The First Congregational Church of Darien

United Church of Christ

A community of faith since 1737


I have a pet peeve with pseudo-religion. By that I mean spiritual-but-not-religious or new age type inklings posing as religion, when in fact they are something else.


If there is no community, it is not a religion.  If there are no sacred texts, it is not a religion. If it lacks clear, firm mandates lifting up one way of life over others, it is not a religion.  If it only glorifies personal preferences—however “nice” they are, it is not a religion.   In an era when society worships individual choice, all of these basic precepts get violated all of the time. I imagined that was peculiar to religion.  But it is not.  Science gets abused in much the same way, I’m learning.  It seems any form of truth is easily violated, degraded, and debased by casual detractors.


The persons teaching me this are children.  Namely, the 30,000 children in the United States whose parents refuse to vaccinate them against infectious disease like measles.  They do so for esoteric reasons, often citing celebrities referring to bogus, debunked studies, claiming that such vaccination shots will cause autism.


In Santa Monica, CA, for example, 65% of the toddlers in a preschool were not inoculated against measles. Measles have shot through places like that in a flash and endangered wider populations of vulnerables after a time when we’d almost eliminated the disease.  Measles are back.  Last year the US showed 650 cases, the largest outbreak in 20 years. Before the measles vaccine, we had 500 deaths yearly from 500,000 cases.  Measles is the greatest vaccine-preventable killer of children in the world.  Clearly, it is not something to trifle with.  But we trifle along.


Many of these parents, like in Santa Monica, are not uneducated or unaware.  They just thought their individual point of view, their preference, their exercise of choice, their faddish or misplaced concern for their children is as valid as canons of scientific research. Like opinions on contagious disease can stand up to facts. To be fair, fear reigns among no few parents. Fear can paralyze and confuse us.


Science is highly disciplined by research design, by controlled environments and variables, by repeatability of results within the same environments and variables.  You can argue with results on this basis, but not on the basis of personal choice.


We live in a day when truth gets little respect. Or at least any truth that is bigger than what we personally can see, touch, hear, feel, or smell. I get it as people are anti-authoritarian.   I don’t get it when that shades into rejecting those who speak authoritatively across geography and generations, as no better than the next guy.


Personal choice and individual preference cannot invent big truths—religious or scientific.  With so little room for anything bigger than ourselves, is it any wonder we have little room for God?  I don’t mean to sound dark.  For truth can always be trusted to vindicate itself.  But that can be painful in the form of children dying or idolatrous living. I just wish we could learn more from generation to generation.


    1. Thanks, Dale, for this important commentary. As you say, we live in an age when truth gets little respect. Today’s anti-science bent (also seen in the frenzied reactions to Ebola, denial of climate change, etc.) is odd given how America’s growth as a nation and past improvements in people’s lifestyles relied so heavily on the embrace of science. And it plays off the broader feeling that all opinions on any question are to be taken as equally valid, so that we may simply choose the one that closest fits our personal biases (or is most loudly proclaimed) without vetting the premises and underlying facts. A lot of people are hurt by this attitude, and we all must challenge ourselves not to fall in its trap.

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