Like "Today's Illusion" once said, I also have an unaccountable aversion to revealing too much of myself. However, in posting this article, it is only fair and honest to admit up front that I have strong, related prejudices. The basis for these prejudices are described in the following paragraphs.
Even before I was baptized into the First Congregational Church of Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts, at the age of twelve, I was beginning to have doubts. My mother - a very active member of the church - was, to put it bluntly, someone who acted in a most unchristian-like manner, in my young view. Brought up as a strict Nova Scotia Baptist who couldn't dance or play cards and who was subjected to two hours of bible reading every day, it seemed as though the principle messages of the bible just didn't get through to her. Without getting into a lot of detail, suffice it to say that hypocrisy and specific hate were the main areas where she appeared to stray from the "good book."
When I started dating a Catholic girl she became upset beyond reason and told me that it would be either her or the girl, but not both. I would have to decide. My relationship with the Catholic girl continued.
When I was in the Far East during the Korean War, a missionary cousin (on my mother's side) invited me to his rural home for a couple of days. Upon arriving, it soon became apparent that the sole purpose was to dissuade me from continuing my relationship. At one point he said "You would be better off marrying an Asian girl than a Catholic," which seemed to convey a double dose of bigotry.
One month after I got out of the service I married the Catholic girl and three weeks later my mother was being given shock treatments at a hospital in Boston.
As my life went on, I began to see that the problems that I thought were limited to my mother were actually prevalent throughout the Protestant community and beyond, in the world of religion.
As a history major, a course on the writings of Arnold Toynbee revealed that Christianity was no more special than the religions of any of the more than thirty other civilizations in world history. And through other history courses, it became clear that the track record of Christianity and other religions was hardly anything to brag about.
Eventually I went from simply ignoring organized religion to harboring a feeling of actually being against it.
Today, Catholics seem to be off the hook, so to speak. The vitriolic hatred that was directed towards them, in my youth, seems to have been redirected at the gay community.
Any organized religion can be, underneath it all, an insidious movement that flourishes on the fact that some people receive personal benefit from their exposure to it. And it is absolutely true that many, many people do literally owe their lives to their religion. As an entity, however, if a religion is not limited in some way, it will grow and consume all in its path, regardless of the consequences, be they deaths from wars, the corruption of a democratic system, or whatever.
Consequently, the concept that is referred to as separation of church and state is, arguably, one of the more important building blocks in the structure of our government. In order for it to prevail, however, it must be constantly protected from the attacks of the expansion-minded religious movements.
And so with that preamble - which turned out to be much longer than intended (but it felt good to say) - the real purpose of this post arises - the announcement yesterday that the IRS is stepping up its probe of allegedly improper political campaigning by churches.
The fact that the first church being required to turn over its records to the IRS - the All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California - is a church that promoted an anti-war stance on the eve of an election, bothers me not one whit. Maintaining the integrity of the system supersedes personal feelings.
In July, the IRS warned 15,000 tax exempt groups across the nation, including churches and non profit organizations, to stay neutral on politics, or lose their tax exempt status.
In addition to All Saints, the IRS currently has 40 church investigations pending.
This is long overdue, in my admitedly biased opinion, and should be welcome news to all who treasure the concept of separation.