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Randy Alcorn: Beware Those Men of Gawd

People who claim that an unseen supernatural being talks to them should be candidates for psychological evaluation

The Constitution clearly guarantees freedom of religion, not so clear is freedom from religion. Religion, particularly Judeo-Christian, is nearly a prerequisite for full membership in American society.

Randy Alcorn
Randy Alcorn

How can a heretofore unknown pastor of a tiny Christian evangelical church in Gainesville, Fla., who threatens to burn some Islamic holy books dominate national news for more than a week? How can a bloviating TV talk show host who pledges to return the nation to God and accuses the president of the United States of being the wrong kind of Christian draw more than 300,000 enthusiastic supporters to a rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.?

Throughout human history, politics and religion have conjoined to forge the nose-ring by which the wad of society has been led. The structure of social order has most often been built on government and religion — the ruling nobility partnering with the priesthood to rule over the masses. Whether shaman or pope, those who established themselves as the voice of God, or the gods, were integral partners in maintaining power over the people. To effectively govern, and to maintain their legitimacy with the people, even the greatest political and military leaders would by necessity have to consult with, and win the blessings of religious leaders. American presidents continue to seek the blessing of the Rev. Billy Graham, the nation’s de facto high priest.

The power of religion is indisputable and is based on two simple human emotions: fear and hope. The unknown and the prospect of damnation evoke fear. Overcoming the finality of physical death is the greatest hope. Whenever the limits of their own power become evident, people will instinctively reach out to a greater power for help and comfort. Even avowed atheists have admitted to praying for divine intervention when faced with overwhelming adversity.

Religion can work to maintain ideas of morality among society. Many people will behave within prescribed moral standards when they believe that some spiritual scorekeeper is monitoring them to determine whether they are deserving of celestial reward or punishment. This belief leads to displays of piety, righteousness and utter submission to a divine will wherein believers accept that they are being moved around a cosmic chess board by some deity who has a teleological purpose for them. For believers, everything happens for a reason, as opposed to stuff just happens.

The power of religion to compel masses of people to behave like pawns is no less today than centuries ago when Peter the Hermit persuaded thousands of peasants to march to the Holy Land to “rescue” it from the Muslims. Untold tens of thousands of people died in the many Crusades that followed — all instigated by an insignificant French monk who had the ability to preach up the credulously religious masses.

Understanding the nature of religion and how it can be used to manipulate the multitudes explains how misguided Muslims will commit mass murder to avenge the slightest insult to their faith. It explains how Osama bin Laden can convince so many people that such suicide and mass murder is the will of God. It explains how both Muslims and Christians continue to butcher their own fellow believers over differing interpretations of their respective religions. It explains how the Rev. Jim Jones, with the promise of eternal life in heaven, could convince hundreds of his followers to murder their own children and then commit suicide.

It helps us to understand how millions of Americans can be mislead into believing that Barack Obamais a Muslim, and condemn him for it. And, why Obama, hoping that he will be accepted as sufficiently and correctly religious, publically reiterates that he is a practicing Christian.

Since no deity of any religion has been seen or heard from except in holy books, there are always those who claim they speak for God, or who know what God commands, or who have the “true” interpretation of scripture. Because religion is an effective device for power over people, there are always ego-maniacal shepherds looking for a flock, and usually finding one among a large population of willing sheep.

Only within the confines of religion can people who claim that an unseen supernatural being talks to them not be candidates for psychological evaluation. Why are these divine conversations limited to so few, does God suffer from fear of public speaking?

Ultimately, each of us has a relationship with the universe that is our own. It might be a safer, saner world if religious beliefs remained personal, quietly observed, rather than being proselytizing, ideological movements that marginalize or condemn non believers, and provide the device by which opportunistic, self-anointed “men of God” can mislead so many into irrational, intolerant and reprehensible behavior.

— Santa Barbara political observer Randy Alcorn can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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