Michael Parenti on Religion

Michael Parenti is the author of 23 books. He is one of America’s most prominent progressive public intellectuals.  His newest book published this year is: God and His Demons, a book for which I am very proud to have acted as the agent. It is a critical analysis of organized religion. He approaches it from a historical, political, sociological, and theological perspective. As always, the breadth of knowledge of the subject is remarkable and he pulls no punches.

Andy: A lot of people have said that this is a book advocating atheism, not unlike recent books by Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. But that isn’t quite what you are trying to do here, is it?

Michael: My book is not an atheistic diatribe against religion for the sake of showing how improbable and nonsensical religion might be. I do recognize that religion has played a real and powerful role in the human psyche and in history and society in general. And I note that there are religionists who have fought the good fight for social justice.  My quarrel is with the theocratic aggrandizers and their theological intolerance, dogmatism, violence, hypocrisy, and repression.

Andy: Michael,  your reputation is not as scholar of theology. But you engage in a considerable amount of analysis and exegesis on matters of theology. And it is clear that you have dug deeply into these subjects for this book.  Did you find this subject challenging? What new insights (incites) did you gain from studying this?

Michael: Reading the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, was a compelling and revelatory experience. Along with the beautiful and loving segments and phrases here and there are the horrendous passages and whole books filled with violence and cruelty, much of it perpetrated by the deity himself. The best case you can make against biblical devotion is the Bible itself.

Andy: You pretty much take to task all organized religions from a variety of angles. Are there any heroes in this subject? Any arch-villains? In the best of all worlds, is there any positive role that religion has to play?

Michael: There are some very wonderful people in the world of religion for whom doing God’s will is more than a matter of ritual and piety; it is a matter of serving humanity and working for social justice right here on Earth. The entire Social Gospel movement of the early part of the last century, the Catholic Workers movement, the whole liberation theology movement that swept most of Latin America and other countries before it was destroyed by Pope John Paul II and the CIA death squads— these heroes worked on the side of the poor and downtrodden, quite at variance with most of organized religion whose hierarchies historically allied themselves with the rich and the powerful. These latter readily qualify as the arch villains you inquire about.

Andy: You dedicated the book to Giordano Bruno, a Dominican friar of the 16th Century who ended his career in religion by being burned at the stake. What is it that you admire about him?

 Michael: His remarkable honesty and deep insights. Not only did he not believe in the divinity of Christ and the virginity of Mary, he said as much – rather than spending a lifetime hypocritically mouthing  beliefs that he did not really hold. Bruno also believed that God was not a separate force apart from the material world but inhered in the existing cosmos, a very pantheistic viewpoint. He also believed in a heliocentric system rather than a geocentric one,  and correctly held that all stars were suns and our sun was a star—all this some 30 or 40 years before the telescope was invented. Most important of all he believed in love and tolerance, this above all is what people should have for each other.


Andy: Ok. Let’s talk about some issues that are in the news. You spend some time talking about the pedophile priests. But there have been a lot of developments since then. A new pope. Startling revelations about John Paul II (soon to be made a saint).  And a rather classic cover-up strategy. Thoughts?

Michael: People still do not know the vicious role that Pope John Paul II played in laying down a policy of cover-up and protection for the pedophile priests.  The cover-up continues today. The Church still refuses to hand over its records regarding sex crimes within the ranks of the clergy.  Please recall that I also talk about the Protestant pedophiles; it’s not a peculiarly Catholic problem. There are Baptist ministers and clergy of all denominations who prey upon the vulnerable. Such predators can be found in public youth agencies, Boy Scout clubs, day care centers, wherever they can acquire access to defenseless children. Pedophilia must be criminalized. As of now there is no cure for the child rapists—but the threat of imprisonment for long duration is the best deterrence.

Andy: Is there anything new that you want to say about the goings on in Israel and how it fits in with your understanding of religion?

Michael: I mentioned the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in my book only in passing. It might do well to point out that the Zionists have transformed the Old Testament from a theological text to a property deed which allows them to make claim to land that has been possessed by Palestinians for 500 years or more.


Andy: And Islamic Fundamentalism?

Michael: Islamic fundamentalism is as dogmatic and intolerant as Christian fundamentalism. The only difference is that the Christian fanatics are still struggling to take over this and other countries while the Islamic extremists already control a number of countries, for instance, Saudi Arabia.  And we can see once they gain state power what it is they are capable of doing.  The nightmare becomes a reality.


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7 Responses to “Michael Parenti on Religion”

  1. benny Says:

    I think pedophilia is more paranoia than a reality. I am surprised to hear Michael talk this way. I don’t think that crime or pedophilia is as rampant as we are told to believe. So many innocent people’s reputations have been ruined by just a point of a finger bay some 15 year old who, believe me, have their own agendas.

    • Diane Stranz Says:

      At age 17 my second husband was unfairly accused of a sexual crime he did not commit, and I know a 21-year-old man who accused of rape by a 17-year-old girl who wanted to hurt him because he WOULDN’T ask her out or show her the time of day. I myself have at times been hideously defamed, at work and within my personal life, by individuals who had agendas, so your final sentence makes an excellent point, Benny. Perjury and “bearing false witness against one’s neighbor” are horrible sins which are widespread and regularly committed . . . but this does not contradict the fact that pedophilia is also rampant in our society, most of it remaining hidden, undiscussed, and unreported.

      For example, the Catholic Church did not dispute the magnitude of child molestation reported by the press. It instead justified its actions in covering up scandals and moving priests around on the (willfully ignorant) belief that uninvited sexual activity foisted upon children by sexually-repressed celibates “does not cause children any lasting harm.” The 2005 made-for-TV movie “Our Fathers,” based on the true statements and position of Boston Diocese Cardinal Bernard Law does a good job communicating this reality, and I would highly recommend you see it — consider it an adult education assignment to expand your knowledge base.

      Inappropriate sexuality is rampant in our society for the same reason: i.e., many people refuse to acknowledge that early sexualization of children is potently harmful and causes lifelong negative effects.
      When my brother was five, he and the little girl next door were caught “playing doctor” by her mother — and she and my parents all uncomfortably and nervously laughed the situation off as being harmless; i.e., “kids will be kids.” I was only 7, but I was appalled at this reaction because I could not even IMAGINE wanting to do something like that. Two years later a 12-year-old girl down the street invited me to play with her extensive Barbie collection; I was ecstatic until I discovered that her idea of “doll playing” consisted exclusively of taking off Ken and Barbie’s clothes and making them perform sexual acts on one another in any way she could imagine it. [I left quickly and basically never went back: that was not my idea of fun, to say the least.]

      I mention these two incidents from my childhood because I do not think it an accident that all three of the children involved — my brother, the girl next door, and the older girl down the street — all grew up not only unusually promiscuous, but more than a little psychologically messed up(indeed, my brother has fullblown mental illness and has lived heavily medicated and under 24/7 supervision since his early 30’s; granted, drug use factored into this more than sexual promiscuity/weirdness — but I believe aberrant attitudes towards sexuality played a role).

      Two other personal experiences seem to underscore (for me) that pedophilia is more widespread in society at large than you want to believe, Benny. A neighbor’s six year old son coaxed my six year old son to get into his bed under the covers, then pulled my son’s pants down and proceeded to fondle his penis. My son was too terrified and in shock to do anything but comply, and even kept it to himself for several days because he was shamed and embarrassed and was nervous that I would look down on HIM for what happened — and this was just the action of a child who my son did not see as being someone more important (or with more authority) than himself! If the fondler had been an adult male — especially one who was robed in divine authority, i.e., a priest — my son may have NEVER told anyone, though I have no doubt it would have harmed him psychologically.

      As it was, since he DID eventually tell me, the police and I were able to reassure him that his reaction of shock and horror was the appropriate reaction and what the little boy did to him is NOT what is acceptable, normal, appropriate — and the relief of learning all of this was sufficient to “heal” him of the trauma (or so he says and so it appears). CPS got involved with the neighbor family, and years later even the mother will admit that it was a positive thing, because CPS’ investigation uncovered quite a bit of sexual impropriety and dysfunction hidden within the family which needed to be brought up, addressed and healed.

      Finally, a childhood male friend from my church (I was raised Catholic) finally revealed in his 40’s that a priest in our Diocese fondled him several times when the two were on out-of-town trips and he was assigned to share a bed in the same hotel room. This man says this secret shame is something which has affected him his entire life, and was NOT a “harmless event” he was able to forget and move on from. I do not believe he is lying or making the incidents up, and he did not make the information public in order to sue anyone (indeed, I’m not sure whether the priest who was the offender was even still alive when my friend finally went public).

      In sum, I am positive Freud was wrong that normal, sane children grow up fantasizing about having sex with the parent of the opposite sex [gross!], but he may have been accurate that many children do this because psychological abnormality and inappropriate early sexual activity is so widespread within humanity that many of us do not even know WHAT “normal” is supposed to be. If so many people grow up damaged and impaired, and thus have no idea how psychologically healthy people are supposed to act, how can we even SAY what is or is not ‘sane’ or ‘healthy’? Food for thought . . . .

  2. saraflower Says:

    You might have skimmed the New Testament in the Bible, Michael, but it is obvious that you did not really read it. There is nothing, and I repeat, nothing that Jesus said that can be considered intolerant or comparable to violent, power hungry extremists. Religious doctrine and human pride is to blame for violence and suppression – not God.

    Jesus taught us to love our enemies. Jesus commanded us to teach the Gospel – not to force it on people against their will. He did not tell us to try and take over countries and control people. You are confusing Christians with legalistic, hard hearted people. These people are comparable to the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. Things are no different today.

    It nearly made me laugh out loud when you suggested that Christians are struggling to take power in the way that the Islamic people have. If you look at the world around you, things are going in the opposite direction. Yes, there are crazy fanatics no matter where you go, but what about the amoral atheistic fanatics that lash out at any Christian that dares to uphold their beliefs.

    The Bible following Christians are not the ones that you need to worry about.

    • Diane Stranz Says:

      Saraflower, I have to agree with what Gandalfs Beard says in the next comment. Christian extremists DO NOT FOLLOW THE REAL JESUS CHRIST and are very public with their agenda to seize power in America in any form they can get it (within the family, business and politics).

      For a wake-up call, read Pat Robertson’s “The Secret Kingdom” when you get the chance: 3/4 of the way into it, Robertson states emphatically that human beings who do not believe in Christ the way he believes in “christ” (a being who is honestly not the Jesus Christ of the New Testament, though Robertson says he is) do not qualify as human beings in God’s eyes and, thus, can be rounded up and slaughtered with impunity. I.e., genocide is morally acceptable if perpetrated against those who do not qualify in Robertson’s eyes as “true Christians” (including many who worship within mainstream American Christianity) because they are (ipso facto) “enemies of God.”

      And this man was once taken seriously as a potential candidate for U.S. President . . . yowie. It really should stop and make one think.

  3. Gandalfs Beard Says:

    @ Saraflower:

    It is quite apparent that YOU have only skimmed the Michael Parenti article. Perhaps you missed this part:

    Michael: There are some very wonderful people in the world of religion for whom doing God’s will is more than a matter of ritual and piety; it is a matter of serving humanity and working for social justice right here on Earth. The entire Social Gospel movement of the early part of the last century, the Catholic Workers movement, the whole liberation theology movement that swept most of Latin America and other countries before it was destroyed by Pope John Paul II and the CIA death squads— these heroes worked on the side of the poor and downtrodden, quite at variance with most of organized religion whose hierarchies historically allied themselves with the rich and the powerful. These latter readily qualify as the arch villains you inquire about.

    Also, you are surely blind to the real dangers of Right wing Fundamentalist Christians attempting to impose a Theocracy in the US as severe as any Islamic Nation that follows a harshly interpreted version of Sharia Law. Perhaps you are unaware that numerous Right Wing Legislators, and wanna be Legislators are attempting to impose Theocracy on our so-called Republic (in actuality a Plutocracy).

    Such as introducing legislation to impose School Prayer, to impose the teaching of Creationism in Public Schools, the repeal of Roe vs Wade and the Criminalization of Abortion–even in cases of rape and incest, the threatening of “Second Amendment Solutions” and “bullets instead of ballots” if their candidates fail to get elected, the demonization of “illegal” aliens, the firebombing of clinics that perform abortions, the murder of doctors that perform abortions, the firebombing of African American Churches, the firebombing of mosques, the attacks on Muslims, the attacks on and murders of Gays, the bans on gay marriage, the fight against the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell”….etc.

    Then there are the unconstitutional violations of the Establishment Clause ALREADY in place: “In God We Trust” on our currency, the De Facto Religious Test for Political office (can you name even one openly Atheist or Agnostic Politician?), the insertion of “One Nation under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance, the Prayers that open the sessions of Congress, the funding of “Faith based” programmes, the de facto subsidies of Ministries that openly advocate for favoured Politicians and Political legislation despite the unconstitutionality of tax exemptions for religious groups that openly engage in promoting Political Candidates and Legislation.

    If it was funny, I would laugh at your Naivety that “Bible following Christians are not the ones” to worry about. Instead I find it chilling that you are so unaware of the dangers to secular society that exist from Bible Believers and the Cultural Warfare they are openly engaged in.

  4. Sergio Ves Says:

    There aren’t many girls or boys pointing fingers at people unless been shown the misleading lollipop or other means of mental transgression.
    I am writing a book about “my” life that was not about lollies from age two to sixteen.
    Wake up. Mental misery is often delivered from beneath the cloth of the clergy be it men or woman.
    Now finding a literary agent willing to part of pointing the finger is another issue even in 2010-11

  5. maskeen singh Says:

    maskeen singh…

    […]Michael Parenti on Religion « Ask the Agent[…]…

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