Religion 21st Century

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Moral Authority

The moral authority of Christian churches has a peculiar twist. Not only has the moral authority of churches failed to achieve benevolent objectives, but it often serves the cause of evil. Despite the benevolent teachings of Jesus, Christians have a history of horrific abuse of each other and of members of other religions. Christians, for all their good intentions over the past two thousand years, have managed to discriminate against, capture, enslave, torture and kill millions of innocent people who happened to believe in some other God or no God at all.

Christians colonized much of the planet in the past 1000 years, capturing, converting or killing aboriginal people. If you were a European Jew, your right to life was suspended between 1935 and 1945, but if you were a Christian of any denomination, you were not persecuted on religious grounds and indeed, you may have assisted in producing the great evil of the Holocaust. Among the most puzzling of Christian crimes, in my opinion, were the killings of innocent Christian women by pious Christian gentlemen with the excuse of witchcraft, harlotry and general insubordination.

The demonic aspect of Christianity (and Islam) is still worrisome to rational humanists and liberal intellectuals. The founding fathers of the USA had the wisdom and foresight to separate the church and the state. Wilson stated: “In 1787 the Founding Fathers saw the deadly consequences in European history of established religions and of political loyalty tests based on theological belief, so that they separated them. To be an American was, of its essence, to be able to pray how you liked, when you liked and not if you didn’t like… In America, the attitude usually came down to this: In God we trust, but don’t vote for him.”

If you focus on European History, you will know that the Roman Church claimed for centuries to be the one and only moral authority. Their claims were based on exclusive rights to God’s authority. The Church ordained priests who became God’s local agents. Only priests could administer the rites required to gain God’s approval. Only priests could absolve you of sins committed that would otherwise assure eternal damnation. The Roman Church dabbled in every kind of political and military means to control populations and gain wealth in many parts of the world. For centuries the authority of the church managed to suppress challenges and prevailed. If you opposed the church, you could be imprisoned, tortured and burned at the stake as a heretic.

In the 16th century in Europe, challenges to the church’s authority became better focused and more successful. The history of the protestant reformation is long and complex. The key understanding is that a number of protestant groups emerged all over Europe with different versions of Christianity. Martin Luther’s church began in Germany and spread through Scandinavia. In England, King Henry VIII wanted a divorce from his wife, Catherine, which the Roman Pope would not grant, so Henry divorced the Pope and the Roman Church. England was destined to endure conflicts among Roman Church devotees, the Anglican Church, and increasing numbers of protestant churches who generated different inflections of Christianity.

The state Church of England, the Anglican Church, is being sued by Aboriginal people across Canada for abuses they suffered in residential schools during the past 100 years. The schools were mandated by the Canadian Government and operated by Anglican and Roman churches. In 2008, the Prime Minister of Canada apologized to the native peoples for the abuses they suffered in church schools.

While each new religious group claims moral authority, the proliferation of claims is sufficient to convince any reasonable observer that no organization could or should prevail. No group claiming special moral authority can substantiate its claims. All groups claiming to be superior to other groups sooner or later start fighting among themselves.


  • Religion for the 21st Century is available as an eBook download. The book is intended for a well-educated smart reader who is interested in a world view of religious expressions past, present and future. The main theme is that each religious group has its own claims and stories and will tend to reject others. A reader committed to one point of view may not accept the egalitarian review presented here. Innate tendencies are expressed as religions and in the past have created conflicts that hinder progress towards the real and true. The book examines paths for religious renewal in the 21st century.

    The author is Stephen Gislason

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    Sound of Music
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