Fractious fractions

Religion and all of its divisions

I was raised a Roman Catholic but left the church when I could not sincerely defend its beliefs. Blame it on books, blame it on college, blame it on science — religious faith, whatever it is, has eluded me from a young age. The questions I asked about big mysteries were usually met with small answers by nuns, priests or parents. Religion has not helped my understanding of big mysteries.

One problem I have with religious faith is that it’s as prolific and varied as products in the cereal aisle of a supermarket; from old fashioned Kellogg’s Corn Flakes to faddish upstarts like Ralston’s Batman cereal. Without being omniscient you never know which is the best bet.

Even monotheists have managed to split their deity to smithereens, from the three amigos, Jews, Christians and Muslims, to their almost infinite sub-variations.

Jews have cleaved themselves into Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Hasidic and Kabbalahists, and Christian denominations are as numbered as the stars in the sky. The Eastern Roman Catholic Church has as many as 20 versions, each with its own theological tweak: the Armenian Catholic Church, the Belarusian, the Coptic, Byzantine of Croatia, Ethiopian, Georgian, Maronite, Slovak Greek, etc., while Eastern Orthodox Catholics, not to be outdone by Eastern Roman Catholics, have over 30 variants. And, remember, we haven’t even gotten to Protestants.

Protestants, from the days of Martin Luther to date, have protested Roman Catholic domination to the point of marvelous fracture. Mainstream Protestant denominations may be grouped into nine families: Anabaptist, Anglican, Baptist, Congregational, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, Quaker and Reformed, which are further divided into no less than 161 (give or take a sect) of an infinite possibilities.

Finally, Islam, too, wants variety. Muslims have arrived at, among others, the following breakdowns: Abadites, Al-Ahbash, Al-Arquam, Boszormony, Faizrakhmanist, Gedimu and Haruriyyah — which covers only the first eight letters of the alphabet.

If these figures seem over the top, remember we’ve only been talking about monotheists. Throw in Buddhists, Hindus, Folk religions, Shinto, Sikism, Baha’i, Cheondoism, Wicca and so on and we must be giving God a data-based headache. It’s bound to get even worse. I can imagine this religious mincing ending in numbers of religious bits precisely equal to the population of the planet at any given time; but it’s hard to systematize the ineffable, so this probability makes sense. Who but each of us knows what resides in our hearts regarding the mystery of creation and how best to face it and embrace it?

It’s still alarming, though. With quantity of AK-47s being churned out and the historical and hysterical record of religious war, you have to wonder where creedal chopping will lead? All in all, religious mincing begs the question, “Isn’t everybody missing the point?”

I mention this because, in a country like the U.S.A., whose population has professed a belief in God reaching 67 percent, religion is becoming as dangerously problematic as it has been for centuries in other parts of the globe. Not only is our polarization political, but it’s tainted with the variegated mythical beliefs of zealots who get their orders directly from God — the Michele Bachmann crowd, for instance.

Another case in point: The Sovereigns.

The Sovereigns are one more twist in the millennial-long effort of humans to come to terms with what they do not know and undoubtedly never will — in this life at least. The Sovereigns have come together to say “screw you” to anyone rational enough to know that if sectarianism has not brought us together under God by now, it more than likely never will.

Sovereign Pastor Paul Revere (a nutcase formerly known Douglas Fleshman) declares he “... doesn’t recognize the authority of the State of Oregon, the United States of America, or anyone else ... He answers only to God.”

The members of Revere’s congregation “... are becoming an increasing headache for cops, public defenders, prosecutors, bailiffs and judges all over the U.S., because they inevitably land in court for driving without a license or failing to pay taxes (and) clog up the system with reams of nonsensical paperwork.”

But that’s just the un-bloody side of The Sovereigns. With zealots, sometimes, the battles get bloody.

“In 2010, 16-year-old sovereign Joseph Kane gunned down two police officers in West Memphis, Ark., after a routine traffic stop. The boy killed the officers with an AK-47 after his dad, 45-year-old sovereign Jerry Kane, got into a scuffle with one of the cops attempting to frisk him.” — report by The South Poverty Law Center

They say variety is the spice of life and I like it. I like diversity. What I don’t like is admitting religion into government and allowing its myriad variations to squabble between themselves and the rest of us to the point of religious conflict and state theocracy.

We have a Constitution that does not once mention the word “God.” Not once. It does not for good reason — emphasis on reason.

Saying I get my orders directly from God is just another way of saying I get my orders from myself. Who’s to argue?

Culleny lives in Shelburne Falls, works in construction, is a singer/songwriter, and has done commentary for National Public Radio. His email address is

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