outnumbered by Christians who stand up to them and say, “let ye who is without sin, cast the first stone”. We should have many more Christians who leave it to Jesus, presumably the only one with a right to judge on Christian doctrine, to be the one to tell the sinner to “sin no more”. The end of that story was not that those equally guilty of sin as the woman put down their stones and then stood in a circle chastising her and telling her not to sin lest next time she gets stoned for real. The end of that story was that the fellow sinners shut up and meted out no penalties nor condemnations. And Jesus alone dealt with the issue of her sin.
From an outsider’s (and former insider’s) perspective, nothing is more corrosive right now to the church than your obsession with being acknowledged, with being powerful, and with drawing tribal lines. It is killing your ability to spread the Gospel. Too many in the church are placing whatever creates a hard distinction from “the world” at the center of Christian identity instead of a spirit of love. Hard right wing politics over gays and abortion are now becoming definitive of Christian identity rather than the belief in the Gospel. When I was a believer, I know we weren’t like this. Most of our time was consumed with loving Jesus and each other, not hating anybody–even if what the media paid primary attention to was our political stances. But I hear in the rhetoric of too many Christians a strange attitude that turns opposition to recognizing the validity of gay relationships into the ultimate test of orthodoxy. There is little biblical justification for overblowing the importance of this, especially as you show little desire in forcing remarriages of divorced people (Jesus was actually unequivocally against divorces when there’s been no adultery) or in living by the book of Leviticus in any of a hundred ways. It looks self-serving when the ethical views the church is most insistent upon are those that the older leaders of the church are least affected by. The church is sneering at young people’s sexual experimentation in a way that serves the monogamously married elders, it sneers at gays in a way that does little to challenge the heterosexual majority.

Rather than loving your (perceived) enemies, you are claiming persecution every time you are asked to treat them equally and civilly under the law and in polite society. You are looking for ways to have antagonisms with feminists, with gays, with those who cry out against hundreds of years of systemic racial injustice, with atheists who plead for a secular government that doesn’t favor your religion. Rather than learning to appreciate those who force you to mature in your faith and learning to respect their admirable traits even in the midst of adversity, you’re participating in the politics of resentment and zero sum games.

You are becoming known for your preferences for only people like you, for your unwillingness to so much as accommodate others different from you without crying persecution, and for your petty intolerance of the poor, the weak, the feminine, and all the marginalized in our society.

You publicly identify whole groups of people as your enemies and wage legal and social war against them and their dignity. You leverage your considerable power with closed mindedness against everyone who lives in a way outside traditional boxes. And, all the while, you cry persecution when you’re not able to impose the ethics that only your faith justifies on those who don’t share your faith. If you want to effectively give the Gospel, you must repent and start loving your enemies as Jesus commanded, before you lose all credibility outside of the tribal boundary markers you are so fiercely asserting and defending.

A lot of the Atheists out there are more rabidly doctrinaire then many members of the Evangelical right — and just as annoying. But this guy, I could easily like…

He doesn’t get the Gospel nearly as well as he thinks he does — but his grasp of evangelism is easily twice as good as anything I ever got anywhere else. Really, what he is calling, Evangelism,” is nothing more then his grasp of how to love and be decent to others — which so much of the Church has lost.

So worth the read!

March 23, 2014: 4:39 am: Church, Grace, News, Philosophy

TPM

Westboro Baptist Church members were met with a notable counter-protest at their first protest since the group’s founder died: a sign that read “sorry for your loss.”

Counter-protesters held up the sign at a Westboro Baptist Church protest of a Lorde concert in Kansas City, the first protest by the group since founder Fred Phelps died. More than 20 Westboro Baptist Church members were protesting the Lorde concert.

“We realized that it wasn’t so much about antagonizing them but sending out the countered safe that we are here for people who need that message and need that positivity” Megan Coleman, who helped make the sign, said according to Kansas’ KSHB.

The message didn’t get across to all Westboro members.

“I don’t even know what they’re saying,” Westboro Baptist Chuch member Steve Drain said.

Here’s a basic rule of thumb:

The foundation of morality is anthropology mediated through empathy.

Morality = the ability to make non-harmful choices.
Anthropology = the study of what it means to be human and your place in such.
Empathy = the ability to feel what another feels and respond to such.

In other words: You become good when you are aware of your commonality and belongingness with all other people and that awareness is then activated by feeling what another is feeling such that you take steps to offer what you would desire for yourself in the other’s place.

However, when people believe they are evil, they, by definition, cease to trust that their humanity is any longer worth listening to. And, the logical next step is to replace their humanity and empathy with a religious code as the new guide to life — believing that the following of the rules will make them less evil.

As soon as a person’s humanity and empathy is replaced with a religious code of law, we discover what Paul was getting at in Romans 7: We discover that men and women of the code will use even the most perfect rules as nothing more then a starting point to search for loopholes — or worse. In such they become utterly ugly and out of touch with even basic decency. We discover that Me + the code = chaos.

The above referenced Mr. Drain is a classic example of this. He has so much contempt for himself he bought into a code of law as a means of living — so much so that he is no longer even able to understand someone showing compassion for him, much less show compassion to others…

He’s so perfectly following his code he has become the definition of evil: Empathy free and personally heartless.

Paul answered this problem the best in verse 4:

For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
January 16, 2014: 4:41 am: Church, Depression, Freedom, Grace

Tiny Buddha

For most of my career as a teenager I was preoccupied with being cool, with cultivating a counter-culture, bohemian persona (assuming clove cigarettes, On the Road, and a pile of mixed tapes constituted “bohemian”). Rolling my eyes at my mother was a near constant affectation.

I was certain that I knew it all; I had the rest of my life all figured out and I rejected anything that didn’t fit with my narrow understanding of the world. I now know there were countless experiences I missed out on by virtue of my stubbornness and general disdain for everything.

I avoided most of the mainstream high school dances and events. I dropped out of clubs and activities as soon as they felt challenging. I didn’t bother investigating the many academic and social opportunities that came my way.

What I would have regarded not long ago as a silly, selfish, snotty teenage attitude, I now realize is something else entirely. In that picture I see the seeds of pain and hurt—some already planted and taking root; some yet to be sown.

Lack of encouragement and confidence was written all over my face. The trauma of rejection and the fear of not measuring up was so apparent. That cool thing was just an act—a part I was playing to protect the hurt little girl that I really was.

It occurred to me as I observed her tentative gaze that this girl is still a part of me and deserves my love and tenderness, not my judgment. She deserves respect for the woman she is going to become and comfort for the child she has been.

The whole article is worth reading — but it needs a fourth point (on the list of three steps to stop judging yourself):

Judgment, ultimately, is a direct result of the rules/code of law you live under and the stories you tell yourself about failing to meet such.

The rules never have and never will make anyone do anyone want to do anything other then break them.

Which is why we needed to be set free from them…

November 2, 2013: 4:00 am: Children, Church, Family Issues, Marriage

Salon

I was questioned earlier this week over a comment I made to a client that going to church alone would do little to protect marriage and that divorce rates were higher in the pews. That statement was both desperately right — and yet, the more I look at it, somewhat wrong.

Now that I’ve done the research, I may as well post it…

(Note: The Barna Group’s, “Nondenominational,” category includes Christian ministries that are not associated with a particular denomination. Many of their members are HIGHLY fundamentalist.)

Divorce Statistics by Religion
Religious Faith Percentage of Membership Divorced
Non-denominational 34
Baptist 29
Episcopal 28
Pentecostal 28
Methodist 26
Presbyterian 23
Catholic 21
Lutheran 21
Atheist/Agnostic 21

The numbers above are from the Barna research group which actually found that divorce rates were lower for people who described themselves as atheist or agnostic. The study results indicate that having religious faith doesn’t at all shield believers from marital stresses that can led to divorce.

But the obvious question is simply: Why?

Slicing the U.S. by region, the Bible belt has the highest divorce rate, and this has been the case for over a decade, with the institution of marriage faring better in those dens of blue-state iniquity to the north and west.

What is going on? Even some secularists are puzzled. Churches provide strong communities for families. Many offer marital counseling and parenting classes. Love, they say, is a commitment, not a feeling. God hates divorce. They leverage moral emotions in the service of matrimony: a righteous sense of purity rewards premarital abstinence and post-marital monogamy—replaced by guilt and shame when nonmarital sex is unveiled or a marriage dissolves. Couples who split may find themselves removed from leadership positions or even ostracized. On the face of it, even if there were no God, one might expect this combination to produce lower divorce rates.

The reality, however, appears complex. Churches do honor and support marriage. They also may inadvertently promote divorce, especially—ironically—those churches which most bill themselves as shining lights in a dark world.

To prevent that greatest-of-all-evils, abortion, such communities teach even high school students to embrace surprise pregnancies as gifts from God. They encourage members to marry young so they won’t be tempted to fornicate. But women who give birth or marry young tend to end up less educated and less financially secure, both of which are correlated with higher divorce rates.

After marriage, some congregations, such as those in the “quiver-full” movement, encourage couples to leave family planning in God’s hands. Leaders echo the chauvinistic beliefs of Church fathers like St. Augustine and Martin Luther or the Bible writers: Women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety (1 Timothy 2:15). Such teachings grow congregations, literally, from the nursery up, but the very same attitudes that help to fill church pews can erode marital bliss. Ample research shows that for couples under age 30 marital satisfaction declines with the birth of each child. (Parenting tends to make couples happier only after age 40, when kids become more independent, and only in countries with comparatively weak social supports for aging adults.)

While my statement was painfully correct for the Church in general, that’s not the whole picture.

Actually, if you really drill down into the numbers, what the research really says is that the Church CAN provide BETTER protection for marriage then a philosophical position (Atheism) that really only condones marriages once the participants are highly educated, fully prepared and totally sure.

Secular couples tend to see both marriage and divorce as personal choices. Overall, a lower percent get married, which means that those who do may be particularly committed or well-suited to partnership. They are likely to be older if/when they do formally tie the knot. They have fewer babies, and their babies are more likely to be planned. Parenting, like other household responsibilities, is more likely to be egalitarian rather than based on the traditional model of “male headship.” Each of these factors could play a role in the divorce rate.

Could play a role? We KNOW they play a role — and have for decades…

We have to ignore the Catholic number as they tally every baptism to get their membership. The Lutheran Church is different though and the percentages are the same. They are not fundamentalist in most ways that matter here. They sat up and took notice of the social sciences decades ago — and they are not showing the high divorce rates the rest are.

That’s the other half of the story: IF and only IF the church is a non-fundamentalist place that promotes what the social sciences have repeatedly proven works, they can actually achieve the exact same 21% divorce rate (in a culture where the majority of the membership gets married) that the much smaller fraction of Atheists who are actually getting married manage to achieve.

So, yes, the family that prays together really does stay together — provided that the reverend leading the prayer meeting is not a fundamentalist nut, he advocates higher education and good paying employment, doesn’t advocate shotgun marriages, he teaches responsible family planning/birth control, educates the participants on healthy marital roles and teaches good skills to couples so they can love each other well.

So, why’s that so hard???

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