When I first learned about Patheos just over a year ago, I thought the organization was just another attempt by spiritual seekers to find something to put in place of God’s throne. Something meaningful, spiritual, but not too prickly, because seekers have had it with prickly. Everybody wants religion to be like their favourite pillow, and if it isn’t like that it can just go to hell.

That’s where Patheos comes in.

The spiritual seekers who cobbled together this pastische of misinformation (yes, I went there) and parochial pieties are called Leo and Cathie Brunnick, “a husband-and-wife team,” who look a lot like those husband and wife teams that sell prayer-cards on the religion cable networks, or (cutting them some well-needed slack) turbo-food processors. What they serve up in their articles and forums is a lot like what you’d get at the spout- end of a Veg-o-Whirrl.

They do not list their credentials for such an undertaking. Leo professes [sic] to be a non-practicing Catholic, Carrie a Lutheran turned evangelical. They just say they were “curious” about religion when they got married (any other activities?) and were looking for a way to blend their families. There’s that blender image again.

They also mention that Patheos is a hybrid of the word path, meaning path, and the word theos, meaning God, and that it is pronounced PA-theos. I do not know what PATH-eos means, however, if I flip the hybrid the other way, nor can I really pronounce it. Somewhere I saw the term referred to as a portmanteau, and I adore the word portmanteau. And you should also know that in the OnLine Christian College’s list of the top fifty spirituality blogs, they are ranked at number 10.

They–Carrie and Leo– are a for-profit company, by the way, and I say more power to anyone who can still milk the gods for lucre. More mysteriously they say (without any attempt to prove themselves honest) that “ is the premier online destination to explore and experience the world’s beliefs and to engage in the global dialogue about religion and spirituality.” They get between 100,000 and 200,000 hits per week. Probably mainly from people who are Googling the word pathos.

To test the poignancy of their articles, I clicked Roman Catholicism. I braced myself in my chair, ready to engage in the global dialogue that awaited me.

But, alas! All I was able to find was an advertisement for Roman Catholicism, written by insiders, and so pukily uncritical it might have been printed on the side of a bus going to a Knights of Columbus Convention in Tampa.

If a camel is a horse designed by a commitee, the article I found was unquestionably written by a committee of camels. Let me simply illustrate with the following traffic wreck of conflated paragraphs:

Jesus’ first apostles handed authority down in an apostolic succession that developed into a system of bishops, but the specific jurisdiction of Rome’s bishop was initially unclear.

Fact: The doctrine of apostolic succession wasn’t clearly articulated until the very end of the second century, when it wasn’t called that, and was not tied to Rome until later. Perhaps the writer means to say, “According to devout Roman Catholic tradition…”?

But this inability to separate belief-based postulates from the required nuances and cautions of religious studies scholarship is the pit that all quick-fix sites like this one (and including BeliefNet) have struggled unsuccessfully to avoid. By the same token, Muslim eavesdroppers have begun to love Patheos for this very weakness: did I mention it was like your favourite pillow? In fact, it is like everyone’s favourite pillow, which is why, I suspect, the advertising revenue will continue to roll in.

A little more:

Roman Catholicism Historical Perspectives
As she [sic] attempts to interpret and implement the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church is reexamining her relationship with the world, other faiths, and fellow Christians.

Fact: This statement might have been current in 1969 and may have had a lingering scent of authenticity in 1989. It is totally unclear why Vatican II is doing at this point in the article, or whether the writers have the foggiest inexpert notion what Vatican II did do and failed to do. I’ll bet whoever wrote this still goes to guitar masses.

Rock me!


Roman Catholicism Scriptures
Several centuries passed before Church authorities weighed a variety of scriptural writings to establish a definitive canon of authoritative texts known as the New Testament.

Really? This isn’t the way is happened at all. Variety there certainly was, but the “canon” was really settled by the force of tradition and individual bishops. The writers seem to think that at some point, possibly at Reno, the bishops convened and one by one, like congressional amendments, the gospels were yead and nayed (“Reverendissimi: Omnes pro Marcum per ‘Sic’ significantur.”) The matter is so complicated and so prone to cause disagreement between protestants, Catholics, Jews, and scholars who like plaid ties that it is best just left alone.

Roman Catholicism
Roman Catholicism Early Developments
Within 400 years after Jesus’ passion, Christianity developed from an illegal, persecuted, and underground religion into the official, only, and dominating faith of the Roman Empire.

Ah, finally early developments. But no, it wasn’t Roman Catholicism that was persecuted. It was called Christianity, and early on not even that. “Within 400 years?” Again, no, paganism lingered well into the fifth century. “Only?” Where were the Jews and Zoroastrians and pagans of the Middle East? “Jesus’ passion,” using non-emotive language, do you mean his execution? Blinders pinching a little too tight around the eyes of the Roman Catholic scribe who penned this nionsense?

Roman Catholicism Schisms, Sects
Catholicism experienced intermittent theological heresies and three major schisms – the Great Schism between east and west, the Great Western Schism of rival papacies, and the Protestant Reformation.

Yes it did. I would say ongoing rather than intermittent. I need to hear a bit more about these “rival papacies” (which were certainly to be reckoned with) to know why the writer would like to put them in this space, since early heresies have little in common with political schisms. And to include the Reformation, a fissure within western Christendom that affected the Catholic Church in both political and theological ways, in this category screams naivete.

Critiquing this sort of stuff is wearying. In addition to writing that can charitably be described as hasty pudding and most glommed from other internet sources, the authors did not avail themselves of fact-chekers or expert editors (that’s expensive) and permitted their errors and opinions to do what errors always do on the web: grow like mushrooms. I think BeliefNet does slightly better, and despite its reputation for slovenly scholarship, it is possible to red-flag a Wiki article on these subjects and alert unemployed professors everywhere to have their marking pencils handy.

Patheos on the other hand seems to have assigned the verisimilitude of articles to a range of denominational gatekeepers whose role is essentially to ensure that the articles reflect a kind of average piety toward their subject. Nothing too scholarly, nothing too critical, and thus nothing too right.

Yesterday we were treated to a series of fatuous articles about “Humanism,” with this tantalziing come-on from the editors

From a past infused with religious belief into a future where secularism and nontheistic morality can thrive, western nations everywhere are exploring Humanist alternatives to faith. How will Humanism interact with rising religious fundamentalisms? Where might Humanism be able to introduce new ways of dealing with the moral questions of our generation? Patheos investigates the future of Humanism as a vital tradition in its Future of Religion series

The writers chosen for this assignment seem to correspond to the website developer’s total misapprehension of what humanism is–two officials of the Center for Inquiry, one ex-official who now heads a group called American Atheists, another (a very nice chap, however) who runs a blog called “The Friendly Atheist,” and a perfectly vomitous piece by someone named Chris Highland that reads like the testimony of a spirit-struck pentecostal who was just shaken awake by the angel of Reason and Kindness.

If Patheos wanted to do something useful, it could have set about providing simple to read summaries of the world religions–and by all means, at some point in the future include humanism–because this isn’t. This is all about secularism, atheism, and the bits in between. High time to rescue the term humanism from the clutches of people the the Patheos-crowd are playing to, the ones who want sloppy souls everywhere to equate humanism of all stripes with unbelief. And shame on the contributors to this segment for not seeing through the plan. And shame on Patheos for encouragiung such confusion.

Meantime, do your job: summarize and forum away, but do the job responsibly, responsibly enough so that your child’s seventh grade teacher doesn’t fail her for coughing up this stew of errors when she’s called upon to produce an essay on Hinduism.

Do I have a top ten religion sites list? Of course.

Religion Facts
Beliefnet (with caution) (needs a new website)
The Secular Web (by far the best source for anything related to secularism)
Biblical History
Christianity (come away smiling)
Bad Reigion (just because there needs to be such a site)
Islam (consider the source, then enjoy it)
New Oxonian (for when you’re fed up with the other sites)

Of Patheos and the the Patheostrians who live by Gaul, the less said and written the better.