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Pyle: The good and the bad hide behind religion

By George Pyle

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Aug 08 2014 04:40 pm • Last Updated Aug 08 2014 05:40 pm

The reporter at the next desk, who had covered the cops and courts beat for a long time, said he had never actually seen Jesus. But he knew where he lived.

The fourth floor of the local courthouse.

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That was where the county jail was in that town. And it was from there that inmates often emerged to tell the judge that, while they had time to spend reconsidering their lives, they had met Jesus, and were ready to tread the straight and narrow.

In the words of a great American religious leader, "How convenient!"

Cliven Bundy, apparently, didn’t trouble himself with the mere Son of God, but went right to the top of the chain of command.

The Bunkersville, Nev., rancher was in the market for some divine intervention back in April when the feds were massing around his cattle, preparing to take them as recompense for the $1 million in back grazing fees Bundy owed for fattening his cows on land owned by the people of the United States of America.

In addition to his bold claims that it was really his land, because his family was there first, and that the feds have no authority over him, or anyone else, Bundy told Doug Fabrizio’s RadioWest program the other day that he had been told by God himself to resist the evil encroachment of the usurping federal agents.

Bundy describes himself as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and says the church has not disciplined him for his unlawful behavior.

Other experts say Bundy’s theology may be many things, but mainline Mormon it ain’t. One of the baseline tenets of the church is obedience to lawful earthly authority, and Bundy’s assertion that all the agencies we see as authorities aren’t lawful don’t wash.

Of course, what the law and any religion have in common is that people interpret both of them to suit their own needs, wants, desires and feelings.

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People decide what is right, what they want, what they will and won’t do, and then search for legal, or religious, justifications.

Whatever another individual thinks about God, it would be letting scofflaws like Bundy off the hook to blame the deity for an individual’s behavior. Even predominantly Christian nations, like ours, are strangers to the idea that people can do anything they want and avoid either criminal penalties or social exclusion merely by invoking the name of Jehovah.

Though we get frighteningly close when the U.S. Supreme Court forgives anti-woman and retrograde behavior by people — and, now, corporations — when someone’s "sincerely held religious belief" is involved.

Neither was anybody buying it when, all those years ago, Flip Wilson’s comic character Geraldine excused her spendthrift behavior with the clever, but futile, excuse, "The Devil made me buy this dress."

No, Geraldine, you bought the dress. Nobody, heaven, hell or here, forced you.

It is likewise wrong to give God all the credit for the selfless, charitable or humanitarian acts of other believers.

People who give their time, their money, their lives for the benefit of others did so because they made a choice. A choice no doubt influenced by their environment, which can include religious faith. But every large faith has tons of adherents who do good and as many or more who don’t. So saying God, or the faith, causes the good, or bad, behavior, just doesn’t make any sense.

What religion does is provide cover. Cover for the selfish, for the suddenly contrite, and even for the selfless. Religion’s greatest contribution is that it enables charity and concern for other human beings in a way that the generous and the devoted come across as serious and inspired, not weak or easy marks.

Good and bad. It’s the individual who chooses. Not the Almighty.

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