Wednesday, November 28, 2007

HWJPI? (Or: How Would Jesus Pitch It?)

"AND SO IT WAS written, as the ancients foretold, that the evolution of religion and self-help towards some common ground would continue, rendering unto God that which had previously been found only in the annals of viral marketing…."

The conceptual similarities between self-help and today's more "secularized religions" were always striking. We've been tracking the phenomenon for a while on SHAMblog. But even your host didn't realize the degree to which today's religion is being explicitly repackaged in self-help terms. Such at least is the message of this cover story by Scott Bass, which I found in a Virginia alternative weekly.*

The "relevancy movement" in American churchdom is nothing new, and has been most immediately noticeable in the music. Anyone who's listened to gospel music of late (or almost any music emanating from the so-called megachurches) will have a hard time distinguishing it from the genres that have parents screaming at teenagers to "turn that down!" The lyrics are more tasteful and "godly," if you will—but there's no mistaking what the actual music and underlying rhythms owe to R&B, alternative, and even rap. In effect, the pastors (and, increasingly, boards of governors) of these "enlightened" churches are turning weekly services into concerts, hoping to make the experience more tolerable for the younger generation that churches desperately need to attract in order to survive. As one of Bass' sources puts it, in a line with both literal and figurative meaning, "You can't play the old music and get the new folks." Especially in larger, nondenominational houses of worship, services have become multimedia extravaganzas worthy of a Tony Robbins seminar, featuring live performances on-stage (which may include dance routines), and even light-hearted, pre-sermon "warm-ups" by the nation's growing roster of Christian comedians.

But we now seem to have reached that point where many religious leaders are dropping all pretenses, talking openly and unashamedly in a lingo borrowed from consumer marketing. They speak of smart merchandising and brand identity, marketplace differentiation and expanding their franchise; parishioners are consumers of religion. Here's one of the pastors in Bass' piece discussing his church's promotional efforts: "We've done billboards, we've done movie ads…. We believe we have the best product in the world." You listen to that kind of talk and you wonder: Is this dude selling God or a new-and-improved grease remover?

Traditional religion, you see, has a major image problem: It's "fighting 2,000 years of bad marketing," as Bass phrases it. All that fire-and-brimstone stuff doesn't connect very well with today's self-centered, hedonistic audiences, who expect religion—like everything else in life—to meet their needs and speak their language. Today's pastors, in their effort to distance themselves from religion's hell-fire heritage, even try to look different: tres Joe Vitale-like, they're increasingly inclined to wear such get-ups as jeans and Hawaiian shirts. During the worship services, hosannas have yielded to high-fives; a collective chorus of "my bads!", followed by an instant, blanket absolution, is gradually replacing the penitent Hail Marys I remember from the confessions of my youth. Some churches, reports Bass, have even taken their crosses down. Crosses are bad karma, after all. Crosses make people think of suffering. Crosses make people think of obligation. And the only obligation that matters these days is your obligation to yourself.

Behold the church of the here-and-now!
"Escapism," writes Bass, "is as much a part of our psyche as capitalism or democracy, freedom and equal rights." Yes, and more so all the time. And what today's, ahem, worshippers mostly want to escape from is any judgment or condemnation from on-high. (This, in the same way that today's highly empowered self-helpers want to escape liability for the harm they cause in the course of their unapologetic pursuit of personal fulfillment.) Hence the most successful churches jettison such off-putting, uncomfortable notions as sin. Or what used to be thought of as sin. To be sure, greed and avarice are totally off the table nowadays as tickets to hell. Preachers even build their aforementioned franchises around an end-user-driven liturgy—what Bass calls a "self-help gospel"—that warmly embraces the pursuit of ostentatious material wealth. We've also talked in this blog about Joel Osteen and his Gospel According to Ralph Lauren. (That's a joke, but it's one of those jokes that's awfully close to the truth.) As Bass writes, Osteen "epitomizes the what-God-can-do-for-you movement. [He] has grown his Houston-based church into the largest in the country, with 47,000 members." Osteen's latest book, Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day, sounds like something that easily could've been written by a Stephen Covey or a Phil McGraw.

Nor is it just greed that's been air-brushed off the signpost to eternal damnation. I think it's safe to say that divorce by now has been totally destigmatized (and I'm not contending that it shouldn't have been; I'm just saying that for better or worse, religion has grown steadily more forgiving of human foibles than it used to be). Premarital sex is not the taboo it used to be, either, in church or out. Unwed motherhood?** Hey, if it works for you... Even the Episcopal church in my neighborhood (which is hardly in the category of the churches Bass writes about) has no particular stipulations when it comes to the circumstances under which kids are brought into the world, or into "the light of God's love."

Interestingly enough, as religion grows more lenient, self-help becomes more dogmatic. In their own smiling, uplifting ways, the likes of Vitale and Rhonda Byrne can be as demanding of loyalty to their particular "scripture" as the Catholic Church of my boyhood ever was. They'll threaten non-believers with their own versions of Hell, and not just figuratively. We saw the extent of Vitale's quiet wrath in his recent attempts to draw a linkage between positive thinking and whether or not a person's home survived San Diego's wildfires.

If the day comes when religion and self-help are all but indistinguishable...when it doesn't really matter what you worship, as long as you worship something, and it makes you happy...what then?

Something to think about, maybe, over Christmas.

* I've often said that some of the best stories are not found in the august national media like The New York Times, but rather in small-market publications.
** Wait, let me rephrase that in more culturally relevant terms: single parenthood.

32 comments:

a/good/lysstener said...

THis is a very interesting post, Steve. There are several people I intend to send the link to, including members of the family.

I think it raises as many important questions about religion as it does about self-help; even the standard conception of religion. Is it really so different to put your faith in some invisible supreme being than in Joe Vitale's law of attraction? But for some reason while we make fun of one, we worship the other. As I said, a lot to think about.

Anonymous said...

Steve, let me just say AMEN, religion isn't what used to be!
-Carl

Anonymous said...

I was just in the local Christian/Catholic book/goods store this afternoon, where they have a display rack devoted to the top sellers in religious books. I was very disquieted to see so many self-help/Osteen-style books in that display. But the #1 book in the display, the one I myself bought, was by Mother Teresa. All is not yet lost!

And somewhat to Alyssa's point, I think the loss of "hellfire and brimstone," as you put it, from religion would be good riddance. The concept of a Creator who is nothing more than Big Daddy shouting "Bad dog! Bad!!!" should be humiliating to anyone who can look up at the vastness of the stars. ("When I consider the heavens/The work of thy fingers/The moon and stars which Thou hast ordained/What is man...?" as the Psalmist so aptly puts it.) Surely God has better things to do than slap hands down here.

Steve Salerno said...

Well, but to play devil's advocate (or maybe God's advocate in this case), if there is to be no godly hand-slapping...then what is even the point of having a god or any commandments? And if it's all up to the individual, and we down here are simply free to do whatever gives us pleasure--then how is that any different than the "religion" espoused by Osteen et al? I guess what I'm saying is, if there are no penalties for breaking the rules, what's the point of having rules?

Your PR Guy said...

Oh, Steve -- now that's a great question. Have you been drinking your Ovaltine? Sorry for being glib!

I'll come back and give a more thought provoking answer tomorrow morning.

Steve Salerno said...

Well hell, PRG, then how am I supposed to stay sufficiently thought-provoked till then??

Rational Thinking said...

On the ten commandments, Christopher Hitchens makes the point fairly eloquently, when he writes "... it is surely insulting to the people of Moses to imagine that they had come this far under the impression that murder, adultery, theft, and perjury were permissible".

Civilized behaviour doesn't require commandments, edicts or inducements, but rather simple common sense.

Just thought I'd throw that in to keep you thinking ...

Anonymous said...

What's the point of having a God?! But that IS the point. If you believe that God created our world, and all the worlds, then it is enough to worship and give thanks for so glorious a gift. There is no need for God to have to benefit us in any other way--to have to have "a point," as you say. Sheesh! On the other hand, there's an enormous "point" in our having rules of behavior--commandments, if you will--so society doesn't run amok and civilization can flourish. But that is a separate and very different issue. Surely we have reached the point where we can put the responsibility for our deeds squarely on ourselves and not burden God with being our Divine Policeman!!!

Yekaterina said...

Not everybody is playing the same game! Those rules only count for those who play the religion game. What's the point of them? To control the masses? and their money? AGL asks, Is it really so different to put your faith in some invisible supreme being (invented by man) than in Joe Vitale's law of attraction?

Best question I've heard in a long time.

Steve Salerno said...

Well now, wait a sec there, Rational: You seem to be assuming that the behaviors/concepts you enumerate are objectively, universally "bad," even without religion. Whereas I would argue that no such consensus exists even within religion. Murder is unverisally scorned? What about the death penalty? War? Abortion? (Self-defense?) Or let's talk adultery. What about polygamy? Mormonism? Many Arab societies? (And is monogamy in conformity with what biology ordains?) Or let's talk perjury and "lying" in general. What about information that's withheld from people (i.e. "classified information" or "covert operations") for their own good or for some "larger good"?

I'm not trying to be a sophist about this. My point is that I don't think there's any behavior that everybody agrees is "bad" in all circumstances. And even in the good old U.S. of A., where we consider ourselves a fairly enlightened culture, we carve ourselves exceptions in certain umbrella principles (or we rationalize like mad!) in order to run the society the way we want: e.g. abortion or the death penalty.

Point being, I'm not sure we agree (or I agree) that certain things are inherently evil. We are a civilized people, and we dropped the bomb on the Japanese. The Israelis are a civilized, highly religion people, and they would launch against the Arabs before they saw their society go down in defeat a second time. The radical Islamists thought they had god on their side when they flew those planes into our buildings.

We justify what we want to justify, even within the framework of being religious. And if there were no overarching concept of good or bad, anywhere, who's to say we wouldn't justify a lot more? We allows Hitchens his premise only because we already live in a religious world (with religious precepts embedded deeply inside us, whether we acknowledge them or not). But how do we know things wouldn't be 10 times worse if there were no religion at all? How do we know it wouldn't be Lord of the Flies?

Rational Thinking said...

I'd agree that no consensus exists within religion or without it. I don't agree that it has to do with the idea of good or evil. Hitchens used the word "permissible", and I tend to think this is fair enough. Civilized behaviour is, in my opinion, personal behaviour. I don't know what criteria one could use to describe nations as "good" or "evil" - or, indeed, as enlightened or civilized. But that's perhaps another argument.

As to "how do we know that things wouldn't be 10 times worse if there were no religion at all" - well, we don't. The point I was trying to make, is that religious belief is not a pre-requisite to civilized behaviour. Looking around the world today, one can see examples of behaviour supposedly justified by religion, which appears to me to be uncivilised.

And, from a natural selection viewpoint, one could argue that those who didn't learn to live in harmony with the general population would become extinct. I'm half-joking, but generally speaking Game Theory suggests that good guys do indeed finish first.
Thankfully.

Georganne said...

It still amazes me that so many people spend so much time and energy on trying to make religion into a bad thing, of all things! Religion is a source of great strength to so many of us, and is the basis of American government itself. It is on the dollar bill and in the songs we sing in praise of our great nation. We swear an oath on the bible when we testify in court. But so many of you only want to see the dark side, which I think says something about YOU more than it says about religion or God.

Rational Thinking said...

Georganne - belief in religion gave us 9/11.

And whilst it might be comforting to think that those who flew the aircrafts were mistaken, the point is that any unexamined belief might reasonably be considered to be dangerous. And if you're thinking that "they were only using religion to justify their actions" - well, consider this, if you will. Without a religious framework which you believe permits you think that, not only is this okay, it is actually divinely sanctioned - the argument is quite simple - if you didn't have that belief would you still commit the act?

Or, would you have to think it out for yourself? Without the constraints of religion. Would that be so bad?

Mary Anne said...

These are the debates that will go on FOREVER. Religion is like sex, some people like to be on top, some people like to be on the bottom, some people like to be spanked, and some people don't. There pretty much is a religion for everyone. What seems to be the real debate is ethics and morals, which are needed to keep society from self-destructing. We know killing is bad, because if we allow killers free reign, there would be no people. Adultery is wrong, because people by and large are possessive, whether or not people want to admit that. Science has also shown this to be true so if everyone was stealing each other's spouse, chaos would reign. So if you look at each commandment without God, each commandment makes sense for atheists and non-atheists to live side by side. Religion is more about social norms than morals. Look at Orthodox Jews versus non-Orthodox Jews about Kosher food to eat pork or not to eat pork. The wars and argements happen over whether one group is more "holy" than another group by their social mores. It goes back to most people think THEIR way is the right way and there are atheists who will give any Bible thumper a run for his or her money with their passionate belief that there is no God.

Steve Salerno said...

I have many thoughts I could interject here, but I've always found it so much more interesting when people battle it out amongst each other on the blog. So if you care to, by all means have at it.

Mary Anne: .....spanked?

Georgann said...

Oh please "rational" thinking, are you telling me if it wasn't for religion people wouldn't find other reasons to hate and kill? Did you ever watch kids in the schoolyard? They don't even know who is who or what a religion even IS, they don't know color or ethnicity or anything else, and they find reasons to fight and form clicks. Or what about urban gangs? You have a bunch of kids who are all equally poor and discriminated against and they still can't band together in harmony, the individual groups or races or even STREETS start wars against each other!

Like it or not, people by nature will look for reasons to hate and separate themselves from others. You need something to keep peopel in line, something bigger than they are.

Mary Anne said...

Steve, I hate to change the subject, but what do you think of this media storm about Dr. Jan Turner? It seems the Big O (Oprah) did not do her homework again. First it was James Frey and now Jan Turner. To be fair, her people were warned about James Frey's memoir and Harpo went with it anyway. This was reported in the New York Times, if you recall. TMZ has done a great job of tracking this story. I was sure you would comment on it, especially after Harpo's response to TMZ. It was quite cavalier to me. This is what the Harpo rep told TMZ from the TMZ website:
"Dr. Jan Adams appeared as a guest on the 'Oprah' show just once, in 2003, as the host of the Discovery Health Channel series, 'Plastic Surgery: Before and After.' The show he appeared on focused on various television series that highlighted trends in cosmetic surgery. Since he was booked as a guest commentator on the subject of medical television, not in his capacity as a surgeon, and since we did not promote him as a cosmetic surgeon, there was no reason to do a background check on him. We have removed all references to him from our website."

Steve Salerno said...

Mary Anne, first off--minor point--I think you misspoke early in your comment, referring to "Jan Turner" (probably a knee-jerk synaptic connection to Janine Turner, the lovely actress who looks nothing like Dr. Jan Adams), but I'm wondering if you had something specific in mind that you were "sure" I'd comment on?

Mary Anne said...

Yeah, I was typing too fast again. The Big O (Oprah) had the attitude that she DID not promote the doctor on her show, but I think most people would assume that if a guest is on O it is an endorsement by her. Did the Big O really thing no one would buy the Secret if she put it on her show? Did she think no one would by James Frey's book if she did not choose it for her book club? Now we come to find out she doesn't do her homework on her "consultants." A lot of Adams patients went to him, because they saw him on Oprah. Now they should have done their own independent homework on him, but I can see why they would go to him. Do you really believe The Big O does not know she has influence? If that is the case, why go out and stomp for Obama? I think The Big O is looking pretty bad right now and I wonder if others are seeing that. That was the gist of my question.

Rational Thinking said...

Georganne - you wrote:

"are you telling me if it wasn't for religion people wouldn't find other reasons to hate and kill".

No, and I didn't write that either.
I think that's closer to a point Steve made about whether or not we know that if their were no rules, it might be "Lord of the Flies".

Steve seems to be arguing that people will justify their behaviour, one way or another. And he's probably right. My point is - let's keep religious justification out of it.

On a larger scale, I don't believe
people need a stick or carrot to promote or punish civilized behaviour. As I said in my original post - I think it's a matter of common sense.

Mary Anne said...

Now I don't know a lot about Joel Olsteen, but I do know it's not easy to get a church approved by the IRS. There are major restrictions and mandates on churches by the Feds so that puts Olsteen in a different league to me than the self-help industry. Besides, what about Uniterians? WHAT do THEY believe in? Those restrictions are also why Scientology gets so much scrutiny. Now there were people who discussed and practiced ethics BEFORE the western concept of Judeo/Christion religion, which I think is what is being referred to by Steve and others. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle to name a few. They by and large believed MAN was the height of perfection. That is why the ancient Greek and Roman gods where so human. If anyone wanted to take the time to study classical western philospohy and thought, this is very apparent and I think they were much more civilized than we are today by and large. These religious debates bother me, because usually a person has a PERSONAL problem with a religion. A nun hit them, a minster touched them, or a rabbi said something to them. Whatever it is it colors THEIR experience with religion. I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to compare sex and religion. It is a PERSONAL choice. As I have stated previously, I was raised Roman Catholic and have spent a number of years in Catholic schools, but the worse that happened to me was an aversion to plaid. All I see when I see these debates brought up is the person who brought up the debate has a problem with religion and wants others to join in to me that is childish. I don't want to be in someone's church or non-church nor do I want to be in someone's bedroom unless it is by mutual consent. Besides, what about St. Catherine's monastery at Mt. Sinai (10 commandments)? It is the oldest working monastery (Greek Orthodox) in the world and it has been living in peace with visitors of ALL the three major Western religious paths. Jews go there, Muslims, go there, as do Christians(Catholics,Protestants,Orthodox) for pilgrimages, but of course they get no press. The Getty did an AMAZING exhibit of the St. Catherine icons last year, but that was not brought up. So what is the POINT of this debate to get people to fight with each other?

Rational Thinking said...

Well, I'm not fighting on this blog. I don't think - and I could be wrong - that anybody's fighting here. We're debating. And nobody gets killed :-)

Maryanne - I appreciated your post. I'm not a member of anybody's church or non-church (though I can't get my mind around that entirely :-)) either. From my point of view, Steve, as a blog writer if you like, "ignited" the discussion in the last few lines of the blog entry, when he raised the question of "worship". I read it as an assumption that human beings will (or need to) worship something or someone. I disagree. And making assumptions is always dangerous, in my experience. So I may well have misunderstood him. I'm not claiming to be right, just basing what I write on my anecdotal experience.

C'mon Steve, before you go global :-) - I'd love to hear your views.

Steve Salerno said...

Rational, I'll give you the short version, but my understanding is that the syndication starts very soon, and I'd rather leave the floor more open to others. Not that anyone is likely to regard what I say as the be-all-and-end-all, but...well, I'm just always more interested in what others have to say, and where they take the discussion.

Personally, I'm not sure that there are moral absolutes. Abstract absolutes. I'm not sure that an absolute, abstract "right" or "wrong" even exists. And I think that if you just leave the issue open to interpretation or--worse--expediency, you can get some very frightening courses of behavior that are, nonetheless, thoroughly rationalized and "vetted" by the people/society who adopt them. So I guess what I'm saying is that I think that, just perhaps, mankind "needs" the imposition of an artificial moral structure in order to survive. And I'm not sure we can leave it to man, in a secular sense, to devise that structure. (You could end up with, say, the Holocaust, which I think seemed perfectly reasonable to Hitler and much of Germany of that era.) On the other hand, some would say the Holocaust is, ipso facto, evidence of the problem with religion. But I see the Holocaust more as a perversion of religion: a case of man using a religious construct to justify a throughly secular (and nefarious) purpose. This leads to questions about what we mean when we even talk about "religion." Are we referring to religion in its organized manifestations? (i.e. Judaism?) Or are we referring to religion more in its exalted themes (i.e. "goodness," "honesty," etc.) I don't know if this makes any sense, but I guess what I'm saying, Rat-T (that'd be your rap name), is that while I agree with you that you don't need God in order to have morality--abstractly--as a practical matter, I think you need the concept of God for people to be willing to knuckle under to morality. In other words, for large numbers of us, we can't leave morality to the question of a vote. If it's subject to referendum, it ain't gonna fly. It has to be something that people see as an eternal absolute and constant (even if, as I said above, it's artificial and, in fact, nonexistent). And that's why we probably need God--to provide that sense of being "beyond question and debate." So if God doesn't exist, we'd still need to create Him (and believe in some hallucinatory fashion that He was there first, and created us) in order to have a society than can avoid anarchy.

Aren't you glad you asked?

Now does all of that rambling make any sense?

Mary Anne said...

Well, Rational Thinker, look through the blogs and you will see some testy "debates" that center around religion or lack there of. You will also see a few of Steve's posts about HIS experience with the Catholic Church and Catholic schools. I generally stay out of these "debates," but in my view these "debates" go nowhere due to the personal dimension of religion. As far as Steve's original blog about religion and the "new pitch," I don't see anything "new" about this except certain churches have gone more high tech. I saw the original blog as being one of little merrit, but to provoke a "debate" and that is why I posted what I did. Also Steve failed to mention how churches differ from self-help quacks under federal and IRS guidelines. I felt it was a one-sided blog. Good luck on Steve making a comment. He has yet to answer my question about his comments about his subjective remarks about neuroscience or Helen Fisher's work. Steve has equated believing in God as "believing in the Easter Bunny," but he is a "romantic Pisces." I guess I am to infer Steve has problems with believing in God, but not western astrology. We love Steve anyway, since he is a fragile fish. A "non-church" are atheists who must stuff a non-God universe down everyone's throat. They are just as annoying as true believers to me.

Mary Anne said...

Well, Rational Thinker, look through the blogs and you will see some testy "debates" that center around religion or lack there of. You will also see a few of Steve's posts about HIS experience with the Catholic Church and Catholic schools. I generally stay out of these "debates," but in my view these "debates" go nowhere due to the personal dimension of religion. As far as Steve's original blog about religion and the "new pitch," I don't see anything "new" about this except certain churches have gone more high tech. I saw the original blog as being one of little merrit, but to provoke a "debate" and that is why I posted what I did. Also Steve failed to mention how churches differ from self-help quacks under federal and IRS guidelines. I felt it was a one-sided blog. Good luck on Steve making a comment. He has yet to answer my question about his comments about his subjective remarks about neuroscience or Helen Fisher's work. Steve has equated believing in God as "believing in the Easter Bunny," but he is a "romantic Pisces." I guess I am to infer Steve has problems with believing in God, but not western astrology. We love Steve anyway, since he is a fragile fish. A "non-church" are atheists who must stuff a non-God universe down everyone's throat. They are just as annoying as true believers to me.

Mary Anne said...

Steve said, "So if God doesn't exist, we'd still need to create Him (and believe in some hallucinatory fashion that He was there first, and created us) in order to have a society than can avoid anarchy."

We HAVE avoided anarchy without a concrete concept of God. If you look at physical anthropology, you would see that this has happened. As Man (humankind) became more advanced and our brains grew, our human ancestors began to ask questions and the ball started rolling towards a belief in God. Now I REALLY don't understand what you are getting at.

Rational Thinking said...

I hear where you're coming from. And yes, I'm glad I asked. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

At this risk of sounding like a cliche - one of the big pluses of blogging is that we get a chance to debate, which is a bloodless sport that can be educational :-)

I don't agree with you on this one, but much appreciate your providing a forum where we can agree to differ.

Better than "pistols at dawn" any day.

Lana Walker-Helmuth said...

I just received the latest eSkeptic newsletter and learned about this YouTube video -- an interview with Michael Shermer explaining why we are moral, the evolutionary origins of moral sentiments, and how to be good without God.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ar2gIynxedw

He's currently promoting his book "The Science of Good & Evil."

We don't need belief in God to be moral. I'm agnostic, and I'm what most would consider very moral. I live this way to uphold and promote good life.

Cosmic Connie said...

Sorry I got in so late on this debate, but I have been busy tracking down sleazy scandals. :-)

Lana wrote: "We don't need belief in God to be moral. I'm agnostic, and I'm what most would consider very moral. I live this way to uphold and promote good life."

Amen (if you'll pardon the expression), Lana. It is my opinion that belief in God/the Ten Commandments or whatever is not the main factor that keeps most of us from killing each other or breaking any of the other commandments. Conversely, belief, or professed belief, in God/the Ten Commandments or whatever does not keep some people from egregious violations of those commandments. (Right now I'm thinking of a "Secret" teacher I've been writing about recently, an alleged womanizer and scammer who is currently playing the "God and family values" card for all it's worth.)

I think that on an individual basis belief in a deity or religion is NOT necessary in order to live a deeply moral life. And I'm not even sure that belief is necessary on a cultural level in order for a society to function. But then again, I don't know of too many cultures or systems that haven't framed their laws and practices in a "higher power" of some sort. Even "godless" Communism (as has been often argued) held the State or the leaders as a God of sorts.

So I kind of agree with Steve (I think) that cultures -- if not individuals -- seem to need to believe in *something*. At the very least (and looking at it in a rather negative light), they use that belief to keep the populace under control.

That said, I am also an agnostic, but not an atheist. And when I am feeling more kindly disposed towards religion and spirituality -- as happens more frequently than some who read my blog might think -- my thoughts are very much in accordance with Steve's second Anon commenter, who wrote:

"And somewhat to Alyssa's point, I think the loss of 'hellfire and brimstone,' as you put it, from religion would be good riddance. The concept of a Creator who is nothing more than Big Daddy shouting 'Bad dog! Bad!!!' should be humiliating to anyone who can look up at the vastness of the stars. ('When I consider the heavens/The work of thy fingers/The moon and stars which Thou hast ordained/What is man...?' as the Psalmist so aptly puts it.) Surely God has better things to do than slap hands down here."

Well said, Anon. And actually quite in sync with some things that my own RevRon (not an agnostic) has written.

So how's THAT for a rambling response? Steve, you have nothing on me when it comes to rambling.

Now if you'll pardon me, I have to get back to my sleaze-chasing. :-)

Citizen Deux said...

Since I attend a New Thought Church with my spouse, I have seen it first hand. The marketing machine is phenomenal. But attached to all of this is a constant, everpresent push for income. At least three times during each service I hear of the Consistent Giving Program, Tithing or other financial program. WHat is missing is the output destination for these funds. Where is this money going?

Mary Anne said...

Citizen Deux asked:
"WHat is missing is the output destination for these funds. Where is this money going?"

If you really want to know where your church is putting your money, the IRS can tell you. It takes a moment, but churches have to be pretty transparent with their money. Now the Bush administration has been critized for being too lenient with churches, but I don't see too much of a difference between him and his predecessors. Becoming a church is still pretty difficult in the U.S. and there strict measures in place. More requests for church approval get denied than approved in the U.S. This is also true for non-profits though non-profits have a bit of an easier time.

D. said...

Personally, I am very disturbed by the Christian publishing market and the infiltration of self-help books here. I have two degrees in theology, a B.A. and a M.Div. from one of the few seminaries that still require students to learn biblical Hebrew and Greek so they can preach better from the texts. Most church members and those in lay ministry in evangelical/pentecostal circles increasingly are encouraged to read books like "The Purpose Driven Life" and "The Purpose Driven Church" and to look at the Bible through the lenses of books like Osteen's, and then to suspect legitimate biblical scholarship as a threat to faith. Or they say they just don't want to scare people away who don't have the smarts. But, quite frankly, while I'm a smart girl, in high school I was hanging out with metalheads down by the traintracks for a stint, so if I can handle serious theological study, anyone can give it a go if they really care about getting to know God. The worst offense of all to me is "The Message" which purports itself as a new modern translation of the Bible and has become the main text of many churches these days. It's not a translation, it's an interpretation, and VERY influenced by SHAM in my opinion. When you first read it, it seems interesting/good, but if you look at how the passages really read in scripture and then see how Peterson is respinning them to be "seeker friendly" or whatever, it's pretty alarming/annoying.