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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Color Gobsmacked

Sundries Shack has injected a note of reality into the MSM meme of Catholics weeping and tearing their hair as they flee the PanzerKardinal's neo-fascist Catholic church in hordes. It's funny, and I've just been waiting for someone to point out the obvious, which he does with the assistance of the WaPo's poll:
Eighty percent liked the selection and 73 percent were “enthusiastic” about it? That can’t be right. Let’s read on.

The article notes that the traditionalist vs “update to our lifestyle” split is pretty much 50-50, but that the traditionalist opinion has increased 9 percent in the last month. And those who attend church more regularly, not surprisingly, favor not “updating” Church teachings. To leaven the numbers, I should note that the sample was only a bit under 300 people, taken over a few days, so its hardly comprehensive.

But still, color me gobsmacked.

So now I’m wondering where all this news coverage came from. Could it be that pundits like Maureen Dowd and Andrew “Professional Ninny” Sullivan were projecting their own desires just the teensiest bit on American Catholics? Could it be that there was a touch of general anti-religious bias happening in the news coverage?
Naw. We're just happy to learn what the color gobsmacked looks like. You'll have to go over to the Shack to find out. He's only saying the obvious here, which is that you could probably find roughly equal proportions of people who still deeply mourn the Latin mass and of people who want the church really liberalized in America. What your average Catholic in America wants is for the child molestation scandals to stop.

And if they do want the church liberalized, they have an option, and that is Catholic Lite, the Episcopalian church. But that church is really in trouble. It's not gaining, it's losing in the areas where liberally totalitarian bishops are enforcing the latest liberalism. The issue isn't gays or gay bishops, it is whether ECUSA is truly Christian at all.

How liberal has the Episcopalian church become? So liberal in some dioceses that alternative masses celebrating the Great Mother are passed around. So danged liberal that some of the ministers are Druids worshipping anyone but God The Father. And you know what? Quite a few Episcopalians are jumping ship to go under the supervision of orthodox African bishops, or to join Anglican churches, and some, weeping and tearing their hair, have shown up as refugees in Catholic churches. I don't know, you decide whether Catholics are just going to flood into churches like this, or whether they are going to look at such trends and decide that Pope Benedict XVI has a lot going for him:
The controversy had begun after a feminist liturgy written by Ruppe-Melnyk was posted on the Episcopal Church USA Web site. The liturgy, which had references to "God the Mother," was characterized by conservative watchdog groups as pagan and Druidic when they discovered it also posted on a Web site created by her husband.

Melnyk said the Web site was aimed at people who wanted to practice both Druid spirituality and Christianity. Ruppe-Melnyk denied that the liturgy had any Druid-inspired content.

Soon after, Melnyk resigned at the request of his parish vestry. His wife has kept her post as rector of St.-Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Malvern.

After his resignation, Melnyk said he spent several months in reflection.

"I had been working on a ministry seeking to find common ground between two traditions, but the bishop of Pennsylvania and vestry of St. James said 'you can't do that,' " he said Friday. "So I decided I had to make the decision that had the most personal integrity for me."

That decision was to renounce his ordination vows and become a Druid priest. He called it a "joyous occasion." But by the weekend he reversed himself and cut his Druid ties.
And just so I don't get accused of exaggerating, here is a little more about the liturgy on this couple's website:
She and her husband, Bill Melnyk, rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Downingtown, Pa., posted several ceremonies, which invoked pagan gods and goddesses, on www.tuathadebrighid.org.

One, an "erotic ritual" for the spring festival of Beltane, used Christian phrases for the rite, including an opening "litany" and an "invocation" of the "Earth Mother." The ceremony, which culminates with the lead couple engaging in sex in front of the other participants, ends with a "chant of Communion and Praise" to the tune of the Irish hymn "St. Patrick's Breastplate." The Babylonian god "Bel" honored in the rite has been linked to the Canaanite god Baal, whose worship was condemned in the Old Testament.
Even Bishop "There-are-many-Christs" Bennison finally got a bit twitchy about that after heavy pressure. That's a liberal church for ya! It's so darned liberal Andrew Sullivan wouldn't set foot inside it for fear he would be damned. (That's inside metaphorically speaking, because sometimes services are conducted at places like Stonehenge and groves.) And this is not just a case of several people quietly being pagan within the church. No, this is mainstream:
The Women’s Ministry page also advertises and recommends books both on the Women’s Ministries web page, and through the Episcopal Church’s official bookstore, that celebrate goddess worship. Such titles include: Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women, The Book of the Goddess Past and Present, Goddesses Who Rule, and Beginner’s Guide to Wicca.
Now let's go back to the question Sundries Shack posted "Could it be that there was a touch of general anti-religious bias happening in the news coverage?" Gee, I wonder. Because all you will ever read about the impending schism in the ECUSA is that it is about gays, and it is not about gays. Gays and lesbians have been ordained as ministers in the ECUSA for about 20 years without causing all this uproar, because the vestry chooses their minister so it didn't trouble a congregation if they didn't want a lesbian or a gay minister. The uproar occurred when the crop of "liberal" bishops started shoving their brand of Episcopalian/Many-Christs enlightenment down the individual congregations' throats.

Schism is pending over the question of whether the ECUSA will be Christian at all, and this is not a secret unless you don't want to know. So yes, there is more than a bit of anti-Christian bias in the news coverage. The hostility toward Pope Benedict XVI is because he is warning against ECUSA-type liberalism, is decisively Catholic and is a dogmatic monotheist to boot. In some quarters, that's considered extremely intolerant, old-fashioned and patriarchally oppressive.

(And btw, I am not slamming Druids and Wiccans. I can't, because I know nothing about them and don't intend to find out, because that Earth Mother ritual thing with the public sex is definitely not my cup of tea. But if I go to a restaurant and order a steak, I kind of expect to get a steak and not seafood. And if the waitress insists that I eat the seafood and pay for the steak, I'm going to get irked and ask for the manager. And when the manager comes out and informs me that the seafood is better for me and I most certainly should pay for the meal, I'm going to rebel. It's the American way.)

I will slam wicans and druids if you don't want to.

As a one-time member of the Presbyterian Church (USA), I know just what you mean about political correctness. Actually I think I'm still officilly on their rolls, I just don't go there anymore.

The national leadership of both the Episcoplians and the Presbyterians have adopted far-left positions on most issues. And both have suffered a significant (40% I think) drop in membership over the past thirty years. No coincidence there.
You are so funny, and mainly right on... but I have to caveat a bit here. Before I do, your post made me wonder: is it really about the homosexuals in the church or are some church politicos using homosexuals as a political weapon to break down the staus quo of their churches? that was something I didn't see heretofore.

OK. Back to caveats. I have had quite a bit of online interaction with pagans, including wiccans, and you are saying some no-nos there. They have lots to say about it, but I will leave that to them ( I am no pagan apologist). What I found, surprisingly enough is how much goddess/pagan dotrine is folded into the Methodist Church, so this is something happening in more than one mainstream Church.

As for moving away from orthodox Christianity, the Presbyterians also had some eye-opening statemnet in some of their last offical convocations: that Christ isn't really necessary.

This overall picture would be quite interesting to explore. What is the pull of "liberating " the church, in whatever denomination? Are there more motivations than the one of reform?... the evidence points to it. But the language is such a lapover: updating can mean many things. So I think we are seeing different streams, but with the same language and venue, so we are putting them in the same category.

Ok, I'll stop now, but this stuff fascinates me....
MoM - Oddly enough, the Color Gobsmacked is sort of an exasperated reddish color. ;)

ilona - What interests me is that if you look around, you find that the churches who actually set out "hard" doctrines, then defend them against all comers are the churches that are growing. The churches who have waffled on their important doctrines (and I'm thinking especially about the Episcopalians and Anglicans here) are losing members.

You have a point about the use of languare in the recent press for "reforms". I put the scare quotes around that word because I believe that when you get through the talk about "inclusion" and "diversity" what you're really talking about of lowering the religious bar to make things easier on the laity.
Tom, are you saying this Wiccan thing popped up in the Presbyterian church too? If so, I'm very curious about it. But you are making a good point regardless. Any denomination can become so inclusive that it loses the coherence of its teachings, and when it does, it loses membership.

Ilona, could you possibly expand on your points? I am guessing that your theory about the motivation and cloaking holds true to some extent. Twenty years ago the movement in the women's locus of the ECUSA was to worship Sophia, etc. The idea was to eliminate male images of God, or at least to commingle them with female images. The motivation there was feminist thought.

I suspect that there is a genuine Wiccan tradition that is old and has nothing to do with Christianity. When I went to high school there was a coven in the area, and at least one girl always wore some amulet thing to school for protection.

I have no idea whether Druidism is a modern construct or an original tradition. If you notice, Melnyk was quite confused about which he wanted to be, so I would guess he is not genuinely either. I think the gay movement is allied with the lesbian movement but it is the lesbian/feminist coalition that is pushing the goddess stuff.

A lot of very traditionalist Christians want to pull gays and lesbians into the church and recognize their unions in some way, so there is nothing definitive one could say about that coalition.

Can you explain about the Wiccan no-nos? I know nothing about that. For all I know there is some genuine tradition existing side-by-side with a modernist "let's have a Wiccan fling" wing. If so I bet it really riles the "orthodox" Wiccans.

The deep worry I have about the Wiccan stuff I read on the Melnyks' website is the stuff about "magick" and the idea of "harm no one, and otherwise do whatever you want and enjoy life". That sticks the individual ego back in the driver's seat, and I think it is psychologically unsound as well as being an ethical precept that is wholly antithetical to Christian tradition.

For one thing, humans aren't good at knowing or recognizing when they are harming another being. We are naturally good at rationalizing our behavior. All religions have categories of wrongs or sins that exist to reject behavior that seems fine at first but eventually leads to harm.

I always liked the liberality of the Episcopalian tradition. But it has now clearly gotten out of hand. I don't think all of the current ECUSA bishops are Christians by any standard. They probably would agree with the Presbyterians that Christ isn't really necessary.

I really would appreciate any explanation about your points that you could give me.
Jimmie, that's a good point. I agree - the churches that pick their tradition and doctrine and stand on it are growing. The extreme liberality of some churches is fueling a backlash of doctrinal conservatism.

But I'm not sure if "reforms" in all these churches are meant to ease the burden on the laity or upon the ministry/priesthood. I can't know. It might be both.

I have the vague impression that the reform/liberal wing of Judaism is handling itself better in this regard than the avant-garde Christian churches. I might be wrong about that.
Religions that deviate from the 'prix fixe' format that is doctrinal and those that offer up cafetria style religion, are destined to fail, if for no other reason than tastes change.

Values however, do not.
The "no-nos" would be too numerous to go into... but basically people tend to lump pagan and wiccan practices together, and they feel resentment about that. So they would most likely fault you for taking one 'liturgy' and then saying you aren't interested in the Wiccan religion and things like that.

There is a strong delineation among wiccan... they have a distaste for those they call... um.. 'bunnies', something. I'd have to log into some of my old haunts to get the exact word.

I would say just about all, if not all modern pagan religion is neo-construct. There just wasn't much to work with in digging up the old religions, within the European tradition, anyway. Lots of wicca is traced back to some fairly modern books.
With the idea of reform in the Church, there is the stream of real reform: usually restoration or growing/changing in a manner harmonious with the fundamental doctrine.... then there is reform in the sense of becoming some other religion altogether. Or god-contentless shell of Christianity- which also is a different relgion, secular with religious language.
When you say "an ethical precept that is wholly antithetical to Christian tradition" in regards to some basic wiccan thought, yes, I think you nailed it, but I had more than one debate with those who insist that they can be both Christian and witches, etc. There is more than one reason for this, but I believe you see the contradiction clearly.

On how the mainstream denominations have gotten so far down the road, it was evidentially pointed out by Francis Schaeffer in his writings. The deconstructionism of liberal theology was going to go inexorably in that direction.
SC&A - I'd raise you and say that what works doesn't change, so values inexorably converge on what works. That is, what works long-term doesn't change. The old "sins of the fathers" bit is true. Humans can't reinvent themselves. We can say the same truths in different languages with different symbolic representations, but when we come up with new and brilliant ideas they tend to be some form of old bad ideas.

Ilona, what is the difference between pagan and Wiccan? There were definitely some animist concepts on the bits of the website I read. I'm googling Francis Schaeffer....

As for not being interested, how can anyone take offense at that? No one can know everything - it is more than enough work to try to learn, understand and put into practice one religious tradition!

I like mine because it insists firmly that I can't do certain things and that you have to do other things and that you should do a bunch of other things. Throw in a soup with do whatever you want that does cause harm and I'd have to spend my entire life trying to figure it out myself. Too hard.
I think you and SC&A are going to have a little trouble outside your group of like-thinkers trying to define "values" and "truth", even inside the group...what makes something lasting, and aren't certain things good in certain cases and not in others...even in the Christian parameters? but I do believe in truth in advertaising, and that if you say something is Christian it ought to have the basics that can identify it as such.

The offense is in the drawing of presumption on the basis of one instance- although I see nothing wrong with saying you simply aren't interested. No one will be offended by a personal statement like that.

Pagan is probably the larger set and Wiccan is within that- I went to ask some about some of their distinctions, as a refresher. Pagans can be about anything, really...Wiccans are picky about their definitions, but you know, it is alot like Christian inter-sect quibbling. I think they just mainly don't like Christians or outsiders to make generalizations about them. I understand that feeling, myself.

"I'd have to spend my entire life trying to figure it out myself. Too hard." that is odd to hear you say that, since that is just what some were saying about Christians on one of those "darkside" forums, but you know what I think? I think it is actually much deeper than that for you. I doubt if you believe something because it is easy and comfortable, alone. That is just my suspician about you, that there is a reason underneath the feeling of comfort.

but many of us don't feel a need to explain that.... and it might prove hard to verbalize anyway.
Pagan is multi deity. Wicca typically is centered around the Goddess. There can be an incredible amount of variance in the practice of either as there is no central organizing authority that I know of. The documented existence of Wicca is 20th century. I guess it is possible for it to be older, there certainly is the intent to base it older concepts (primarily Celtic Druidism I believe.)

Someone who knows more can probably completely contradict and correct me. And they'll probably be right too.
Ilona and Tommy, thanks for the pagan/Wiccan explanation. It makes sense.

Ilona, no, I don't believe what I believe because it is easy and comfortable. It isn't easy or comfortable at all. It's a great big gobsmack in the face most of the time.

But, believing what I believe and doing what I'm told to do does seem to work out so that I'm not wrecking other peoples' lives. That is very important to me. All I'm saying is that a rule like "do whatever you like that does not cause harm" is not a helpful rule to me, because there are many things that do cause harm but seem to be good.

People can laugh all they like about the great religions of the world, but it turns out that the ethical rules about dealing with other humans a Jew, a Buddhist, a Muslim and a Christian are supposed to follow (not that all of us do) are astonishingly similar in practice. I would argue that those ethical rules represent an evolved body of teaching and knowledge that should not be lightly discarded.

They also differ from ego rules. It's not abnormal at all for a teenager to want to hop in bed with any available partner. In practice, it turns out that that permissiveness spreads disease and causes all sorts of emotional and social problems. It's not unnatural for me to want to hold on to what I have earned, but in practice it turns out that it is better (even for me) to give until it hurts when someone really needs it. It's not unnatural for me to be scared of someone else's suffering, but in practice it turns out that sometimes I can help so running away is only falsely exaggerating my own fear and possibly depriving someone else of help. It's not unnnatural for any human being to react with anger and violence to anger and violence, but in practice it turns out that it is better to suppress the anger completely and never respond violently unless one is defending someone else from violence. It's not unnatural to want compensation if someone inflicts injury upon you, but in practice it turns out that forgiving such injuries is generally the best course.

A person like me who has spent half her life learning to talk over and over again is very grateful for such rules. I wouldn't set out to reinvent chemistry or physics - it would be a foolish waste of my time and the time of anyone else who participated in the effort. In practice, the ethical rules and spiritural practices of religions form a similar body of axiomatic knowledge that is designed to let humans build upon the work of others.

Now, out of my experience I do believe that there is a God, and that through prayer God's help is available to all under certain conditions, but I also believe that whatever I have to say has been better said by others. I have great personal knowledge of my own stupidity, some caused by illness and some my own natural endowment. I'd prefer people to go to real authorities and get the real thing.

Living a life that truly respects others is never easy and never comfortable. It is generally only in retrospect that a person like me can look back and see how much worse it could have turned out if I had followed my own instincts.

You say that SC&A and I can't define truth or values, and I agree. But I don't think either one of us wants to define them. Building castles with one own's reason has sharp deficits. We don't have to reinvent the wheel, the butter bell, or morality. It's a question of whether we want to put int effect what has already been worked out.

Because I don't care who you are or what religion you espouse, there is a huge difference between living a life defined first by your duty to others (because that is made equivalent to your own interests) or living a life to enjoy what's there for yourself while trying not to hurt others. Those are radically different conceptions.

What I cannot say out of my own knowledge is that any particular religious tradition other than the one I try to know and follow will help a person to properly define their duty to others and help them to fulfill those duties. I only know that I have personally met some Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews who were clearly doing that and were good at it.

Not surprisingly, they seemed to be following the same rules. Granted, I'm high in the running for the "least likely to succeed in life" stakes, but I know how much it takes for me to put those rules into effect and so I am guessing they were getting a lot of help just as I do.

And even if there were no God, no Divine, no Absolute, the truth is that following a set of rules designed to stop the propagation of harm through society would still work to everyone's benefit. I'm just not sure that most humans can even understand or put those rules into practice for themselves without a lot of help, much less work them out for themselves.
"I think you and SC&A are going to have a little trouble outside your group of like-thinkers trying to define "values" and "truth", even inside the group...what makes something lasting, and aren't certain things good in certain cases and not in others...even in the Christian parameters? but I do believe in truth in advertaising, and that if you say something is Christian it ought to have the basics that can identify it as such."

The thing about most Christian religions is that we don't have to figure out those things. That's what the Bible and God do.

Basically, the way it works is that we take our cues on morals and values from the Word God left for us. We figure that He knows a heck of a lot more than we and since He is going to be doing the judging in the end, we're better off not trying to improvise when we have a pretty good guidebook to values and morals already.

The difference among Christiam religions lies mainly, though, in whether the Bible is the only authority or if there are others. In fundamental sects (like the Fundamental Baptists) they believe the Bible is the final and indeed only authority. Other religions, like Catholicism, accept that the Pope speaks the will of God also as God reveals it to him. Baptists and Catholics tend not to be compatible because of that difference.

But if you're looking for trademarks to identify a Christian religion you can use the Bible and Jesus Christ. If they are prominent int he religion, you have a Christian one. We're pretty transparent that way. :)
Among Wiccans, there is a split along the line of if it harms none do what you will, over the definition of harm none. I'm not sure how acknowledged it is but if you look around you can see it exists.

The split over the role sex plays in their practices is fairly well acknowledged but in general you don't hear much about that either. For some reason a ceremony where people have sex makes for much more interesting reading than stories where they don't.
Ilona, I think Jimmie pretty well described my attitude. As far as I can see someone who knew what he was talking about told me what to do. It works for me, so you can say that I have tested the reality of it. When I'm really confused about what I should do or I know what I should do but I don't seem to be able to do it, I pray for instructions and I get them, even though the marching orders are often very surprising and contradict something I thought I was doing right. But then if I go back I see where my misunderstanding was.

So I have logically concluded that I am dumb about these matters even at my best. Being a primitive form of life I need a pretty simple set of instructions. And I'm not kidding about being stupid. You would have to experience crawling around on the floor while hardly able to see and unable to remember what you are doing from one moment to the next to understand the basis of my faith. It's solid, but it's certainly not intellectual.

Like you, for me it is not a question of figuring out whether I can do something but figuring out what I should do and then setting out to do it. My life is one long stream of spectacular incompetence that is somehow made functional by something outside myself.

If I ever master the instructions I will worry about the theology! No one should hold their breath waiting for my mystical pronouncements.

Tommy, that makes sense. Why would there be any more conformity than in Christianity, for example? Although "harm none" leaves out the helping bit too, but I know very well some of their practices are designed to help. I'm cracking up about the sex but I'd guess sex and power is quite a draw for some of the young who get into this. That doesn't mean there isn't some other level to Wicca? Wiccan? that's more genuine. The Druids just mystify me.
Tommy, excellent summary!
::explanation of the angle::
MOM, (I wish I could call you something like Maxie;) I think your personal experience and who you are has given you a great reservoir of wisdom... and you know that I am a religious person and so -at my base- I am with you in many things you say. That is not where my discussion is coming from, however. My discussion is coming from the need I see in communicating with those who have a very different approach. that is why I think we need to be more intropective in how we address the values issue.
::first point::
you said, "it turns out that the ethical rules about dealing with other humans a Jew, a Buddhist, a Muslim and a Christian are supposed to follow (not that all of us do) are astonishingly similar in practice."
Are they? I would agree that they have many similarities in concept, but in practice...as much as I hated SC&A's manner and expression of it, I think he had some valid points on the actual practice of Islam showing some outcomes...across the board... that ought to be disturbing to the free West. I don't think we should ignore those things for the sake of some ecumenical good feeling.

" people to go to real authorities and get the real thing." I so agree, but this is where the problem begins- how to tell the real, what criteria for authority?

"We don't have to reinvent the wheel, the butter bell, or morality. It's a question of whether we want to put int effect what has already been worked out."
Here is where it gets really sticky, because there are some( and not a fringe) that question the whole basis, and there are large enough numbers that want to trash the historical and move onto something that has a completely different set of authority and valuation system. If they had your wisdom they would see that they are chucking very important things...things that are very difficult to restore, once destroyed. But that is not the prevailing wisdom in that shifting society base.

And your value system will define your duty.

If I would look at things from a purely secular stance, the trouble with taking God out of the equation is that then you have equals competing with their subjective views of what the best standard ought to be...instead of the real elephant standing in front of you, you have the competing representations cobbled together in an unworkable inorganic counterfeit, or misrepresentation, to keep the metaphor clean.

Man can't come up with reason to recognize authority short of using the big stick. That is the problem with that.
"It works for me, so you can say that I have tested the reality of it. "

I personally would say you've tested it, and my own experience is that you have so much right.... but you and I are just people, and on that basis someone else would come along and say, so says you, who are you? And they would be right.
the big offense that many have with religion is the way it has been misused. The authority of God getting hijacked. But that is simply because that is the only thing that transcends our subjectivity. Some of the Classical thinkers recognized this important place of religion in the order of the Civitas.
I think we need to hold the line on the integrity of historical accuracy giving us a view of the 'what works'. I think we should hold the line on pointing out the hypocrisy of wanting an elitest group trusted with defining and ruling in a democratic form of government. We should hold the line on the Consitution, and not give nto "evolving" ideas of law.
And finally, I think we should force the discussion of values beyond the propaganda stage. Take it to the level of what the 'secular' values really are and where they are taking us...because my own opinion is that secular has transmogrified into tis own religion. And countenancing no competition.
A) Call me whatever you want.

B) I don't think you can look at Islam as taught and conducted in totalitarian abusive societies and point a finger at it and say "that's Islam". We can let history work itself out without the need to judge that way. There have definitely been historical times in which Christianity was expressed in abusive and totalitarian ways.

I think personal freedom is beneficial to the development and expression of true and authentic religion. That may seem antithetical but when I look at history it seems to play out like that.

And I am not just saying this as theory but because I have known Muslims who I regarded as being definitely holy. They reacted to others with the type of charity, respect, kindness and wisdom that I don't see in many people who claim to be Christian.

On that basis, I will disagree absolutely and consistently with anyone who tells me that Muslims don't deserve to be citizens of the US or hold public office in it, or that the US should not defend the human rights and freedoms of Muslims beyond our borders. Only by doing so can we credibly stand up and defend human rights and freedoms in general; I know you agree with that from your caveats on SC&A.

That having been said, we all have the absolute right to stand up and disagree with any particular person who is promulgating lies, hate or criminal behavior.

As to some of the events in Europe, I think the problem there is that they don't want to accept people who want to be publicly Muslim. As Muslims who are identifiable as Muslims, the larger European culture seems to be rejecting and excluding them, just as they are rejecting and excluding Catholics who insist on being identifiably Catholic and Jews who insist on being identifiably Jewish. That is fueling anti-religious and ethnic bigotry in Europe on many fronts.

But in the US, where we have had a tradition of allowing people to be what they want to be, it turns out that Muslims who want to be identifiably Muslim seem to be like the rest of us. The exceptions are for those bruised victims of totalitarian regimes or the culture wars of Europe. That observation supports your conclusions.

C) Just because I have tested things enough to prove the whole thing out to myself doesn't mean that anybody else won't have to do the same thing for his or herself. The thing is that if one tries to follow the precepts-in-action of any religion one will be conducting that testing for oneself. It is inherent. If you don't actually try to follow the rules you are free to clutch your religion as a cloak for the failings of your own personality. This is why I wonder about people who want to derive the correct doctrine first before trying to act correctly. It seems like an excuse more than anything else, or something that can be used as an excuse.

D) I agree with your conclusions absolutely. As you do, I want a society in which everyone is free to follow their own best path, not the "best path" defined by someone else. Along with Martin Luther King, I think people should be accepted for the content of their character as demonstrated in their actions rather than rejected for their differences. It prevents a world of problems.
ilona - I think you have a dead-on analysis about the actual limit of religion.

Religion does well when it works on individuals or on small groups and not very well at all when it works on nations (unless, God himself does the running directly - a true Theocracy like the Old Testament early days of Israel).

The problem really comes in when one religion gets hold of the secular power of the state. That's when you get Crusades and Witchhunts and Jihad. That's what's gone wrong for so many decades in the Arab world. When one religion drives a government, things get very bad, very quickly and you'd be hard-pressed to find an example where that's not true.

Our Founders, though, found something interesting. If you could allow religion in general to inform public life, you'd get a pretty strong and virtuous nation. The trick was to make sure that no one religion could ever get the upper hand policitally, so that's why they wrote that into the First Amendment. So long as religions that compete in the spirutual world are also competing in the political world, you won't get a theocracy.

And you speak much wisdom when you said that "...my own opinion is that secular has transmogrified into tis own religion. And countenancing no competition."

We could see where secularism, taking the form of a religion, has been taking advantage of the fact that it's not officially a religion. It *can* take over the Ship of State with results every bit as disastrous as if a religion had done so.
Jimmie, yes. Because there do have to be rules of conduct of some sort. We decided to throw out the old ones and then tried to invent new ones AND prevent individuals from following the old ones. Can't do it that way.

There were funky communes and social experiments in the US way back, and people might not have liked it but they were tolerated. Oneida was one. In some ways we are a less tolerant society now.
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