Of Wolves and Ravens – Religion and Leadership

Happy Tyr’s Day


If there has been one thing I have learned in the last few month’s it is that people for some reason trust a person who is more religious than one who is not.  I am not sure what the congregation reacted the strongest to when I left my last church, the fact that I had an emotional affair, or that I left the faith.  I think if had been just the first I might have gotten off with lesser consequences from them but the notion that I, a pastor, had a crisis of faith seemed to bother them more than the affair.  At least for some.

There is a prevailing notion that a religious leader is more honest and truthful than one who is not. We see it in politics every year as one candidate or another with come out and declare their faith, quote from the Bible or declare how their faith in God has made them a better candidate than the other one.

I know for myself I have noted a change in how people perceive what I say.  I even had one guy say my opinion was now more invalid because I no longer had faith.  So much for basing assessment of validity on reason and the rules of logic.  The truth is while we may gravitate to religious leaders, they my be even more damning as far as leadership direction and motivation than their non-religious counterparts.

Does being religious make a person a better leader or just a more devious one? One that uses the politics of religion to get votes and support.  To the wolves and ravens:

Needs (Geri):

Does a good leader need to be religious?  I am not sure high ethics and morality are found in being religious. I mean even in Christianity, the ethics of Christians can get inconsistent and even diabolical.  The Calvinist doctrine of election is most certainly something that led to the American notion of manifest destiny that probably single-handed was the most responsible philosophy that lead to the western expansion of the United States and the wiping out of the ‘non-elect’ Native Americans.  Not exactly a positive high ethical moment when you use faith to justify genocide and theft. I don’t think there is any need for a leader to be religious at all because their religion being a force for good or bad really can depend on the religion and its worldview.

Wants (Freki):

Do we then still want a leader to be religious? I guess that would depend on who you are.  Christians want Christian leaders; Muslims want Islamic leader, etc.  Why? Because then those groups know their values have a better chance of being respected.  The problem is this same issue becomes a way of excluding other faiths and systems of understanding the world. It should also be noted that religion more often than not causes people to believe things about reality that are not true and for that to affect public policy is dangerous.  People want religious leaders because they want to push that particular faith’s agenda, not because being religious makes a leader a better or more sound one.

Reason (Huginn):

My problem with bringing reason into this discussion is that leadership and following one often has much more to do emotion.  Very few honestly assess a leader for their leadership qualities.  Reason actually tells us that people are stupid and follow people because those people share the same associations with them. Even of that person’s character is suspect, they will still follow them because they are ‘one of us’.


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Donald Trump and evangelical Christians are a classic case in point. During the primaries Ben Carson supporters were basing Trump as immoral due to his past associations with Democrats and the fact he was divorced a remarried several times.  There was also the fact that he had affairs while he was married.  As an example of Christian moral character, Donald Trump was and is not the best, Yet, the moment it was clear he was the candidate of choice, they flipped and started saying what a godly Christian man he was.  Yeah, evangelicals being hypocrites once again is not new, but this was the most blatant flip-flop I had ever seen and I was still a minister at the time.

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From a reason standpoint being religious is the reasonable thing to do if you want religious people to blindly follow you, so Trump immediately made a show of getting prayed for and quoting the Bible.  He was elected with a majority of Evangelical support.  So it gets you elected but it’s obvious that being religious also gets people to leave their ethical standards to vote for you.

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Wisdom (Muninn):

Wisdom when it looks at history cannot support the notion that a leader being a zealous religious devotee is a good idea. Religion has been used to justify more wars, genocides, rapes and other things no rational caring person would consider good.  It takes religion to make otherwise good people do evil things.  Give such a person power and you have magnified the evil that he can make good people do. Power in the wrong hands is already dangerous, religious zealots in leadership magnify this a hundred fold.


I want to make it clear  here, I am not really saying you can’t be in leadership and be religious.  I am saying that probably given that we don’t need a leader to be religious to be effective, nor is it always wanted. Reason and wisdom say that it actually might not be  good idea for a leader to be a zealot religiously in order to be fair to people of all faiths or those who lack faith at all.

I want to make it also clear Trump’s morality is not the issue here with me.  I really don’t care as long as a leader is effective what his bedroom habits are.  This issue for me is the danger of those who are religious who follow him, like the Evangelicals in how simply because a man quotes the Bible and bows his head in prayer, he must be godly. Therefore those same Evangelicals will follow him to damnation with the country and liberty as collateral damage.  It might actually be more damning to freedom and liberty for a leader to be religious in truth.

Personally, I have found it interesting that people challenge the truth of what I say these days far more.  Now if this was purely about lies told in the past, i could understand it to an extent.  But it seems to be more than that.  I am not ‘one of us’ with a lot of people anymore and so the tribalism of life comes in more fully. The real funny part is I have actually gotten more honest in the last few months than I have been in a long time.  So much so, some people don’t like it.

The Rabyd Skald – Wandering Soul, Bard and Philosopher. The Grey Wayfarer.


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