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THE HUBRIS OF “GOD TOLD ME” OR “GOD WANTS ME”

If your religion fails to accomplish your goals, it is not that your religion has failed you. It is that you have failed your religion.

I happened to see something regarding the Florida Senate election of 2018. Governor Rick Scott is trying to unseat incumbent Senator Bill Nelson. He apparently said that “God wanted him to win.” I suppose the presumption is that because he is a traditional conservative who will ban abortion and same-sex marriage that he has a divine mandate to restore America as a righteous Christian nation with Bible readings in the public schools and the Ten Commandments. Never mind that the United States, nor any other nation in history, has been a “righteous Christian” nation given the fact that we’ve had slavery, compulsory segregation laws, child labor, and the like. In the view of Rick Scott, as well as Scott Walker, Mike Pence and other religious conservative political leaders, God favors them because of their stand on making illegal a handful of “hot button” issues that will never personally affect them or their base of believers.

In addition, there is also the “God wants me to have” this house, this job, this car, and so on. This is the prosperity Gospel that has been trotted out for centuries. It is based on the belief that the righteous will be materially prosperous and poverty is a sign of moral degradation. There seems to be Biblical qualifications for this with God’s chosen patriarchs possessing large stocks of cattle, sheep, goats and the like. Catherine Ponder, a proponent of the Prosperity Gospel back in the 1960s wrote numerous books where major Biblical characters: Abraham, Moses, David, and, surprisingly, Jesus. In her flagship book The Dynamic Law of Prosperity she cited John D Rockefeller, a tithing Baptist, who apparently said “God made me rich.” This would have been news to Ida Tarbell whose family, along with many others, was ruined by Rockefeller’s ruthless tactics meant to drive out competitors and monopolize the oil company. Apparently, both Rockefeller and Johann Tetzel (the monk who sold indulgences and prompted Luther’s rebellion against the Catholic Church) believed that God could be bribed. Megachurch pastors are the most notorious in today’s cultural climate of bribing God and enticing other to use religious beliefs to fill their pocketbooks. Of course, like any get rich schemer, the only pocketbook that gets filled is the one selling the scheme.

For the record, if there needs to be one, I’m not an atheist. I’m a Roman Catholic, and I do belief in God. It may be surprising to many, but the Catholic Church has produced a good many scientists and philosophers, and what many seem to have in common is that they didn’t limit their minds. To them, God was beyond human reason and understanding. Indeed, if the human mind cannot understand the Trinity, why should the human mind be able to comprehend a God who was outside of time and all dimensional constraints. For a human being to say that he or she understands God is, quite frankly, arrogant.

There are universal truths that the Divine has infused mortal men and women with through the gift of discernment which, it seems, is uniquely human. Whether this is via the Mosaic Law, the Christian Gospels, the Four Noble Truths or what have you, we can move beyond the visible material world to the transcendental. When people, therefore, reduce God to a Divine Santa Claus who wants them to have this house, have this job, have this elected office or other material and transient possessions, they are essentially reverted to the crude paganism of the Greek and Roman civilizations where deities were no more than capricious human beings with more abilities to get what they want by turning people to stone or something of the kind.

Universal laws attributed to Divinity, even if, as in the case of Buddhism, there is no actual Divine author, have little, if anything, to do with such childish desires. Instead, these truths consistently look outward to a common good and to truths than cannot be seen or felt. Those who have earnestly sought this truth did not ask God for this house, this job or to be rich as a sign of fidelity. Instead, they disengaged and detached themselves from such temporal concerns and lived lives devoid of earthly security. Two people in the 20th Century who embodied this well both lived in India and both given official state funerals because they were such heroes to the people. One was Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, and the other was Agnes Bojaxhiu or Mother Teresa as she was better known. Gandhi sought to free India from British rule, but he also sought to free a wider humanity from the bounds of desire for control, wealth and other things that constrained the soul from reaching its greatest potential. Mother Teresa’s goal was to serve the “poorest of the poor”, not with material benefits except for the basics of food, clothing and shelter but also with love. Giving a poor man food is one thing but giving him a warm hug and a sense of value is something far greater.

This desire to be loved and valued for one’s own sake is a need everyone has no matter the physical or mental condition of the person. Failing to do that to anyone is, in truth, a form of theft. To confine God to personal desires is childish, but to hold to a Gospel of Prosperity in which your personal righteousness of industry and thrift while viewing the poor as morally degenerate and, therefore, guilty of sin is a heresy. Not only a heresy, but the worst of heresies. It is far better to be an Arian believing that Jesus was a creation of God rather than the second person of the Trinity or a Nestorian believing that Jesus was some sort of spiritual ghost in human body. These are minor matters compared to defilement of a Divine Being into someone who blesses, and curses based solely on accumulation of material possessions and some sort of measurable barometer. Such a deity could never be Divine since divinity must, by definition, be beyond such limitation, and such a deity would clearly not be fit to worship.

Tragically, American Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, has been defiled by such petty nonsense, and it is no trivial matter. The greatest injustice of the modern age has been Social Darwinism, the deification of the scientific fact of natural selection. Natural selection determines who is fit and who is not, and if they are not fit that person must be cursed by God. Charity is given to those who are “deserving,” but poverty was not due to circumstances but lack of moral character. If you are poor or disabled, then it was your own fault and any assistance was enabling moral decadence.

By enabling, I don’t mean giving someone money, I mean legal protections for the poor in terms of working conditions, consumer protections and minimum wages. During the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, the Supreme Court consistently struck down laws designed to protect workers and consumers. The Court struck down laws regulating interstate commerce of protects made from child labor but upheld regulation of lottery tickets. The only working conditions regulation that was upheld was Muller v Oregon (1908) which regulated working hours for women. The reasons were riddled with sexist beliefs about the fragile female body and mind and the need to protect public morals. Perhaps, they thought if women worked too long, they would become promiscuous or family life would fall apart.

The classic case of how relative the value of human life was in the eyes of the Supreme Court was Buck v Bell (1927) which upheld Virginia’s compulsory sterilization law for the “feeble-minded.” Carrie Buck was born to a family in poverty whose father either died or left the family. Her mother Emma did what she could to survive, including prostitution, and was incarcerated in the Virginia Colony for the Epileptic and Feeble Minded. Carrie Buck was placed in foster care by a family that treated her like an outcast. She was pulled out of school in the 6th grade to become unpaid domestic labor. The foster mother’s nephew, picking up on the implied notion that Carrie Buck was a thing and not a person, raped Carrie and impregnated her. Her foster mother had her committed to the same institution as her mother claiming that Carrie was promiscuous and lacked moral character.

The physician in charge, Dr. Albert Priddy, concluded that Carrie Buck was a “genetic threat to society” and that she belonged a “shiftless” and “worthless” class of people. In his opinion, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that if we didn’t take care of this we would be “swamped with incompetence” and that it was far better to prevent having to “execute degenerates” or see them “starve due to their imbecility”. The only dissenting vote came from the reliably conservative Pierce Butler, but Justice Butler wrote no opinion.

To his credit, Justice Butler’s Catholic faith was likely a factor in dissenting in Buck v Bell, but as a conservative, he continually struck down laws designed to help people like Carrie Buck achieve social justice with laws designed to help those were “incompetent.” This explains today’s Supreme Court. In his book, The Case Against the Supreme Court, Erwin Chemerinsky sites how the Roberts Court has consistently struck down consumer protection class action suits, employment discrimination suits, voting rights laws and the like. The most solid conservatives were the late Antonin Scalia along with Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and, now retired, Justice Anthony Kennedy. Like the Justices of the past, they are quick to show their “angelic” nature in using the law to try to forbid abortion and same-sex marriage while upholding sovereign immunity to torture illegal combatants, previous abusive police officers from punishment for actions resulting in wrongful imprisonment and otherwise. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh are likely to vote the same way as Scalia, and should Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg die, President Trump will likely choose another Catholic who equates “social justice” with Marxism.

In short, to view God as a source for personal prosperity and material blessings is a perversion. Whatever talents and gifts have been bestowed on us due to the synaptic connections in our brains and genetic makeups are meant to go beyond just mere individual survival. Given the gift of reasoning and the ability to understand the dimensions of time and space with which to measure our actions, our natural endowments must go beyond personal priorities toward a collective common good. If your religion fails to accomplish this duty in you, it is not that your religion has failed you. It is that you have failed your religion.


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  1. Mark Adams #
    1

    On this side of the great awakening all you are saying is part and parcel of the American political landscape. It has been impossible for an publicly open atheist to win public office in any state house or on the federal level. It may just be possible now for an openly atheist individual to win public office. Yet the whole God meant for such and such a candidate to win as if God can vote will be part and parcel part of the political landscape of symbolism and jingoism. At this moment it also looks like God is a Rams fan….yes God determines the outcomes of sporting events and plays sports, though the sports bookies usually make book and certainly encourage those betting with god to lay down a bet.



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