Syllabus: Toxic Religions for UT-SAGE

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Books and web sites
about religions we will study

Religion's role, some say, is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. This seminar contrasts religion that traumatizes, damages, destroys, hurts, is toxic, with religion that heals, comforts, strengthens, and encourages, is therapeutic.

We look at where religions’ authority comes from — their sacred writings. We will candidly explore the many violently deadly parts of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scriptures. and different ways we can read them, use them, follow them; must we be literal at all times? We will discuss if God is a violent, aggressive, destructive God. Is this God the basis for the paternalism and dominance culture found in the religions that developed from these writings? We will try to balance that toxic aspect with alternative messages and discuss the healthiest way to resolve the conflict between these two violently different views of God in the sacred writings of these three religions.

Here is a pdf file of the Keynote slides presentation of the first session.

We explore the historic development of the religions of these Books. For the Jews Exodus, Exile, and the Maccabean period are violent times, while before and after the Exile alternative teachings arose, beginning with Amos, and developing through several insightful leaders who said religion must embrace the outcasts and downtrodden. The Jewish nation ended with two revolts that dispersed most people until the twentieth century. People found ways to cope with often being a persecuted minority.

Women and men were leaders of Christianity for its first centuries, it was loosely organized, and many leaders were married. The church then became a top-down, male dominated patriarchy, and women’s major religious response was to be nuns. It was a dominance culture. The primary view of people was very bleak that did not reflect the Bible or experience. Protestantism brought many changes though the view of people remained pessimistic until recent theologies that explore an optimistic view of human nature.

Islam became an often violent patriarchy. Part of the problem is that Muhammad, while a mystic leader, was also a political leader who led in battles. One movement of recent centuries is Wahhabism that distorts Islam with hatred. A positive movement in early Islam was Ijtihad that is now being revived.

Two examples of toxicity
In the Hebrew Scriptures flood narrative water rose to cover animals and small children who could not have done evil, yet were drowned that is morally appalling. In Islam the Koran says in 5:38 to cut off the hand of the thief as God commands, yet that destroys the person's ability to make a living, and as criminology and psychology scientifically proves is not effective punishment!

Scientific findings about cosmology by Copernicus and Galileo culminating in Darwin challenged religions; some appropriated insights to mature religiously, but Christian Fundamentalism rejected the challenge and spread to many other religions. Some Fundamentalist groups taught they were the only way. The Enlightenment led to secular governments like the U.S. that Fundamentalists wants to make Christian or Islamic theocracies.

Toxicity is caused by organizational dynamics that use people as things and build self-centered groups, such as churches that are exclusivist. Some leaders are control freaks. These will be explored and contrasted with organizations that respect and work with people as teams.

The patriarchy and dominance culture of these three Abrahamic religions leads to deadly toxicity for many women and children. Recent generations have shown a flowering of women theologians, Bible scholars, historians that are changing some of these religions. All three religions continue to struggle to become egalitarian and to accept, respect, and affirm all people of all ages, genders, and sexual orientations.

Some "hot button" issues became so because a minority of religious leaders were violent and destructive of women, children, and homosexuals. We discuss the attitudes of these religions to compare to a therapeutic embracing of the outcast and downtrodden.

The seminar concludes with exploring therapeutic religions and what steps we can take. Some are like the woman ordained by a Catholic Bishop who conducts Mass weekly on Cape Cod. Protestant Churches have women bishops, clergy, and leaders. Some accept openly gay people while many do not as yet. While many religions remain toxic there are healing movements bringing social justice and peace as well as individual and group healing. Some are religious and some are not, though perhaps motivated by some religious people. One major racial justice advance, for example, was accomplished by two remarkable Methodist laymen, Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, who overcame many obstacles.

Copyright © 2006 John F. Yeaman