Dr. Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D,B.C.S.A.,DAPA.

Dr. Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D,B.C.S.A.,DAPA.
e-mail: batushkad@yahoo.com

Thursday, July 02, 2009


Dr. Dan L. Edmunds' new book offers a humorous look at religious dogmatism. Dr. Edmunds had served as a chaplain and is a scholar of Comparative Religion who has had firsthand experiences with multiple religious traditions, therefore he is quite adept in explaining religious belief and also showing the irrationality of much of it. Dr. Edmunds is iconoclastic, but at the same time, he leaves us with encouragement and means to truly embrace life and to live as ethical human beings.
THE ODDITY OF RELIGION can be ordered through:

Below is an excerpt from this recent book:

FROM DR. EDMUNDS NEW BOOK, 'THE ODDITIES OF RELIGION' (2009) At age 15, I was studying about the Middle East in Middle School, I was 15. As a project, I decided to interview some individuals at the local Islamic Center. It was here I encountered Ali, a kind gentleman from Saudi Arabia. He later invited me to his home for dinner and introduced me to others in the Muslim community of Fort Collins. I spent another two years studying Islam, learning the Qur'an and Hadith. To this day, I still remember how to recite Surah Al Fatiha, Surah Al-Ikhlas, and Surah Al-Kauthar as well as how to chant the Adhaan. I began working for a man, Ahcene, from Algeria, and every Friday attended the congregational prayers with him.

Islam was a simplistic religion based on the oneness of God, however I must admit I was distressed and remain distressed about the militant nature of the religion. As I mentioned some of the strange rules with Judaism, I found some of the same with Islam. There were certain guidelines about being ‘pure’ before prayer. I was given a handbook on what nullifies ‘wudu’ (the cleansing before prayer), one of them was breaking wind. So, if you fart before prayer, you need to wash again, if you fart during prayer, you have to do your prayer over. Allah does not like farts. More distressing was the fact that I saw women treated as second class. At the mosque, they were sent to the basement and were apart from the men. At dinners, they ate separately and only interacted with the men to serve their food. They had little voice. During Juma’a prayer on Friday one time, it was taught about the pleasures awaiting those who enter Paradise, but most of these pleasures were reserved for men, and the description of Paradise seemed much like a drunken orgy. It appeared to me that Muhammad was taking fragments of the religions at the time to consolidate power and bring unity to the Arab world, thus he was a radical political leader, a warlord and dictator.

During my high school years, I was friends with a Mormon girl who when I moved back to Florida from Colorado I decided to keep in touch with. I stayed with my grandfather for a week and gave her his address. Though, my family later located elsewhere, the Mormon missionaries ended up with this address and for almost 6 months each week would look for me and bring brownies. My grandfather would take the Brownies and never told them we were not living there, I guess after awhile they must have figured it out. When traveling through Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, I noticed a small shrine on the side of the road. Curious, I stopped to find that it marked the supposed site where John the Baptist appeared to Joseph Smith. Wow! Here I had been working in Tunkhannock, PA on the banks of a holy river, and I never knew it! How mistaken I was to think that the Susquehanna was just a smelly, polluted river! I began to think, maybe it might be like the Ganges, if I drink the water, I might be cured or healed, or go to Heaven. I remember my Mormon friend explaining to me this concept of people becoming spiritual beings to inhabit planets. Her mother had been wedded to her father in a Temple wedding, so by virtue of this, they were married eternally. However, the woman he presently remarried after the mother’s death was only wedded in the church itself, so their marriage would end at death. She also explained to me how she had baptized some of my relatives by proxy. This is why they keep genealogical records so they can baptize dead folks and give them the opportunity to become Latter Day Saints once they are dead. I think Elvis is a Mormon now.

When I was in graduate school at the University of Scranton I recall there being an extensive discussion surrounding the idea of transubstantiation, that is the changing of bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ by the priest using the words of institution, “Take, eat this is my Body” and “Drink this all of you, this the My Blood, the Blood of the New Covenant.” One of the Jesuit priests gave a discourse on how that in Roman Catholic theology that it was the priest stating these words that were most important and which led to the transubstantiation. I then asked what would occur if a priest were to walk past and bakery and mutter these words, if all the breads in the bakery would then become the Body of Christ. I can think of many who would probably much rather enjoy stopping off at their local bakery for a Body of Christ than having to endure sitting through a Mass.

When I was actually involved for a time in the Roman Catholic Church (I had been baptized and confirmed at age 18 in St. Brendan’s Roman Catholic parish in Ormond Beach, Florida), I recall two stories involving my parish priest. Once, about 5 minutes before Mass, I was asked to bring the priest’s elderly mother over to the Church. I did not realize that she had locked the keys of the rectory inside. The priest began cursing at me and telling me I should have been watching his mother more carefully. Immediately after this tirade, he went up the altar steps to celebrate Mass. I have to admit I was a bit disgusted with him, but a few weeks later I guess retribution came as he was walking up the altar steps the bottom of his alb caught on fire. I along with others had to get cups of water to put the fire out. The priest was not injured and he carried on.

I had a discussion, once again in a theology class, over the Roman Catholic concept of divorce. I had personally known individuals who had been married, had children, and then later had their marriage annulled. In each of these situations they had paid vast amounts to the Church and the annulment process was heard by a tribunal of elderly Roman Catholic fuddy duddy clergy. I questioned what they would know about this marriage and divorce process to begin with and why it rested upon their authority to make a decision. Aside from that, I asked the question that if these people had their marriage annulled, and there were children involved, then this made the children illegitimate, as the annulment implied that no marriage ever actually existed. No one ever responded to this. I also found the devotion to the “Sacred Heart” plainly unusual. I remember asking if we are going to pray to the Heart, why not the Sacred Spleen, or the Holy Gall Bladder? Beyond this, was the wax body parts I saw in some Italian churches and medals of body parts in the Greek church that were made and hung from an icon or placed in front of a statue to honor a particular ‘healing’.

I worked for a time as a chaplain in a nursing home. I found a lot of value in spending time with the elderly and it saddened me to see how for many of these folks their families were often absent. Even more disturbing was the fact that many of these people were lifelong members of churches, were considered in ‘good standing’ and even while in the nursing home would often send donations to the churches. I came to learn from the activities director that they had spend almost 6 months with no success trying to get a Roman Catholic priest to come and minister to these persons. I offered my services and was well received. I basically became an inter-faith minister. It did not matter to me the belief system of those I was dealing with, I was not looking for some future or even present reward. I looked mainly at that it was the right thing to do to be with these people, lend them an ear, and be comforting to them. I hope that someone will do the same for me when I am elderly. However- this situation caused me some trouble, let me explain: At the time I was serving as a chaplain I was still attached to an Eastern Orthodox Christian jurisdiction. I was told that I was to only minister to those of the Orthodox faith, and that I was to ask each person of their background before I ministered to them. I found this unfortunate and absurd, and in my rebellious and stubborn spirit, I refused to acquiesce. This was one of the last straws that led me out of the Orthodox Church entirely. There were many other issues, let me begin with that-

I first became interested in the Eastern Orthodox Church when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Florida. Having been in the Roman Catholic Church, I was taught that Orthodoxy was our sister Church. I visited a Greek Orthodox parish for the Divine Liturgy at Easter. It was a beautiful service with wonderful chanting, sweet smelling incense, brilliant Iconography. I was very impressed by the aesthetics as well as the historical nature of Orthodoxy. However, this very first visit to the Orthodox Church would be very telling and sum up a lot of my later objections. During the middle of the service, the priest interrupted the service and began yelling, “Sit down! Sit down! When you are standing it makes me nervous, and when I get nervous, I get annngggggry! And you do not want the priest angry at Pascha!” I could not believe my ears. I somewhat ignored the outburst and continued to take in the rest of the service.

A few years after this experience, I was ordained as a deacon in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. I recall encountering a Bishop who was a very haughty man who enjoyed having the people kiss his hand and certainly thought he was ‘all that’ because of his rank and title. It was my first Paschal service serving as a deacon and I had invited my family. The Metropolitan Archbishop was present, a jovial old fellow. I explained to him that my relatives were not Orthodox and would just be observing. He seemed fine with that, however the other bishop began pushing them into unfamiliar rituals and scoffed at them when they did not oblige. For instance, the Gospel book was presented for the congregation to venerate by kissing it. The bishop, having been told my family would only be observers, had the Gospel book shoved into their face. The bishop just stood there waiting for them to kiss it. My uncle politely nodded his head but would not kiss it. He later remarked to me, “I guess we are just not book kissers.” The following year, I was ordained to the priesthood. It would be soon after that I would spend some time in monastic life. While the time for contemplation and reflection was of value, I later began to question the real value of what I was involved in. How is spending my life in isolation from others really making any impact in the lives of others? In concluded it was not, and that was largely how I later entered the counseling field.

At one monastery, I had a number of interesting experiences (if you have not noticed, a lot of my experiences have been ‘interesting’). First, I walked into a room where there were chairs to sit, and also in this room was a small bed, more of a cot, with a picture on it. I was very curious as to what this was all about, so I asked the Abbot-Bishop of the Monastery. He explained to me that a Russian bishop had lived and died there and that had been his bed. He later went on with stories about how this Bishop could bi-locate and he had performed other miracles and that he was definitely a saint. At that moment, a nun (who I had great admiration for her boldness and willingness to tell it how it is) whispered to my friend, Deacon Zacharias, “nah, he was just an old senile man who used to chase me with his cane.” Deacon Zacharias later jokingly told me that if I did not behave in the monastery that this Russian Bishop’s hand would creep across that bed and grab me!

In this same monastery, I would experience what I came to turn the ‘putting out of the lights’ ceremony. It was Orthodox Christmas Eve. We had just finished the services for the evening and I left the monastery to stay in a hotel as I would be visiting my grandparents who were in town. Deacon Zacharias stayed behind at the monastery for the night. As I was leaving the church after services, I noticed a woman with a scowl walking in. I thought, I wonder who she is, never seen her before, and man, she looks rather unhappy. Well, the next morning, I would discover that this woman had to be escorted out of the Church by police as she went into the Church to smash things and kept repeating, “I am the devil, I must put out the lights.” Deacon Zacharias has always been a great friend of mine and he is autistic. His response to this situation I found hilarious, but it worked. He informed me that he told her “you do not have any devil, and if you do, maybe I can smack it out of you.” He said it was then that she actually stopped her bad behavior in the church and stopped trying to smash things. It was thereafter the police came and took her away. I later found out that the Abbot had met this woman before and had performed some sort of exorcism ritual over her. Obviously it did not work, but Deacon Zacharias’ plan to ‘get the devil out of her’ certainly did!

I went to visit a Greek Monastery in New York City. After the Liturgy, I was invited to lunch. The Archbishop was seated on a platform above everyone else. I was told that when I approached the bishop I was to bow my head, fold my hands, and say “Evlogeite, Master!” (Bless, Master), and after receiving a blessing and kissing his hand I could take my seat. I wanted to use the telephone while there, but told I would have to go through the same ritual (I decided the call was not that important). We were seated by rank. So, the supposedly more important you were the closer you got to sit to the Archbishop. I was not that important, so we sat towards the end of the table. The nuns did not eat with us, they only brought the food and wine. And boy was there much wine consumed by a group of monks! Basically, I was appalled by this hierarchical nonsense and saw no purpose in it other than men behaving arrogantly and using presumed authority to control and manipulate others. I would later learn that these bishops were involved in a scam involving a supposedly weeping icon. These two ‘monks’ were millionaires! I later learned of other scams of similar nature, one at a Russian monastery in Texas where they later admitted that their claims of having a weeping Icon was plain fraud.

I did have a very positive experience meeting the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, but this too would latter be shattered. I went to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Columbus, Ohio and the Patriarch was visiting. Many of the women had tattoos of crosses on their foreheads and they would cover their mouths after receiving communion. The service was similar to a Greek Orthodox liturgy but there was drumming included. I was invited to lunch and spoke with the Patriarch who appeared kind and down to earth. However, I would later learn that there was a schism in the Ethiopian Church and that this Patriarch had been accused of capitulating to an oppressive regime in Ethiopia. This sort of thing also happened in the Russian Orthodox Church, where compromise of principles occurred frequently. The worst of the worst was to discover that a Greek Bishop I had spoken with many times, and who people held in esteem, was guilty of molesting a child. This sort of thing is one of the worst travesties I can think of, because in the church, young people are unfortunately taught that their clergy are representatives of God. If they are taught to put faith in these people and see them in this pivotal role and then this trust is shattered, just imagine what this must do to a person. It was after this incident that I began to really have my doubts about remaining in the Orthodox Church, and it was the things that happened as a chaplain that I mentioned prior that I decided to finally depart.

Through my experiences, I came to some conclusions- first, that my initial desire to explore and embrace religiosity was based on a desire to be benevolent to others; however religion does not always teach benevolence, religious people are not always benevolent, and that one does not need religion to be benevolent. I also began to see how that religion is used by some as a means of oppression. I witnessed many who went through various rituals because it was 'what they were supposed to do' but it lacked any real sense of meaning for them and in many instances these rituals lacked any real sense of rationality. This was the other conclusion I came to, that religion often lacks any rationality; it plainly at times makes no sense. I find it interesting how new religions can be criticized as "cults" by the 'mainstream' religions, yet these 'mainstream' religions belief systems can often be seen as rather 'far out' though because there is a vast number adhering to it, it has become accepted. If we talk about body thetans, we are looked at strangely. If we talked about talking bushes and virgin births, we are not. To me, if we are to discuss "God", then it would be all the physical laws and our own innate potential as humans to be benevolent to one another. I have found that people often are looking to escape from life, to reject their own nature, and to try to alter nature. Rather than live joyfully, they live in drudgery expecting some idealized future existence. And often fear and rewards are employed to 'keep people in check'. Religion may have served as purpose in a time where people were distressed and sought meaning and stories and myths provided them comfort. But now, when we have the ability to explore our world far beyond previous eras, and we have more vast tools to be rational and make sense of our world, then religion becomes less of something that individuals should need to turn to. However, it remains because many in power impose it, families impose it on their children, and some retain it because for social reasons, to benefit themselves, or because they cannot find meaning in rational ways. Often rather than seeking to help and support one another, or looking to transform ourselves and our society, we await something from above to come and do everything for us, so we never take any real action, or we rattle of our laundry list of requests (or sometimes demands), hoping that they will be heard, and when nothing changes, we think, well maybe it was not the Divine will. Hopefully, we can come to a realization of just what it means to be a human being and how precious our lives really are!

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