(This was written specifically about the Christian Church, but is no doubt applicable to other religious institutions.)
Does the church lie? Of course it does.
Is the church a liar (insofar as we can consider any organization or movement to be “a liar”)? Indubitably.
No, I’m not just being pugnacious or cheeky.
The church claims to be the bastion of right, goodness, and truth. Any authority with such claims assumes two key responsibilities, simply by taking its stand:
- Merit the authority it claims or wields
- Be honest about its shortcomings
The church does neither and yet claims authority by virtue of righteousness and defense of truth, the two very things that should ensure its wild success–not dismal failure–in both key responsibilities. Let’s look at the easier, second key responsibility first. How hard can it be to honestly admit one’s shortcomings?
Shortcomings indicate failure to meet expectations. Being honest about our shortcomings implies three things:
- Agreed expectations, so that we can tell whether or not they get met
- Recognition that two things govern shortcomings: competence to meet expectations as well as expectations that can realistically be met
- Good faith–that is, genuine intent to meet realistic expectations and revise unrealistic ones
The church violates all three of those implications.
First, the church does not agree with anyone about expectations of itself, its leaders, or its followers. Instead, it dictates expectations under the guise of God’s will.
Second, the church not only won’t recognize that its expectations are in fact unrealistic, even unfair; it tacitly refuses to entertain the question. “Tacit refusal” means arranging things so that the question can’t be raised without retribution, which is a practical and underhanded way of imposing its unstated but implicitly clear message: not only are its expectations realistic and fair, they are so obviously realistic and fair as to be beyond question. The church rules the question out by claiming that these are not its expectations, but God’s. How then could they be anything but realistic and fair, and who would dare question them, let alone judge them? Having inscribed its expectations in eternal stone, only one option remains: the shortcomings of leaders and followers must originate from their individual or collective failures to meet undeniably realistic, fair expectations. This leaves the church blameless and authoritative, the representative of an ultimate, infallible authority that sets appropriate, achievable expectations for the rest of us.
Third, the church has no intention of meeting the expectations that it levies on the faithful. How could it? Those expectations are not for the church, but for its members. Leaders don’t meet the expectations that they lay on their subordinates, because those expectations are for subordinates, not leaders. Clergy don’t meet the expectations laid on the “laity.” Authority rains over all, drawn down by the gravity of “inferiority” and need below, then returns as responsibility and deference by the upwards suck of obligation and accountability to “superiors” who enforce it with threats and punishment meted out from on high. If those “underneath” find ways to impose expectations upwards on those “above” and hold them accountable, they either do it without the sanction of the church or only as long as those “above” are willing to accept it. No one involved in setting the church’s expectations has a personal, vested interest in meeting them, nor do they suffer personal loss from failing to meet them. No surprise that they have little intention of revising those expectations, even when they are transparently unrealistic and unfair, and not even when they are fantastically irrational; not, at any rate, for the benefit of “inferiors,” although expectations get revised if it serves the agendas–and benefit–of “superiors.”
Somewhere up the cumulative chains of decision-making that we’re to believe ascend into heaven itself, every expectation of the church was set by specific people at specific places at specific times, but the human voices involved were later erased, usually by immense passage of time, but also by deliberately dehumanizing them and by the blatantly deceptive twins of secrecy and “mystery.” In other words, human voices were transformed into “divine will” by means of the occult–that is, by hiding and obscuring their human origins, leaving the alternative that their origins must be divine.
The net result? The church is never honest about its shortcomings, because by various deceitful methods, it continues operating as if it had none. Even if it admits that it had shortcomings in times past due to the fault of others, the church cannot admit its shortcomings now; because that kind of honesty would undermine its authority.
That leaves the question, which now looks pretty rhetorical, whether the church merits the authority it claims. And, of course, the answer is that it clearly does not.
The church has had two thousand years to show us that it’s entitled to the authority it claims. To date it has failed every test I can think of. Its authority is unreasonable, not just in terms of merit and outcome, but by definition. The church likes its authority unreasonable. “Transcending reason” keeps its authority squarely in the mysterious, divine, untouchably sacrosanct realm of the One Whose ways are not our ways but “past finding out.” This affords the church an amazing degree of flexibility. Nothing like a little sanctioned irrationality to deal with pesky requirements like logic, accountability, and consistency. Plausible deniability is for pussies. The church actually prides itself on the unreasonableness of its authority, calling submission to its ludicrous and denigrating demands “faith.” Its authority has historically been brutal, not beneficial. And the proof of its pudding is totally lacking. Although the church sings its own praises and its adherents swear by the benefits reaped from submitting to its authority, no one has ever demonstrated said benefits.
Many benefits can result from church involvement, but no one has shown that the church and its authority are responsible for them. Usually, what benefits exist in a church setting are clearly the work of individuals within it, without regard to, often in spite of, and even in open defiance of church authority. Two thousand years is more than enough opportunity for the church to decisively demonstrate that its authority is warranted, competently executed, and beneficial. I predict that no one will ever demonstrate this–a safe bet after such a long stretch of failure–because in fact there is nothing to demonstrate. On the contrary, I intend to eventually show that the authority of the church is the very source of the hideous faults that in every age it’s been all too eager to blame on individual leaders, followers, and sins of the past. The church’s faults are not exceptional. They are the logical and necessary outcomes of its design, intent, and structure.
So, in both key responsibilities of those vested with authority, the church fails, and in failing, lies.
- It does not merit the authority that it claims, not by any measure other than baseless assertion–which is to say by sheer, unwarranted will and, ultimately, by force. But let’s take a moment to reflect and check… Hmm… Yes… That jives with the historical record.
- Instead of admitting its many faults, the church claims that followers and leaders are to blame. Of course, leaders rarely admit their own shortcomings, blaming them on others. In certain entertaining cases of creative double-think, leaders accept blame in the same breath that they extol the blameless leaders who, as it just so happens, have their backs and let them off with hand slaps.
That’s not to say that “it’s all bad in the church.” Of course not. It’s never “all bad” anywhere. We learned to close our eyes to the realities of bad situations and pretend that everything and everyone involved are “all bad” from the church–a tactic that it adopted, perfected, and corrupted us with through millennia of teaching and modeling how to deal with “evil” and “evil people.” Gotta admire its constancy.
However, in direct contradiction of the church’s core beliefs and the behaviors they generate, simple observation shows that wherever there is humanity, there is love; because wherever there is humanity, there is God. Claims to the contrary are invariably made by people who have little clue, aren’t looking, or insist on wearing blinders as they myopically focus on whatever “evil” they can find to justify their cynicism. Anyone can see the divine in nature’s wonders; but if we can’t see it in evil situations and evil people, by what Presence or Power do we hope to overcome them? Do we even have hope, let alone faith? What can be redeemed when we see nothing worthy of redemption?
Of course, the church doesn’t intend to redeem evil or evil people. First, they must change, repent, and submit. Funny, because after all that they’re not evil anymore. So the church limits its authority to those willing to accept it. How daring. Everyone else it judges, condemns, and consigns to damnation. How brave.
If God is everywhere, God is there, right where the church disdains to go, within the very people it despises. If we can’t see this, it is not because we’re blind, because release of captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed has already been accomplished. We’re not blind–but we’re afraid to look. And if we’re afraid to look, it’s because we’re afraid to face the fact that God and love are really there, right in the midst of “evil” and within “evil” people.
What are God and love doing there in the midst of evil? Our answer to that question reveals our understanding of the divine. Given all that the church taught us, do we think that God is weak, unable to stand in the presence of evil, or do we secretly fear that standing there would make God complicit in the “evil” of “evil people” which the church taught us to fear, shun, and demonize? Why fear evil at all? I think it’s because we’d otherwise have to get real.
Admitting that love and God are everywhere and in everyone would make us responsible to discern and differentiate real love and the real God from real evil in real situations with real people, calling us to redeem them, shattering our myths about the nature of evil and evil people, making us get involved authentically and responsibly. We’re afraid to come face to face with overcoming evil instead of just banishing and hiding from it. We’re afraid because we suspect that real love, real power, and any God who is really there might vanish in the presence of real evil, abandoning us, defenseless–our suspicion betraying where we think the real power lies–so we avoid the situation and take pains to preclude it, cutting “evil” and “evil people” off in the name of “holiness” and “purity.” But alienation is a cold-hearted holiness; and self-righteousness is a dubious purity.
If God deserts abhorrent circumstances and brutal events, how have people always found ways to cling to love and God, express them, and overcome all kinds of evil by them, even in the direst times? No, love and God were there. In contrast, Christians struggle in the midst of abundance, requiring–at a minimum–weekly cheerleading and entertainment, hoping for the inspiration and strength to maintain faith and avoid being evil in good circumstances, if they even believe that much is possible. Much bleating doesn’t mean that there will be wool. When love and God find room in the church, it’s rarely by the design or intention of those in authority. Maintaining order, decorum, and their posts rank higher as priorities. More often, love operates in opposition to the designs and intentions of authorities of all kinds, whether inside or outside the church. Just read a Bible story or three, and you’ll see it over and over again. Read real stories about real, loving people, and you’ll see it again and again. Talk to loving people about their experiences, and you’ll hear it again and again. Then ask yourself if any difference between those sources is worth mentioning.
Given what authorities have historically and unequivocally demonstrated authority to be in spite of their myths to the contrary, authority is as alien and debilitating to love as death is to life. Where love rules, safety and cooperation flourish, making authority superfluous. Not everyone can decide, but everyone can agree who should decide; and deciding does not imply ruling. There is no love in the kind of authority that dominates our history and our expectations, just self-preserving lust which can only limit, repress, force, confiscate, destroy, and kill. Authority cannot give birth to love, inspire creativity, or nurture life. And yet, it is the foundation of the church’s claim to truth.
By embracing authority as the basis for its claim to truth, the church denies love and life, and by denying the very things it claims to champion and safeguard, it lies.
You would think that people who aspire to the some of the highest ideals ever conceived by the species would at least notice and wonder when so much lying has gone on for so long. It just shows how effective the church’s lies have been, because most Christians not only don’t notice or wonder, they don’t have the slightest clue how things could be otherwise.
The church’s only hope of exoneration lies in a pitiable ignorance defense, which goes like this: the church isn’t lying because it isn’t intentionally misleading anyone. It actually believes that it merits the authority it claims. It actually believes that it admits its shortcomings. It might be full of shit, but it’s “innocent.”
Ignorance of its own faults might technically acquit the church from the charge of lying, freeing it from culpability that would undermine its “right” to authority. However, resorting to ignorance poses a big problem for an institution that claims authority on the basis of knowledge and expertise. But wait, it gets worse! The church’s authority derives from and controls not just matters of fact, but matters that form the very foundations of truth itself. How can the arbiter of knowledge and truth maintain ignorance as justification for its right to arbitrate?
Can anyone say, “Catch-22,” and, “Game over, man!” hmm?
Well, if it isn’t Bugs Bunny! What do you think, Bugs?
“Nyeh… (munch, munch…) Could be…”
If there was ever an institution that should be not just self-aware, but accurately self-aware, you’d think that it would be one which claims to represent and speak for the Almightily Omniscient. What, did God fall asleep or forget to sufficiently enlighten church authorities, leaving their clueless asses in the wind with their shorts around their ankles, or is it all just a big joke? If the church is ignorant of the fact that it doesn’t merit the authority it claims, how can it be aware enough to exercise it? If blind to its own shortcomings, how can it discern the faults of the leaders and members it blames for its failures? In denial of its ignorance and blindness, how will it ever let itself be schooled and healed? And why has it remained incorrigibly ignorant for two millennia? At what point does chronic ignorance constitute incompetence? At what point do claims of authority and infallibility in spite of gross incompetence constitute delusion? Or am I criticizing the sheep’s clothing, the ruse, not the real problem?
What does history tell us? What happens to dissenters in the church, not an exceptional once or twice, but as a quite unexceptionally consistent rule? Are they welcomed like prophets and wise men or hung and burned as heretics? Does the church “leave them to God” to be dealt with for their “heretical” ideas and insubordination, or does it pursue, hunt down, and corner them in every would-be refuge, then slaughter them by the bloody hands of hateful men, death angels flying the banner of a God of Righteousness whose name they take in vain? Are they showered with love or hell? When, if ever, are critics of church authority not vilified, ostracized, banished, persecuted, tormented, and executed? These aren’t mistakes, exceptions, accidents, or even collateral damage. The church’s most consistent behaviors, designed to oppress, denigrate, abuse, and exploit–namely, lying and brutality–easily negate all its so-called benefits and virtues.
Why is the nature of the church not obvious? Why has it continued after thousands of years of violence to the spirits, souls, and bodies of men, women, and children, virtually without opposition? In a word: cowardice. Which is to say, failure to love.
Wolves don’t bear tooth and claw, then bite and maul us for admiring and petting their glossy, fake fleeces. They don’t pounce and rip us to pieces for protecting and containing their flocks. They don’t howl because we keep their fences and gates in good repair. They don’t look at us through crazed, bloodshot eyes–like we’ll be next if we don’t watch out–when we avert our gazes from their carnage as long as we can bear it, until it finally becomes too gross to hide or deny, so we “volunteer” to clean up their killing fields and “heal” those that we should have rescued. Wolves behave in public (or try to) as long as we leave them to prey and devour at will out of view, in private darkness, and then return to prance and prowl among the flock with their sheep’s clothing intact.
We know that they are wolves. We smell their bloodlust and stop short at the threat of their soulless stares. Our fear to honestly confront them betrays us, as does the nightmarish din of frantic bleating from their “flocks”–muffled, mortal screams and moans of children and women, the poor and weak, slaves, and those too trusting and downtrodden to defend themselves because the church taught and trained no one to conquer, let alone overwhelmingly.
Why hasn’t the church created pews and pews of overwhelming conquerors, instead of meek sheep that willingly submit to spiritual, psychic, and even literal abuse and slaughter? The answer is quite simple: because it wants sheep for slaughter.
Why haven’t the church’s flocks “grown up in all aspects,” becoming “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession,” boldly, confidently loving, facing and overcoming all the evil in the world, snatching those lost to evil out of its fire? The answer is quite simple: because we don’t know how. Otherwise, knowing how but letting them burn, we would be the monsters.
And why don’t we know how, after two thousand years of the church’s expert, authoritative teaching about life, love, and truth?
Simple. Because the church lies.