Table of Contents

Brian the Writer

Toward a Religious Taxonomy

Brian McCorkle

How do our beliefs compare against the real world?

Every now and then, I get a harebrained idea. Actually, more often than now and then, but I never catch on. For some reason, I've decided to develop a taxonomy of religions, faiths, and denominations. I chose to start with the varieties of Christian practices and belief. This is due to the childhood indoctrination that most Americans go through as well as my proximity to many Christian varieties. With my peers, I shared many myths about the dominant religion in the United States.

Although I already had discarded much of the religious mythology, in the 1980's I discovered a need to challenge my own beliefs and knowledge in addition to that of others. This need was based upon a discovery of a major Wisconsin bureaucracy’s propaganda campaign using misleading information. And it was just a short hop, skip and jump to examine again various facets of religion, including my own youthful indoctrination. And what did people mean when they proclaimed that they were a good whatever?

In some regards developing a taxonomy is easy because of large differences that inevitably occur over doctrine. Thus, we have trinitarian Christians vs. unitarian Christians; Monophysites vs. Chalcidonian; predestination vs. free will; New Testament vs. Old Testament and so on. There are back door Christians, such as the Utah Mormons. There are receding Christians epitomized by the German Christian Movement. Of course, the eastern vs. western and Protestant vs. Roman Catholic has been at the root of much discord, torture, and massacre.

Classification becomes more complex when we consider schisms and unions. Name changes occur in an attempt to take on a different appearance. Doctrinal changes are very common. Change leads to rebellion and splinter.

My early indoctrination was as a Presbyterian. The church like my town was small. Overall, there was a relaxed atmosphere. There was no hellfire and brimstone.

I’ve watched a Presbyterian televangelist, D. James Kennedy, several times and wondered why this was so different from the church I attended. My church was not so narrow and attacking. Kennedy spends sermons blasting the ACLU, liberals, and NOW. Apparently NOW was the only kind of feminism recognized by the minister.

I mentioned his approach to a woman who is a deacon in her Presbyterian church. She replied that he must be a southern Presbyterian. They are a different breed altogether.

Kennedy amazed me by declaring that National Socialism was identical to Communism because he looked up the word socialism in the dictionary. The benefit of National Socialism to German capitalists was hidden behind sleight of mouth and slippery definition. It was the 1934 night of the long knives that purged the National Socialists of anti-Catholics and socialists. This was the first of many atrocities that German Churches ignored. It was a cleansing action to make the party more attractive to conservative businessmen, church leaders, and army officers.

He also claims to a rational presentation of the Gospel. I looked up rational in my dictionary and found &ldqo;related to or based on reason.” The banner on Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries web pages, quotes a passage from Romans that proclaims living by faith. My observation is that faith has no tolerance for reasoning.

Kennedy owns the Coral Ridge Ministries. His presentations are full of pomp and procession. He has a large professional choir and orchestra to demonstrate his power. The little church of my youth had to settle for an unpaid pianist and a volunteer choir.

Besides the Presbyterian church, my little town also contained a Catholic church and a Lutheran church, as well as seven non-denominational taverns. The countryside was home to Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses and a multitude of bars.

Despite modern claims, there was no public or enforced prayer in my school. If there were any prayer, it was private (Please God, no exam today) with no intimidating groups. The only religious issue I recall was a Jehovah's Witness girl who would not recite the pledge. And no one became upset and attempted to force her behavior into a common mold.

We did learn about Roger Williams and his stand on religious freedom. There was also an idealized version of the Pilgrim story but no mention that the Massachusetts Puritans hanged Quakers long before they hanged those who refused to confess to witchcraft.

The Massachusetts Puritans also lobbied the Pilgrims to invade Rhode Island to destroy the Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson gangs. The Puritans had successfully destroyed the Pequots in 1637. In 1642, the Massachusetts Bay Governor wrote to the Puritans urging suppression of the heretics. Williams received a patent for Rhode Island in 1644 upsetting the Puritan plan for suppression.

Someone in my church told me that the structure of the US government was based upon the Presbyterian hierarchy. I was very proud of that. Now I know that there might have been some influence, but it was one among many. The Pilgrims were congregationalists but tolerated the presbyterian governing structure of Huguenots. They were not willing to give up their own ways though. After all, they left England over structural issues, in addition to fleeing the religious police. The Pilgrims considered Anglicans to be filthy papists although without the Catholic Church, there would be no Anglican Church and without the Anglican Church there would be no Puritan churches.

Virginia Colony was officially Anglican. That was also glossed over at school. No one mentioned that Anglican ministers were paid a 2000 pounds of tobacco yearly by the state. Dissenting (non-Anglican) ministers were on their own. One bill proposed in the House of Burgesses sought to nullify all marriages performed by dissenting minsters. That would mean instant bastardhood for a lot of people.

I got some of my beliefs by absorption or cryptomnesia. I saw a couple of Catholic priests drinking beer and smoking. My young Protestant self knew that was just plain wrong. And it was important to know that some people were Jehovah's Witnesses. That was their identity. No one told me that. I absorbed that knowledge from the daily conversations around me. It was less important to know who was Catholic, but presumably I would be able to know enough not to marry one.

A mixed marriage was between a Catholic and a Protestant. One mixed marriage was known for the tempestuous relationship between wife and husband. Townspeople knew for certain that the root trouble was the issue of whose church got the children.

There was a scandal in that little Presbyterian church. A couple was active in the church and took care of ordering literature for Sunday school. Someone discovered that the literature was actually Baptist. And then, it was discovered that these two were former Baptists (or perhaps Baptist moles). I wasn't privy to the meeting that ensued, but the couple remained in the church, and the materials changed. I did like the Baptist stuff better. A comic book depicting prophets throwing fire balls has a high wow factor.

No one mentioned that predestination was a cornerstone the Presbyterian doctrine at that time )and remains a tenant of faith for the conservative Presbyterians). This means that only a select few will be chosen for Heaven. I guess the rest go to Hell. Once chosen, the die is set. So behavior is no longer important to pass those pearly gates.

The doctrine of original sin made no sense to me (and still doesn't). This is an example of legend gone awry. Mere mortals claiming to know the mind of God use the legend to dictate how other mere mortals must suffer.

The more I thought about things even at that young age, the less I was willing to accept. In the end, the indoctrination didn't work.

That small church I attended is dying today. A 2004 entry lists eight members. The other two in town churches appear to be doing all right.

And to start my taxonomy, that church is a member of the Winnebago Presbytery, Lakes and Prairies Synod of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The Presbyterian Church (USA) is considered liberal. It was formed by the 1983 union of two separate churches, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS) and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA). Since the UPCUSA is considered the northern branch, I’ll assume that was the church affiliation of the small church,

There are at least a dozen other Presbyterian Churches in the United States. Some of the Churches consider brethren Churches as aberrations, perhaps even abominations. All are descended from the teachings and theology of John Calvin.

I’m not sure if I’ll get very far on my religious taxonomy project. I have discovered a couple things though. Words from the pulpit are not guaranteed to be truthful. People and groups who all claim to be the same sure don’t get along with each other no matter what they proclaim.

Growing up in Pembine, Wisconsin. Was it different from other places?
First Appeared in Ego Trips Number Five (Autumn 2006)
Experimental Literary Journal of the
Fox Valley Writers Club (Wisconsin)