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Thursday, November 7, 2019

By L. Ron Brooks

 

It should be tough being a Christian in America these days, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Unless you work for Big Religion.

Weekly church attendance is dropping off drastically. The next generation of self-identifying ‘Christians’ don’t go to services anywhere near as regularly as their parents’ did, so denominations across the board are taking big hits to the operating capital. Neighborhood churches are closing. Scandals threaten to bankrupt the 2,000-year-old Catholic Church and Unitarian Universalism is still taken seriously.

These are just a few of the existential threats looming over the venerable sect. It doesn’t even begin to address whether or not organized religion—and in the U.S., that means we are talking overwhelmingly about Christian sects—as it has existed for the last bunch of thousands of years still has any relevance on day-to-day life in the 21st century. “God” or “gods” used to be the answer to all the questions primitive man couldn’t answer, now Labcoats have venn diagram charts that explain everything.

It’s tough to fault the congregants who are drifting and I don’t. My issue is with the ‘Christians’ who publicly advocate for the brand and its associated doctrines, while living daily lives in direct contradiction to their public faith’s foundational values. Hypocrisy is the real common article of faith across denominations.

And it’s all rubber-stamped by the People at the Top. Churches, like every other big business and government, end up corrupt at the head by the simple necessity of requiring human beings to serve in leadership positions. People who end up in leadership roles usually get there because they started out with a big enough ego to aspire to take a run at a leadership role to start with; most of us are happy to be among the flock. Likewise, people with big egos tend to be uniquely corruptible. If you think the world owes you a favor, and then you’re placed in a position to demand that favor, most people will, and do.

So the elders of the sects give their congregants an increasingly broad wink o’ the eye where it comes to adhering to doctrinal disciple in their workaday lives. What are the faith leaders going to do, suspend them from church services? They’re already self-suspending. Science continues to render God unnecessary for practical purposes and His story disinteresting as lore. The whole industry is looking to go the way of hoop skirt-repair and print journalism. What’s a deity gotta do to get some respect around here?

Here’s the Gospel according to me: Wherever two or more are gathered in any god’s name, at least one of them will be working an angle. And that angle will have as its cornerstone the promulgation of the angle. The business model for Big Religion—which otherwise isn’t selling anything tangible or measurable at all—is perpetuation of the business model. It’s the Johnny Appleseed school of business. “Hey Johnny, why ya planting all them apple seeds?”

“Why, to grow apple trees, dummy! To make more seeds ta plant!” Keep those paychecks rolling.

It would be easy to be cynical and unplug from the whole concept… but I wasn’t built for “Easy.” My entire control panel is a single red knob under glass, labeled “ON/OFF”. There are no volume increments, killswitches or surge protections. Once the button is pushed, this train is either bound for glory or desolation row; but there are no stops along the way.

Groucho Marx said it best, if not first; “I wouldn’t join any club that would have me for a member.” [bada domp!] Still, there’s no question that having a moral compass outside of one’s own self-interest can be a good thing, for ourselves and society in general. So I decided to start a religion of my own but—remembering my own ‘wherever two or more are gathered...’ rule—cut the membership drive off at one.

Since both Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen are much too recently expired and Sidharta already taken, whose philosophy and values were time-tested enough to undergird my new religion? Then I remembered—the red text in the back of most bibles. There was this guy; a day-laborer, good at making stuff with his hands. The red text is his words, and everything he said is already in synch with my orthodoxy and belief system. I don’t have to bend, twist or contort my take on morality for it to match up with his. So I took him as my church’s Templar and figurehead. His name was Jesus (pronounced “Hey, Zeus!” so I assume he’s either Greek or Latino) and as I read it, he was history’s first hippie of record.

Think about it. He hung around with a dozen unemployed guys and women of easy virtue, was always on the edge of being in trouble with the law, could turn water into wine so he was at the top of every party’s guest list, and spent his days as a street corner poet after having turned his back on his father’s values and profession. He eschewed physical possessions and encouraged his homies to share their belongings rather than sell them—textbook Commie Pinko dogma. Dirty hair, sandals on a good day, long unexplained absences in the desert… Carlos Casteñeda, please pick up the white courtesy phone.

Sidebar: My religion isn’t claiming tax-exempt status because, really, what’s up with that? Sounds like a racket to me. Especially considering my guy, when asked specifically about paying taxes, said to pay them! What happened to ‘render under Caesar’? Big money happened. Mutually-agreed-upon back-scratching happened. People-at-the-top happened…

So, yeah, I’m gonna keep my organization as clean at the top as I can by limiting membership to myself. Other people are welcome to study up on the same guy—remember that name, Jesus; speaks only in full color—and try to follow his example. Heck, I encourage folks to. But read the words; make sure it’s his example you’re following and not Big Religion’s loopholes that you’re exploiting.

Betcha we find we can walk side by side without being arm in arm, and each be steadier for it.