"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a merchant seeking goodly pearls: and having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.'
I cannot imagine a real pearl, the kind that come from oysters, of such value that I would sell everything I have to possess it. That is, if I had to keep the pearl and its only dividend was the pride of ownership, I would not give up everything else I have just for that. But the pearl that Jesus talked about was not of that kind. Jesus' pearl is truth; the truth that makes man free; the truth that leads men and women to eternal life. Now, that pearl; yes, that pearl is worth any sacrifice. To possess that pearl of great price I would sell all I have to buy it, if that should be the way to get it. Any of us would do that, wouldn't we?
Most of us Christians, especially, those who are of a mind to agree, for the most part, with the views expressed through The Examiner, believe that we will search for truth anywhere it might be found. We believe that we will go anywhere, pay any price, bear any burden, suffer any indignity, to find and embrace truth. Sometimes our search leads to very unexpected and unusual sources.
Some time ago while searching for reliable and original sources of information for articles on Church-State relations it occurred to me that a most likely source for what I needed would be the strongest advocates of Church-State separation, the strongest opponents of corporate institutionalized religion. I went to see and spent an afternoon with Madeline Murray O'Hare, the most active (in litigation) atheist in the country. It was a very enlightening afternoon.
Of course my wife knew about the visit. I mentioned it to one of our daughters a few days later. Her reaction was, "Dad!! Couldn't you find what you needed somewhere else? Did you have to go to her?" Since then I've been more selective in discussing the visit with Mrs. O'Hare.
Madeline Murray O'Hare is a gracious lady. She also has a very commanding presence. She could hardly be unnoticed in any circumstance. She is quick to respond to comments or questions and expansive in her response. She is in no way defensive or apologetic for her activities.
I explained briefly what we are trying to do through The Examiner. That is, to expose the corporate institutional church for what it is, an institution created by man, not God, to serve the interests and purposes of man, not God. It has enormous power and wealth. American corporate churches profess a belief in separation of the state from the church while in fact all of them depend heavily on our government for protection of its income and wealth, including federal, state, and local taxes as an important source of its income. The corporate church is heavily involved in politics, economics, and social activism. We believe that none of this and much more reflects God's will or intent.
Mrs. O'Hare first said, "As you would say, 'Thank the Lord' someone else is trying to do this beside us. But let me caution you. If you intend to document the wealth of Churches just in this county, you will need at least ten researchers and enough money to support them full-time for at least a year. Churches have protected themselves from public scrutiny by laws they sponsored protecting the secrecy of their financial operations. Very little of their financial activities are recorded in public documents and that is almost totally restricted to real estate. And the ownership of their property is often obscured by the way they title their deeds. If this is the sort of thing you intend to do, you are in for a long and frustrating effort."
Mrs. O'Hare said that she and her staff had spent months and hundreds of dollars just to get a list of tax exempt property owned by religious organizations in this county. She found that tax exempt property owned by religious organizations in this county represents about $3,500 for each person living in the county. That is only property with titles held by religious organizations claiming tax exemption. If our county is representative of the nation and we have a population of 240 million, religious organizations would own about 840 billion dollars in property usually valued at about one third its market value, raising its true value to something over 2.5 trillion dollars. No tax is paid on any of this property.
I asked Mrs. O'Hare if she is opposed to religion. She said, "No, of course not." She believes that she is probably a stronger advocate of individual religious freedom, and all other individual freedoms, than institutional church members are. But she is opposed to, and works endlessly against, being forced to financially support other people's religious activities. She and her organization pay taxes to support government at all levels, while religious organizations enjoy the same services from government that she and her organization enjoy, but churches do not, and will not, help pay for services that they expect and receive.
Mrs. O'Hare is outraged with churches that loudly and publicly proclaim their stand for constitutional separation of church and state, then quietly seek and get and use public tax moneys. Churches seek and get direct tax support for many of their operations. Church owned and operated schools are notorious in seeking and getting public tax money for transporting their students, text-books for non-religious classes, a large variety of special education classes, and other activities. Church owned and operated colleges, youth camps, hospitals, and a host of social-service activities regularly receive public tax support. And there are more direct tax gifts to church organizations
Following World War II the U.S. Defense Department demobilized much of its military, establishment, including scores of military' installations all over the country. Military bases that were closed down were made available to "public use organizations". Churches were among the first in line to apply for specific sites. Mrs. O'Hare spent months in the early sixties trying to obtain Defense Department records of who got possession of these properties and what they paid for them. The courts finally ordered the Defense Department to turn over the records to Mrs. O'Hare. She found that Churches were by far a majority of the organizations "buying' these former military installations, including the land, buildings, and any equipment left on the bases. The most paid by a Church was ten cents on the dollar. Many turned out to be outright gifts. The use declared by the Churches ranged from youth camps, homes for children or old people, and two-year and four-year colleges. Mrs. O'Hare said that "SDA" appeared repeatedly as a purchaser. She didn't know what it meant, so she asked. It was the Seventh Day Adventist Church, one of the loudest and most insistent advocates of church-state separation. She said something like, "The anger is still there when I think about those two-faced hypocrites who publicly demand that the government stay out of their religious activities but who were among the first in line for a government hand-out."
During the afternoon Mrs. O'Hare repeatedly used the expression "those of us who are free of religion." I believe that I now have a much clearer understanding of what she means. She has a vantage point giving her a much clearer view of what the Corporate Institutional Church is and what it has done and is doing to the world in which it operates. It exploits the ignorance and superstition of the people, just as organized religion has done since witch-doctors and medicine men exploited the ignorance and superstition of the people to produce fear and obedience. We understand that ignorance is not stupidity, it does not indicate mental deficiency of any kind. Ignorance is nothing more than 'not knowing.' We are all profoundly ignorant of many things. The greatest tragedy is that so many of us are willfully ignorant and superstitious in our religious and spiritual lives. How can those religious charlatan faith healers and televangelists extract millions of dollars from otherwise intelligent people? How can Americans tolerate a President who allowed his wife to influence his presidential decisions on the advice of an astrologer? How can devoted Christians submit to "elders" who claim that their word is God's word? These things result from ignorance and superstition. We cannot be as enlightened a people as we like to think and tolerate these kinds of things.
An afternoon with Madeline Murray O'Hare was very enlightening.