The Universal Notebook: Religious hypocrites

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The suggestion by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine that President Joe Biden should not be served communion because he is pro-choice is maddeningly hypocritical coming from a religious institution with a long history of predator priests molesting children.

But then all religious people are hypocrites, including me.

Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church are hypocrites not just because they have protected pederasts for centuries. The teachings and the traditions of the Catholic Church may be beautiful, but they are not followed religiously by anyone in the church hierarchy from the Pope on down.

But then no one really practices what they preach in any religion.

Most of the Catholics I know are pro-choice like Biden, but I understand why people brought up in a tradition find it hard to renounce. I have the same problem. Catholics make a distinction between the Church and their beliefs. Most religious people do. We rationalize away the powerful inconsistencies between what we say we believe and what we actually believe.

I am a Congregationalist. I was born and raised in the Protestant tradition of the United Church of Christ, a progressive Christian denomination. If I were true to what I actually believe, I would probably be a Buddhist.

What I like about the UCC tradition is that it is non-hierarchical, ecumenical, devoted to a loving and forgiving God, open and affirming in its embrace of all races and gender identities, and committed to social justice and to do God’s work here on Earth in hopes of transforming this world into the kingdom of God.

But I probably don’t believe half of the biblical teachings.

Virgin birth? Historical Jesus? Personal savior? Holy Trinity? Heaven and hell? Answered prayers? Not sure. The only way Christianity makes sense to me is as an ethical system grounded in the Christ story. 

Fundamental to Christ’s teachings is the forgiveness of sins. We are taught to love our neighbor and to turn the other cheek, yet, hypocrite that I am, I am more apt to judge and condemn.

I guess I subscribe to the Blanche DuBois School of Forgiveness. “Some things are not forgivable. Deliberate cruelty is not forgivable,” DuBois says, speaking words Tennessee Williams put in her mouth in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” 

I see deliberate cruelty at the rotten heart of Trump Republicanism. I cannot forgive it. But I also understand that just because I say someone else is full of crap does not mean I’m not.

The hypocrisy of conservative Christians is everywhere apparent. Evangelicals and fundamentalists who support a whore-mongering anti-Christ are not Christians in any meaningful sense of the word. 

Still, people who claim to believe everything in the Bible scare me. The Bible is full of contradictions. Love thy neighbor? An eye for an eye? You can justify just about anything by quoting the Bible.

“God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” This fundamentalist mantra is a recipe for extremism, ignorance, and superstition. 

Religions are the stories we tell ourselves in hopes of explaining the mystery of human existence. All religions are born of the divine urge, but none are in sole possession of the truth. There is no one true religion.

We are all imperfect beings riddled with doubts and tied up in contradictions. And that’s why it is so maddening for Catholic bishops to get all holier-than-thou about Biden. 

Matthew 7:3. “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?”

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.