Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Beliefnet:Rotten Fruit Is No Treat

I used to enjoy reading because it was one of the few dependable ecumenical sites on the Internet. The joke section, in particular, was off-the-chain hilarious because most of them reflected that kernel of truth about being human that was either ironic or embarrassingly right on. Other sections of the site contained commentary, opinion, self-help articles, wonderful inspirational photographs of far away mystical places, prayers, rites and individual links devoted to specific religions and spiritual traditions. It was a community effort, and well worth the time spent reading. Everyone contributed good fruit to the vineyard worthy of coming to the community table.

As a minister, I spend a lot of time researching and reading on the Internet. It's quick, easy, fun and time efficient because when the research gets ponderous-and it often does- I can flip out of what I'm reading and check my email or catch up on Facebook for a few moments without leaving my desk. In the days prior to surfing the Net, I would have to leave my office and walk  to the Diocesan Library-across the Cathedral commons, up three flights of narrow stairs to the very dark, very dusty and antiquated small library on the top floor of the building that housed the Bishop's office, where I'd usually spend at least an hour before realizing I could not find the information needed in a library. (The visit usually also required an antihistamine due to the dust. ) Satisfying my needs would then require several phone calls to surrounding churches and schools of theology to inquire about a particular book and put it on hold, and a trip to where ever the book was to pick it up...which would pretty much shoot my whole day schedule-wise. It was frustrating and time consuming until the Internet.

The Internet, and Beliefnet in particular, is, as the old saying goes, " A God-send". No more time consuming trips to the library or university. I can usually find what I'm looking for after a few minutes of online searching, with the added bonus of being able to download it for future reference.

Beliefnet was a breath of fresh air in the musty world of theological academia. The site is easy to use and visually pleasing, and you could pick and choose from thousands of items. As with all things, it has changed over the years; some days the gleanings are better than others. They've gone through an airy-fairy New Age period that I personally find a little annoying, but like I keep saying, everyone has something to bring to the table, and if you don't care for it, just don't put it on your plate. Recently, however, some of the offerings have turned troubling; where there was once an attitude of live and let live and a sincere call for tolerance and diversity there is now what seems to be an attack upon religions and spiritual traditions that are outside the mainstream, particularly those that are not decedents of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Where as previously one could find non-judgmental, serious attempts at understanding those whose faith traditions are different than your own, there seems to be an influx of hard-core, fundamentalist Bible-beating which is flirting with being just plain nasty. This morning, for example, I typed in the word 'Halloween" into the search box and got a few fluffy pieces on dressing up your pet and cutest photos ( which I expected to see)...and two which are outrageous attempts at forcing their own beliefs upon the general community.
Frankly, I did expect to see some anti-Halloween rhetoric because in a multifaith venue, you are always going to see something written from someone who disagrees- and that's okay by me, because we don't all have to agree. However, articles like, " Why A Christian Has Nothing To Fear On Halloween", and " Surprise: Halloween's Not A Pagan Festival After All." are not only inflammatory attacks upon the beliefs of others, they are a slap in the face to those who are not Christian-or who choose the secular side of the holiday for whatever reason.

I can sort of forgive the author of the latter piece because it was written by a Roman Catholic priest who is sharing what he believe is The Truth as he has been taught and believes (The article, by the way, is eleven years old. Shouldn't it be archived somewhere instead of being presented as something news worthy today?) The other article, however, contains no byline or author credit and is written in a passive-aggressive tone as a treatise on how to use the holiday as an opportunity to  make doorstep conversions out of unsuspecting children who are out trick or treating.

Excuse me, but aren't these some of the same folks who will not allow a child full membership into their religious communities until said child 'reaches an age of reason', and in fact, keeps them from partaking in the most holy sacrament of communion until adulthood? Yeah, I thought so.

I don't care who you are and or what you believe: it is simply inappropriate to attempt to force indoctrination into your faith tradition in this manner. In my opinion it is sleazy, cheesy and tasteless.
Make no mistake, ambushing an unsuspecting, innocent kid who's just out to collect candy and have a little childhood fun with an evangelical rant about why he should come to Jesus is a form of  unethical brainwashing. There is a time and a place for such things- this isn't it.

To me what is most disturbing is that the article is written in the same tone and language as used by most cults:

"However it is ungodly to condemn people. Jesus’ strongest condemnations were for the self-righteous." 

I guess it isn't self-righteous to corner a little kid on your doorstep on Halloween night to proselytize your personal faith. To me, this is truly a " What Would Jesus Do?" moment. It is hardly what most of us picture when Jesus stated, " Let the little children come to me"; it smacks oh-so-slightly of abusing your position as an adult.

"Halloween opens the doors for us to find common ground with others of different faiths, without giving up our own beliefs. Make Halloween an evangelism opportunity – a chance to share God’s love to the neighborhood kids instead of thundering damnation at kindergartners in Barbie costumes --
... and alienating their baffled parents."( 

Interesting twist, don't you think? Passive-aggressive? Not much, she says with a touch of irony. While on the surface this statement sounds perfectly fine and in the spirit of tolerance the codicil of not alienating parents belies a hidden agenda which I find not only distasteful but abhorrent. While I don't find an occasional "God bless you" offensive because it's innocuous and usually well-meaning,
I do object to on the spot public proselytizing  no matter what religion you're pushing.

Picture this: Little Kid costumed as Barbie and Mom ring the doorbell and along with a candy bar they hear, " Hail and welcome! Blessings of Vesta!  Let me tell you about the Lord Cernunnos who died for you at the harvest...." Mom runs screaming from the doorstep dragging Little Kid behind.

Okay, I know you're laughing. It's funny because it's so out of place that it's stupid. At the right time in the appropriate place it would be welcome and loving...but out of context it just sounds...stupid.

I used to enjoy reading Beliefnet because it was inspiring and enlightening. I sincerely hope that because it has proven to be  a wonderful inclusive resource in the past that the folks there take a moment to discern where they have taken a wrong turn- or at least grow some cohonies and stop kowtowing to those of the Religious Right who seek to use it to further their own secret agenda, because right now,like a few others, I'm beginning to smell the not-so-subtle stench of  the rotten fruit.


  1. I am sure I know what you meant to say..but this "Make no mistake, ambushing an unsuspecting, innocent kid who's just out to collect candy and have a little childhood fun with an evangelical rant about why he should come to Jesus is a form of unethical brainwashing. There is a time and a place for such things- this isn't it."

    just begs the question..when is the time and place for such brainwashing? ;)

    But I totally agree, that the door on Halloween is not the time for any type of religious instruction, coercion, or manipulation. Which is part of the reason why I am disgusted with "hell houses" at Halloween.

    I'm sorry to hear that BeliefNet approves such articles, but then again..a diverse site would allow a lot that we might disagree with.

    I personally think that when it comes to Jesus, as with any other deity, a person needs to be drawn to such a deity on their own, not through manipulation... of any kind. Spiritual Abuse is rampant in Christianity and they use Halloween as another "opportunity" to work their very bad and messy crap on people. The Christianity I see in the world today does not reflect Jesus of my opinion.

  2. @ Sisterlisa- I said exactly what I meant to say in my comment about brainwashing. As a former Christian minister I had to come to terms with the realization that any type of proselytizing is nothing more than brainwashing no matter how nicely we dress it up or who does it- for whatever reason. The agenda is to convert others to your faith when the opportunity presents itself, and usually that's done by pretending to be sympathetic or an attempt at being clever. The religious holiday of another is never the appropriate time.

    I subscribe to many links on Beliefnet specifically to be educated about the spiritual traditions of others-with no intention of judgement on my part-because in order to discern and expand my own spirituality I want to learn from others, and frankly, there is little that I disagree with because I believe we have more in common that most of us would like to admit.

    Thanks for commenting.


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