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Attitudes toward salespeople

Usually, people tend to be suspicious of salespeople. Sellers must demonstrate that they have a product worth buying. Like a Swiss Army knife or a quicker espresso maker. Its features will hopefully make life more enjoyable and/or less complicated for the buyer. If the salesperson can’t demonstrate the product’s advantages, they at least have to persuade a potential buyer that it will perform as advertised.

When it comes to such an important “product” as religion—selling an invisible deity, a way of life, and an insurance policy that guarantees eternal comfort—many people don’t ask relevant questions about the merchandise.

So, preachers and apologists usually get a free pass. In Christianity, the clergy holds an exalted status. They are perceived as being more in touch with God than the weekly pew visitors and therefore in possession of valuable, secret knowledge. Catholics are even taught to divulge their deepest, most embarrassing secrets to their priests rather than directly to God.

Devout Christians may very well regard a novice youth pastor as more trustworthy than an PhD-trained scientist—even when it comes to opinions on cosmology, evolution, or vaccinations. Why is that? Why do people put so much trust in their clergy when evidence has shown that thousands of them are immoral and self-centered human beings? Where does that aura of holiness come from?

Religious indoctrination

The answer is found in religious indoctrination. Think about it. No one is born believing in a god; everyone is born atheistic. From that blank slate, the culture indoctrinates children into its customs and religion. Adults teach children that gods really exist, even though they can’t see him/her/it. Then, they instruct kids on how to honor their gods appropriately. Christian  cultures teach about a powerful being that created them and can snuff them out like a lit cigarette whenever that God sees fit. That tends to get children’s attention.

Children are trained to fear the awesome power of that God. And, as we know, what someone embeds in a child’s mind when they’re young will most likely become hard-wired in the child’s brain circuitry. In Christianity, the fear of eternal torture if they displease their god can easily lead to a lifelong anxiety disorder.

Who to trust?

Kids aren’t usually raised to believe in the truthfulness of politicians, used car salespeople, or strangers. They’re taught the opposite—to beware of people who try to fool them and take them for suckers. But children are taught to pay serious attention to what their minister or priest tells them, and not ask questions. Here’s the catch about that. None of what those trusted people tell them about the spiritual world can be proven. Therefore, it very well could all be baloney.

No matter how ridiculous the lesson might be, the clergy expect children to absorb that message into their brains and see the world through that filter. Then, all subsequent sensory input must coalesce around those “irrefutable” foundational concepts, whatever they are. That is, if the young believer wants to avoid some unpleasant consequences in this life and the next.

At this point, there are two questions to answer to fully understand the clergy and their influence on lay people. The first is, what does the clergy really know that most other people don’t?

Question one, what does the clergy really know?

The clergy only knows what they were taught. That means what they learned from their parents and their culture. What they learned in Sunday school, from the Bible, sermons, fellow worshippers, seminaries, etc. What they say they believe beyond a shadow of a doubt. They were indoctrinated to believe that those traditions came from their God by means too complicated for human minds to understand. But every single one of those sources of indoctrination can be distilled down to one element—some person’s interpretation of scripture.

The origin of scripture

The next sub-question is, where did that scripture come from?  If you traveled back in time from one generation to the previous one for about ten thousand generations, you’d still find young people conforming to the cultural expectations. You would also discover the scripture-writers who created the nucleus of the new religion of Christianity.

Most likely, what they wrote was not based on direct revelations from their God because that has never been proven to be possible. So, the origin of modern clergy’s religious knowledge came from the suppositions of those who wrote those theological essays, and of those who decided which ones were “holy” (endorsed by God). From those sketchy beginnings, each passing generation and Church council modified the religion until today it has little resemblance to original Christianity. There is one thing that has carried over through the millennia, and that’s fear of displeasing Jehovah.

As to what the clergy really knows. It boils down to what culture taught them. And that traces back to unsophisticated, Iron Age writers, storytellers, and stargazers who were immersed in supernaturalism. Much of what they thought was in the divine realm has since been proven to be totally explainable by scientific investigation. Those people who lived three and four thousand years ago were as intelligent as we are but what they lacked was scientific reasoning. They thought phenomena like thunder and lightning, floods, eclipses, comets, and the diversity of plants and animals were things that had a supernatural cause. In effect, the clergy teaches modern slants on ancient ideas about the supernatural.

Question two, on what grounds should we take the clergy seriously?

Before Christianity, the parent religion, Judaism, had relied on prophets to reveal mystical secrets they thought came from God. Just like some present-day preachers, they convinced themselves and others that God spoke to them. Or else, they just fabricated everything about their telepathic communication with God so people would listen to them. People do tend to pay attention to outrageous ideas and pass up the boring ones.

The earliest Christian leaders were common people who led home churches. Later, a professional clergy emerged. That group had to convince their followers that they were different from the average Christian—they wanted them to think knew more about God and were endowed with a God-given authority.

Papal Authority

Traditionally the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church based their authority and the supposed truthfulness of the religion on a unique spiritual connection with Jesus. Since Jesus is the same as Almighty God according to the tradition of the Trinity, Jesus somehow passed his divine spark of authority to his disciples.

That non-biblical tradition continued with the disciple Peter traveling to Italy and becoming the first bishop of Rome, i.e., the first pope. Catholics believe that Peter passed the “intermediary between men and God” mantle to all subsequent popes. The popes envisioned themselves as God’s representatives on Earth while they lived, and holy saints after they died. To me, that seems to be the epitome of human ego. And, that concept was largely based on writings that weren’t considered worthy of including in the Bible.

Then, through their inherited mystical power, when popes appointed bishops, they too received that power, and then bishops passed it on to priests. That’s why even a small-town priest can conduct the eucharist. He can make the case that he was ordained by the power of Jesus Christ and no one needs to examine his credentials any further.

That’s one of the methods Catholics use to keep people from questioning the authority of their clergy. How can an average person even think of doubting the word of someone who dresses so regally, works in a magnificent and otherworldly building, and his been endorsed by Jesus himself? Almost no one has that kind of courage, especially when the Church considers doubt a sin.

Protestants

After the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, the Catholic traditions no longer mattered in the Protestant regions of Europe. The Protestants took their godly authority not from papal succession but from the Bible itself. For the Bible to have that kind of power, the Protestants had to make a strong case that those writings originated with God.

That authority was in theory, but in practice, any well-spoken, charismatic, preacher who wanted to influence other people could. They still can by interpreting the Bible’s passages any way they choose. The reality is that after going through so many generations of copying and translation, there probably isn’t a single verse in the Bible that’s meaning is beyond debate. If the pastor is convincing enough in its meaning, they can get the flock to believe almost anything they say.

That’s the power of religion. It can never be proven wrong because it’s entirely based on theories about invisible beings and who those beings speak to. That’s also religion’s Achilles’s heel because once people stop believing in supernatural powers because of the lack of evidence, religions will fade into obscurity.

An Illusion of superiority

Christians regard clergy as mouthpieces for God without knowing their motivations. The clergy, on the other hand, must act like they know God better than the laypeople. The Protestants may wear collars; the Catholics, their impressive crowns, jewelry, and vestments. They may be pious or they may be flamboyant. But the bottom line is although they may look and act the part, that doesn’t give them any superpowers. They say they can talk to God through prayer, but can they really? Can a mind made of matter communicate with a mind made of whatever a spiritual mind is composed of? Electricity maybe?

The many respectable members of the clergy

After all I’ve written above, I do not mean to imply that all clergy are immoral or even misguided. I am not saying that people shouldn’t learn from their clergy. It’s just that people should be as skeptical with them as they are with used car salespeople. I truly believe most clergy have good intentions to help and inspire people rather than line their own pockets. Many or most are incredibly compassionate and self-sacrificing. These are some of the best people we can associate with in life. I’m just saying that they don’t know any more about the supernatural world than anyone else does. They are products of a superstition-believing culture that isn’t entirely sure what the supernatural looks like.

The best clergy-person I could hope for is one that honestly admits they don’t know for certain that there is a God, and certainly don’t know what that God thinks. That would translate to someone who  teaches basic non-denominational morality—how we should value and care for each other and our environment. Someone who advocates cooperation in society rather than division.

The Bible and Christian theology

The Bible is a book written for people in the distant past. I has some good advice in it, but no one really knows for certain who wrote any of its books. From an objective perspective, it’s most likely not the “word of God”. It’s more likely the “word of humans” who are making their best guesses about God.

The Christian clergy have efficiently fine-tuned their ways of controlling  people over the centuries. That system conditions people to act out of fear. As the saying goes, Christianity provides the poison (Hell) and then provides the antidote (Heaven) if someone is faithful to God and the clergy. I think the message should be very positive and teach people living right now how to live in peace rather than debating which god is the best.

In closing

Even the most excessively devout Christian disciple only “knows” there is a God because they “feel its presence” or because they observe the world and assume it must have had a creator. That’s no different than the people thousands of years ago. The writers of the scriptures may have thought they were channeling a god’s telepathic message, but were they really? Or were they just channeling their own subconscious thoughts? Most likely, they were passing on their own thoughts and conclusions, but credited them to God.

That is the basis for all religions. The reason they are all different is because they came from different cultural interpretations of human experiences.

It’s likely that people created all religions based on the “idea” of a god, but where have they all gone? Once people lose belief in certain gods, those gods seem to evaporate. They go the way of Ra, Thor, Zeus, Marduk, and hundreds of others. If the clergy can keep up the illusion of a living god, the religion remains vital. When they can’t, it dies.

If your clergy-person believes in supernatural causes for everything you experience, I suggest you listen to them with a large dose of skepticism.

 

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