"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction." — Blaise Pascal
My great-grandfather was a Methodist minister with a sense of humor in the South. His rural congregants loved him. When a parishioner suggested that he ask God for rain to relieve a drought, great-grandad told him he would, but that he was in sales, not operations.
Today it seems that the era of the humble minister is long gone, replaced by televangelists and mega-church "charismatics" who are all about business. They seem to be losing touch with those of their followers who are not zealots. Religion has been Swaggart-ed, Haggard-ed, Bakker-ed and Bishop Eddie Long-ed and, as a result, demeaned. Sex scandals among the clergy seem all too common. This also explains where all those Bibles left in hotel rooms come from.
The new comedy "The Righteous Gemstones" reminds us of the family business that televangelist religion has become. It is a pretty funny look at a family of televangelists headed by John Goodman. In the first episode, the father and his two sons fly in from preaching in China, each in his own private jet. The scene shows their three jets landing, one after the other. On the tail of the first is painted "Father," the next one says "Son," and then the last jet taxis up with "Holy Ghost" written on its tail. Remember that Rev. Creflo Dollar got his congregation to upgrade his jet to a $67 million G650. Creflo's mantra: "What Would Jesus Fly?"
The troubles of Rev. Ted Haggard, the disgraced former head of the National Association of Evangelicals and founding pastor of a 14,000-member Colorado Springs mega-church, are emblematic of the problems facing contemporary evangelical churches. These huge churches choose their pastors based on charisma, marketing sense and their ability to be trusted with sensitive personal information. It's much the same way Tom Cruise picks a wife.
After denying that he ever met the gay escort who says he had a three-year relationship with the reverend, Haggard finally confessed. The congregation should have known something was up when he stopped saying "Amen" and asked them to start responding "Fabulous."
Predictably, Rev. Ted played the fake addiction card, went to drunk camp for 30 days, then came out all cured of his gayness and ready to preach again. There are some who pray on their knees on Sunday and then prey on others the rest of the week. In my view, there is a special place in hell for clergy who abuse someone's trust and then use the fear of God to take advantage of them.
Churches have done so much good for so many over the years. The church is there to relieve anxiety, comfort the afflicted and provide a sense of community. As a minimal government libertarian, I feel a ministry that shelters, feeds and tends to the needs of their neighbors serves a valuable role. One that government cannot.
Sadly, many fundamentalist religions still seem to spend an inordinate amount of time condemning gays. I long ago concluded that gays are pre-wired to be homosexual. Folks, you just don't "catch" gay. Since God is responsible for the pre-wiring, how can it be so damnable if shared between consenting adults?
If God made them that way, then Christian logic would follow that they, too, are children of God. When churchgoing people react to them with such disdain, it makes me wonder just what sort of Christians they are.
Yet is wrong for some liberals to vilify all churchgoers as dumb white trash devoid of logical thought. Our country is becoming more secular for a variety of reasons, one of which is the hypocrisy of a few high-profile preachers and priests. Even recent Popes have become evangelists for the left-wing agenda, alienating many parishioners.
The Christian Science Monitor reported that older people read the Bible three times more than millennials. This is not surprising; it's akin to cramming for finals.
With all the controversies and the trend of millennials being all about themselves, religion is on a sad decline. It would be hard if Jesus came back today and tried to appeal to millennials in their social media world. The man only had 12 followers.
Contact Ron Hart, a syndicated op-ed humorist and award-winning author, at Ron@RonaldHart.com.