Monday, April 23, 2012

Bishop’s Blast Illustrates Growing Irrelevance of Religion

Maintaining the typical, clear-eyed view of religious leaders, Daniel Jenky (left), a Catholic bishop in Illinois, has decided President Barack Obama is leading Americans on a "similar” path to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.

When I heard that, several immediate thoughts come to mind: neither Hitler nor Stalin tried to lead Americans anywhere.  They governed European nations.  Second, both of them were dictators.  Obama can’t get a reluctant Congress to agree to most of his policies.  It doesn’t look like concentration camps and gulags are anywhere in our future.

Third, the bishop represents a theocracy – a government controlled by a single religion.  Even a bishop expects his rules followed.  That was pretty obvious in an on-going trial of Monsignor William Lynn, who is charged with covering up sexual abuse in Philadelphia.  

Testimony has revealed that the late Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua ordered a list of abusive priests shredded.  Lynn wrote the list only to have Bevilacqua destroy it.  And there was nothing Lynn could do about it.

Working in such a restrictive environment, Jenky would have a hard time convincing anyone he knows something about democracy.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Peoria tried to soften clarify Jenky's comments by issuing a statement:  "Based upon the current government's threatened infringement upon the Church's religious exercise of its ministry, Bishop Jenky offered historical context and comparison as a mean to prevent a repetition of historical attacks upon the Catholic Church and other religions.”

This was a history lesson?  Perhaps Jenky’s would like a couple more.

Catholics in this country faced widespread discrimination in the 1800s and into at least a good chunk of the 1900s because of perceived loyalty to the Pope rather than to this country.  The bishop’s comments only furthers that distrust.

To counter concern, in 1960, Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy had to publicly declare he would not obey the dictates of Rome.  Mormon Mitt Romney, who eventually represented the Republican Party in the 2012 presidential election, has already said he would not follow mandates of his religion in opposition to American ideals.

Obama is no different.  Regardless of his religious views – he’s a Christian, a member of the United Church of Christ – he will continue to push for those things that he believes benefits Americans.  Anyone can agree or disagree with his priorities.  That’s why there are multiple political parties and why government often moves at a molasses-like pace.

Moreover, as Jenky surely knows, religious organizations are granted tax-exempt status because they cannot participate in politics.  Their purview is religion, the souls of their congregants, not elections.

Jenky was apparently upset because Obama has not tried to end abortion.  He can’t.  Neither could an ardently pro-life president like George W. Bush.  Not only is pro-choice supported by the majority of Americans, abortion in this country is based on a Supreme Court ruling.  Legislation can only modify the ruling, and has.  It cannot stop abortion.

The bishop was also complaining about Obama’s so-called “secular agenda.”  Guess what?  That’s his job.  He is not running a religion; he’s overseeing the executive branch of government on behalf of Americans of all religions, as well as non-affiliates and atheists.  Secular is the only choice.

Jenky joins a chorus of Catholic leaders also upset because Obama approved a law that allows working American women to get birth control without cost.  Interestingly, birth control is an idea endorsed by the vast majority of American women, including Catholics.

That may be Jenky’s biggest problem.  People aren’t listening to people like him.  Religious concepts that once cowed people and dictated their actions aren’t carrying the same weight.  So, he does what anyone being increasingly marginalized does – spout some ridiculous rhetoric.

All that does is make him, and the religious philosophy he represents, even less relevant than before.  

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. 

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