|Written by Christian Cipriani -- BT Contributor|
As a pope resigns, a writer reflects on church and faith
I work for Jewish Colombians. Some of my best friends are gay. I work under many talented women. Most of my friends speak Spanish. My neighbors are from all over the world. Here in Miami, our ability to gracefully cope with difference is the only reason my life exists as it does today.
With these thoughts in mind, I reflected on the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. For the first time in nearly 600 years, a pope has chosen to resign, at a time when the Catholic Church is at its most embattled and religion in general causes more problems than ever. It fuels many of our world’s deepest woes and threatens life, culture, secular institutions, and human rights on a daily basis.
Bertrand Russell once observed that, “in the modern world, the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Faith is the surest of all cocksure positions, existing in an unverified and inarguable plane outside reason and evidence. When set alight, it becomes nuclear fuel in the engine of action.
And the trouble with the stupid and cocksure has only worsened since Russell penned those words more than a century ago.
Today almost anyone with an Internet connection outside of China has access to the largest collection of free information in history, but intellectualism and reason are still genuinely challenged by fanatical religiosity, from East to West. We know what this looks like in the East: radical Islam, suicide bombers, brutal executions, draconian laws, and the violent, humiliating oppression of women.
In the U.S., Christian-based religious fanaticism remains fervent. It’s deeply in bed with conservative politics, so that to be a true conservative today, you must have full faith in a party doctrine baked from a slew of wildly unrelated ingredients. Take two parts free-market economics and low taxes, pepper in pro-war values and gun rights, add a dash of xenophobia, and top it off with skepticism toward climate change and evolution.
Those last two positions are my favorites. The American religious-political machine manufactured these false “controversies” over the past 25 years. Oil industry-backed pseudoscience frames climate change as debatable, while conservative pundits spin it into a liberal, intellectual conspiracy to give the government control of energy profits through overregulation.
Unfortunately the world’s credible scientific institutions all agree that we’re irreversibly screwing up the environment, which, oddly, doesn’t seem to faze religious conservatives. If earth is a gift from God, one would assume they -- not a bunch of godless scientists -- would be the first to protect it, rather than support the unbridled rape of its natural resources.
The second “controversy” invented by religious conservatism is the false debate over evolution. What was once a fringe concept is now a full-blown movement affecting educational policy in the U.S. The non-science known as “intelligent design” thrust itself onto the world stage with the misleading slogan, “Teach the controversy.”
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe calls creationism what it is: A “war on the theory of evolution…[that] originates in forms of religious extremism which are closely allied to extreme right-wing political movements.” Leaders from nearly every developed nation where creationism entered public discourse have rejected it, as well as the idea that a “controversy” exists.
Every nation except one.
In the year 2013, skepticism of Darwinian evolution is taught in a handful of American public schools, thanks to the efforts of people with absolutely no scientific training -- just one book, and hearts overflowing with religious conviction.
Pope Benedict’s resignation comes at a time when religions continue to battle one another, and secular humanism is at war with religion itself.
In the past, when one’s life barely extended past the edge of town, churches were central to both city and spirit. They were places where the needy found help, the bewildered found answers, and where neighbors could rely on a level of tribalism to forge trusted relationships.
Today, in countries where average people are no longer without resources, churches have come to mean less. In Scandinavian cultures, which rank among the world’s happiest, religion has become quite useless. In fact, across the world, there’s an almost perfectly inverse relationship between the importance of religion and general prosperity (the U.S. being a rare exception).
Churches, meanwhile, continue to suffer from their inability to adapt. As societal power structures, they are a threat to modern values, and the superhuman power of “faith” is anathema to reasoned existence, a position best expressed by the late Christopher Hitchens. His eviscerating prose stripped religion of its gilded robes and exposed it as a threat to peace, happiness, and human progress.
There’s a reputed ancient Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.” I think we do. I’m just thankful to exist in a time and place where humans can be valued not by the empty measure of belief, but by the objective weight of character and action.
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
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