Monday, October 29, 2012

Religions Fear Free Thought

A devout evangelical woman was told recently that she can’t sell her book titled A Year of Biblical Womanhood in Christian bookstores because – gasp! – it contains a terrible word: “vagina.”

“The entire Christian industry has been sanitized,” complained author Rachel Held Evans.

Given a chance, the whole country would be, too.

After all, ardent Christians the only ones pursuing that goal.  Mormons are right in there with them.  A Florida-based author recently decided to leave the church rather than be disciplined for his writings on  Apparently, David Twede’s views of the history of his church’s political involvement and commentary on Republican Presidential nominee and Mormon Mitt Romney didn’t sit well with the elders in Salt Lake City.

Good thing he didn’t use a taboo word like vagina.  Twede, a fifth-generation Mormon, might have had the entire Christian right on his tail.  

He did leave one comment behind: "I have simply come to the very sad realization that the church is not what it claims to be, that its doctrine is false and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not where I wish to be."

A spokesman for the Church insisted no one is ever disciplined for “having questions or expressing personal political views.”

Sure. LSD founder Joseph Smith was killed by a mob after being arrested for trashing a newspaper that printed comments that he didn’t like about his faith. That kind of history speaks louder than any spokesman.

In fact, censorship has been integral to organized religion.  It continues unabated, particularly in today's world where the Christian right and the Muslim right agree on only one thing: censorship would make everything perfect.  

Origen could have told you that.  Or Tertullian.  Baruch Spinoza for another.  All three famed religious leaders were excommunicated for daring to write something that countered the religious teachings of their day.  

Origen and Tertullian, both of whom lived in the second and third centuries, were among the earliest Christians.  Each was initially prized for intelligence and deep understanding of the faith. 

Tertullian is considered the founder of Western Christianity and even introduced the concept of the trinity.  By the way, that was considered a heresy in the 2nd century; it didn’t become orthodoxy until 100 years later.   Origin was a nonstop writer who outlived Tertullian by about 25 years.  He believed that everyone started with God and would be reconciled to Him at the end of the world.  

For such “terrible” ideas, both were forced to leave the Church, initiating a long line of people whose views clashed with religious authorities.  At least they weren’t burned at the stake, the fate of many dissenters in the Middle Ages, or massacred, another favorite way of silencing opposition.

Spinoza, a humble Dutch lens grinder, established principals that underlies biblical criticism and set the stage of 18th century European enlightenment.  At age 23, he was excommunicated from the Jewish synagogue and ended up buried in a churchyard.

The Roman Catholic Church even created a List of Prohibited Books in 1559 in an effort to ensure only the “correct” information.  It didn’t disappear until 1966.

The effort isn’t just limited to religious documents.  Many scientists have been silenced by religion. The best known is the astronomer Galileo for proving that the Earth did go around the sun.  However, he is hardly alone.  For example, the report on climate change produced during the previous administration was ordered change to match the religious views of President George W. Bush.

There is real fear behind such efforts, the fear that the illusions that religion has carefully crafted will be punctured.  As a result, even innocuous words like vagina become an anathema.  

That kind of censorship has its limits. The truth has a way of poking through such gossamer.   

Perhaps those who are determined to smother reality should consider comments on the subject from leading religious figures like John Wycliffe, who translated the Bible into English in the 1300s: “I believe that in the end the truth will conquer.”

Or Roman Catholic Church Father Thomas Aquinas: “As a matter of honor, one man owes it to another to manifest the truth.”

Not good enough?  Consider what the Bible has to say on the matter.   Here’s Saint Paul’s view: “Therefore, having put away falsehood; let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor ...” (Ephesians 4:25)

From Psalms (15:1-2), there’s this comment:  “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly, does what is right and speaks truth in his heart.”

If that’s too obscure, consider something more direct from Jesus:  “The truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32)  

Unfortunately, those are the last things organized religion wants: the truth or intellectual freedom.

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.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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