There a number of famous doctors throughout history that weren't actual doctors. Dr. Seuss, Dr. No, Dr. Claw, Dr. Octopus, Dr. Who, Dr. Dre, Dr. J, and Dr. Evil come to mind. Add another one to that list. As the Reverend Doctor JJ Dyken, I invite you to address me as Doctor, Reverend, or Reverend Doctor. Both of the titles prior to my name are technically correct, but if you're feeling ill, I'm the last person you should call. I am technically an ordained minister with a Doctorate in Divinity, but neither distinction required the type of effort to obtain as someone who has put in the dedication to achieve an actual medical degree or a doctorate of philosophy. In fact, I look upon these distinctions as evidence for the absurdity of religion's attempt at legitimacy. I liken my Doctorate in Divinity to having a Doctorate of Alchemy or a Doctorate of Astrology - utterly useless distinctions encased within beautiful frames. While the certificates look very nice, I didn't have to put forth any significant effort to achieve either of these titles, nor do I think I should have been able to receive them that easily. I am not special. In fact, I am rather common, and that is precisely the point. This distinction of reverend or doctor is unnecessary. Anyone who is willing to read, listen, and contemplate can use their (pardon the pun) God-given common sense to critically evaluate the beliefs and assertions put forth by their chosen religion. No special titles are required.
It should give us cause for concern that literally thousands of people around the world use their titles in religious settings under official situations. These people lead congregations every week and serve in a formal capacity at weddings, funerals, baptisms, and more. Their credentials are just as equally valid as mine, yet they use them as the basis for their moral and religious authority. What does this practice say about a large number of our everyday religious leaders? What does this say about the seriousness with which a title like Doctor or Reverend can be so easily handed out? The ease with which these titles can be obtained is a testament to the mockery that we call organized religion.
We treat the credentials of Reverend Doctor as if the creator of the universe has authorized and endorsed these people to speak on His behalf. This is astonishing as it means that one human being can tell another human with certainty what the creator of the universe expects from us and can tell us with that same degree of certainty what happens to us after we die. The moment we acknowledge that someone has received divine revelation; we have opened the door for them to assume power in the only world in which we can be sure exists. No religion on Earth has such incontrovertible proof to justify such arrogant certitude, but that doesn't prevent religion from attempting to lay claim to that authority. People will hear what they want to hear and the source or basis for the information is often irrelevant.
For example, when 4-year old Kanon Tipton made headlines in 2011 for his evangelical preaching, believers were immediately awestruck. Non-believers were just as awestruck but for completely different reasons. Kanon started out when he was just 21 months old mimicking the movements of his father and grandfather. Today the pint-sized evangelical is considered the world's youngest preacher even though Kanon apparently only preaches when the Spirit moves him. The following is part of the transcript from one of his sermons:
Kanon is the perfect example of indoctrination. What knowledge and experience could a 4-year old child possibly have that would allow any adult to seriously consider him a Pentecostal preacher? Can he logically explain the concept of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or religion in general? If he can, on what basis would he be able to do this competently and legitimately? What life experience outside of the church does he have on which to speak authoritatively on topics where religion seeks to influence? Have the Tiptons ever exposed young Kanon to any other religion? If not, on what basis can he claim the authority to dismiss all other religions?
Sadly, the story of Kanon Tipton isn't unusual. Samuel Boutwell is a Baptist preacher at his Brookhaven, Mississippi church. Samuel became a preacher after being "saved" at the ripe old age of 3. It seems a rather obvious question, but what kind of maturity could a child this age have to adequately understand the commitment he's making or the words coming out of his mouth? This type of gimmick has immoral implications.
Hugh Marjoe Gortner is a former Pentecostal preacher who was ordained at the age of 4. He too shared the title of "youngest ordained minister in history". Marjoe (a portmanteau of the biblical names "Mary" and "Joseph") achieved fame when years later he starred in the movie bearing his name. The film provided a behind-the-scenes look at the business side of Pentecostal preaching and ended up winning the 1972 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. In the film, Gortner, now a non-believer, allows himself to be filmed preaching during actual revivals. Marjoe explained to filmmakers precisely how Pentecostal preachers like him operated, how they manipulated people, and how much money could be taken in.
Terry Durham was ordained at age 6 and has spent years traveling the country preaching to packed churches. He claims to be able to heal the sick and can apparently speak in tongues. Terry's father Todd markets and promotes Terry Durham Ministry. In a 2009 interview, he told ABC News "I see Terry Durham as a major icon for the Christian industry. Jesus is the product." Todd's goal is to surpass the earnings of such Christian evangelists as Joel Osteen. "Joel is at 76. One day I am hoping that Terry will be at about $86 million. So you know ministries are profiting these days. Everyone is buying into this."
It wouldn't be such a stretch to find these actions not only a circus of absurdity but potentially bordering on child abuse. Videos of these children preaching are all available online for anyone who wishes to view them. What becomes immediately apparent to those who watch the performances is the style of preaching. Children have an amazing ability to mimic adults in both mannerisms and one-liners. More importantly however is the content of the sermons. Children of these ages are not intellectually mature enough to grasp the serious doctrines coming out of their mouths. Most adults seem incapable of grasping theology, so why should we give legitimacy to a child who hasn't developed the critical thinking skills necessary to put themselves in a position to teach others?
Just as my credentials of Reverend Doctor serve as a testament to the mockery of religion, the fact that people take the preaching of young children seriously serves the same function. Until religion begins to take itself seriously, expect many more Reverends and Doctors...of all ages.