Part I was about a cult begun by an egomaniac, exploiting people in the name of Jesus. Part II asks what is the difference between a cult and a religion? Is it that religions don’t set out to exploit people? But what about what they say they believe?
Consider three anecdotes about friends who were raised as Catholics:
1) Today some of us were sitting around and the subject of religion, then communion came up. Someone said, “You know, the Catholics believe that when the priest blesses the wafer, it actually turns into the body of Christ—it’s not a symbol for them, it really is His body.” One of my colleagues who was raised Catholic, and had gone through First Communion at the age of 13 was dumbfounded—she didn’t attend services anymore, but somehow she had missed that central tenet of the Roman Church all these years. Now she just shook her head in disbelief and a pained look crossed her face.
2) A few years ago I was talking with a Catholic friend and the subject of the Immaculate Conception came up. “That’s the same thing as the Virgin Birth,” he said—that Mary miraculously conceived even though she was a virgin.” I corrected him, reporting that it’s actually the belief that Mary herself was conceived immaculately, that is, free from the taint of Original Sin. Her mother, St. Anne, conceived the normal way, they say, but God acted on Mary in the womb, removing that sin so she would be a proper vessel (if that’s the phrase) for the baby Jesus. My friend stared at me a moment, somewhat shocked, then heaved a big sigh.
3) A friend who went to a Catholic school in a major city told me recently that the moment he became an atheist was when he was 14 and the bishop came to visit their school. The boys were all lined up in the chapel to honor his visit, and here he came, down the aisle in his robes, his finery, and on his hat, the mitre—or “that pointy hat” as my friend called it. In that moment he said to himself, “How can we take all this seriously? There is no way that God wants him dressed like that.”
It’s presumptuous for a non-Catholic to make these observations, but the point is simply this: if you say you are part of a group, Catholic, Protestant, or anything, shouldn’t you know what that group’s beliefs are? Otherwise, if you can’t buy into those beliefs, or accept the rituals and the dress, shouldn’t you call yourself something else to avoid confusion? And if you can’t buy into some of those beliefs, which beliefs are you buying into? The ones that seem more reasonable?
Do you get to do that? Pick and choose?
Most church leaders would say no.
The Humanist would say yes, that’s exactly what you should be doing.