June 03, 2007

The Circus of Gawd

I find no end of humor in the efforts of the adherents of one religion to label those of another as evil, Satanic, bound to burn in hell, etc. Let's face it; all religions are pretty weird when looked at from the outside. It's no more rationale, no more self-evident, that one should believe in the resurrection of a 2,000 year old Nazarene being the expiation of spiritual taint than it is that one should have faith in the existence of a demon that looks like a peacock and tries to keep souls from leaving the material world. Without an exception that I can think of, religions are at best internally consistent. They all break down when applied to the empirical universe, and if this were not the case then there would be no need for a concept of "faith" in the first place. Faith is merely the bridge that the adherents of a given religion attempt to build between what they see as the internal logic of their belief and the inconsistencies it encounters when applied to the world in which we live. To quote a t-shirt worn by a student I saw at a Florida State campus religious organization's recruitment table one day, "Faith is the belief in what can't be seen."

This is why I find it humorous when I encounter a story like this one:

Group sics IRS on Mormon critic
'Bring it on,' evangelist says of investigation of Romney comment

The Internal Revenue Service has been asked to investigate the Florida ministry of Bill Keller, host of the Live Prayer TV program as well as LivePrayer.com for his comments about Mormonism. Americans United for Separation of Church and State said it has written to request the review of Keller's comments that a "vote for Mitt Romney [is a vote] for Satan."

"Americans United asserts that Bill Keller Ministries seems to have violated federal tax law when its online division, Liveprayer.com, ran articles warning readers that a vote for Romney is a vote for Satan," the activist organization announced...

...while some evangelical Christians were defending the presidential candidacy of Mormon Mitt Romney from an attack by Al Sharpton, Keller took a step in the other direction.

"If you vote for Mitt Romney, you are voting for Satan!" he wrote in a daily devotional sent to 2.4 million e-mail subscribers on May 11...

"I have been warning you for years now about this cult born out of the pits of hell and responsible for sending millions of souls to eternal damnation," Keller said...

"Those who follow the false teachings of this cult, believe in the false jesus of the Mormon cult and reject faith in the one true Jesus of the Bible, will die and spend eternity in hell," he charged. "Romney getting elected president will ultimately lead millions of souls to the eternal flames of hell!"...

Keller was a businessman convicted of insider trading in 1989, a crime for which he served more than two years in federal prison. After getting out, he received a degree in biblical studies from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and has been in full-time ministry ever since.

Seriously. Let's assume for a moment that this guy believes his diatribes. What does that really mean? After all, it could just as easily be the other way around. There's no factual, testable, empirical reason to believe that Keller is any more correct in his beliefs than is Romney. The books and dogmas that Keller believes in could just as well have been written by some infernal, pitchfork-toting boogieman as Romney's. Or they both could have been. Or neither one, for that matter, which is my personal belief. I'm sticking with Occam's Razor on this one; as far as any objective evidence is concerned, all the books of the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Book of Mormon, can be easily enough explained by human authorship. Looked at from that light, the whole thing turns weird in a hurry. Keller is a convicted felon, albeit one who did his time (if he's not defrauding his flock even as we speak), yet he feels perfectly comfortable telling others that if they vote for Mitt Romney, they're going to hell.

Perhaps comfortable isn't the right word, though. Perhaps the phrase "righteous and justified" is a better fit. He's so certain of his viewpoint that he's willing to challenge the IRS. Again looking at the evidence, I personally fear the IRS far more than I do any claw-footed netherworld beastie, and if Keller functioned primarily in a rational mindset, so would he. The fact is that under American law, churches are granted tax-exempt status so long as they out of politics. This condition was upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court recently in the case of Branch Ministries vs. Rossotti. Keller may not like that fact, and others might not, either, but that's the law. What Keller is doing by making explicit statements about Romney from his pulpit is a violation of it, and as such the tax-exempt status of his church should be revoked. Of course, Keller has a history of having broken the law in the past, so he may have an inherent disdain for it. As far as I'm aware, personal preferences aren't a defense in a courtroom, nor at an audit. Unless Keller can coax Jehovah himself to take the witness stand, he's managed to perform an amazing feat of contortion. He's managed to stick his foot in his mouth and then shove his head up his rear end.

I suppose that if he loses his pulpit he could get a job in a sideshow somewhere!

From where I sit, that wouldn't be much of a career change. If nothing else, these religious squabbles are entertainment. That is, unless the two sides start shooting at each other. I'm sure that Keller, at least, has thought about it. He'd be happy to know that I, for one, have no intention of voting for Romney. Receiving Keller's ringing endorsement wouldn't have changed that a bit. It may be hoping for too much, but I would love to cast a vote in the next election for a presidential candidate who deals with the world based on fact, not faith.

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