Posts Tagged 'catholicism'

The Pope Does It Again

My downtime lasted rather longer than I expected, but I’ll try to catch up with things as soon as I can. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), the Pope has put his foot in it again since I last checked my RSS feeds:

YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI urged Cameroon’s bishops Wednesday to defend the traditional African family from the dangers of modernity and secularization and to spare the poor from the impact of globalization.

On his first African pilgrimage, Benedict also called it the duty of all Christians – particularly those with political and economic responsibilities – to contribute to the building of a “more just world where everyone can live with dignity.”

[…]

In a briefing to reporters, Lombardi also elaborated on the pope’s comments a day earlier on condom use and the fight against AIDS, which had set off criticism. The pope said that the distribution of condoms is not the answer, and that, “on the contrary, it increases the problem.”

Lombardi noted the pope was expressing a long-standing Vatican position. He said Benedict wanted to stress that a reliance on condoms distracted from the need for proper education in sexual conduct. (Source)

Using condoms is proper sexual conduct. HIV and AIDS are killing people in parts of Africa at genuinely terrifying rates, but it’s not going to stop people having sex. That’s the fundamental problem that the Vatican seems incapable of accepting – pronouncements from the Bible are not going to stop people having sex, the spread of disease is not going to stop people having sex, and a pompous, ignorant man in a white robe is certainly not going to stop people having sex. Yes, it would be wonderful if everyone could match up with an uninfected partner and never engage in risky behaviour with anyone else, but that just doesn’t happen. The Pope is in a position to speak to millions of people, and he uses that power to give advice that is grounded in neither reality nor scientific evidence. And people continue to die.

The most frightening thing about all of this is that the Catholic Church no doubt believes – genuinely, truly believes – that it’s helping people. That doesn’t make this stupidity any more excusable, only more tragic.

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Some Personal Observations

Over the last few days I’ve overheard three discussions about homosexuality in a religious context, which I take as a fairly good sign that it’s on a lot of people’s minds right now. Two of the conversations were nothing special, and I wasn’t near the participants long enough to work out which side of the issue they were on. One in particular, however, was quite revealing.

I went from being a very relaxed Christian to being a kind of vague theist to being a full-fledged atheist. My religious belief declined steadily over a number of years, leading almost inexorably towards complete non-belief. This is such a common occurence among atheists that I sometimes forget that it is possible for a person to grow dissatisfied with their religion without abandoning it altogether – some people change religion completely, while others simply move their allegiance to a different denomination. The girl I overheard yesterday was thinking about leaving the Catholic Church and joining a different one (possibly a Protestant denomination, although she didn’t say for sure). Surprisingly, one of the greatest concerns she had was that her prospective faith leader was ambivalent about homosexuality. She seemed to feel that gay people should be welcomed by Christians without feeling the need to ‘repent’, while most of her peers were of the ‘We’ll pray for them’ variety. At the time I was surprised at this, but it does appear to be something of a trend among the more moderate segment of the religious population.

Young Christians in particular seem to be particularly troubled by how the Religious Right portrays homosexuals. Although people like myself tend to focus more on groups like Exodus or Living Hope, there are others who are more than ready to embrace Christian homosexuals without demanding that they change who they are or abandon any prospect of a meaningful relationship. Sadly, these progressive voices tend to get drowned out in a flood of rhetoric about ‘preserving family values‘ and defending ‘traditional’ marriage.

You might expect that as an atheist I’d be adverse to accepting aid from theistic quarters, but I actually find it extremely heartening that there are theists who strongly disagree with the divisive politics of the Religious Right. Despite some notable setbacks, secularism and acceptance of homosexuality are both very much on the rise, and it’s important that everyone involved in the ongoing schism this is causing to be aware of who their friends are. I’m not too hopefuly about the prospects of complete reconciliation once things have settled down, but ‘winning’ here shouldn’t mean marginalising everyone who disagrees with you to the extent that their opinions no longer matter.

Obligatory Survey Celebration

Have you heard? Atheism is definitely on the rise in the USA, and it seems to be gaining traction with incredible speed. I’m a bit late to the party on this one, so I’ll just quote some of the big sources that have already weighed in with their opinions:

Among the key findings in the 2008 survey:

• So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, “the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion,” the report concludes.

• Catholic strongholds in New England and the Midwest have faded as immigrants, retirees and young job-seekers have moved to the Sun Belt. While bishops from the Midwest to Massachusetts close down or consolidate historic parishes, those in the South are scrambling to serve increasing numbers of worshipers.

• Baptists, 15.8% of those surveyed, are down from 19.3% in 1990. Mainline Protestant denominations, once socially dominant, have seen sharp declines: The percentage of Methodists, for example, dropped from 8% to 5%. (Source)

Note that this makes atheists and agnostics among the largest religious groups in the USA, second only to Catholics and Baptists. That’s a pretty staggering thought, and one that indicates the strength of the ‘New Atheist’ movement. While I may have my doubts about some of its tactics, you can’t argue with progress like that. (Although, if I may put a mild dampener on the festivities, I have to wonder how many of the atheists who responded to the poll are of the frequently-juvenile ‘I just read The God Delusion and you all suck’ variety.)

You can find the ARIS report itself here, although it doesn’t add much to what’s already been reported elsewhere: Catholicism is losing ground fast, while atheism and agnosticism continue to grow. The geographical breakdowns are quite interesting, though, and you can track the grown of ‘No Religion’ by state on this Google map.

Needless to say, not everybody is overjoyed that those who predicted the death of atheism were apparently way off. One commentor on the Friendly Atheist blog had this to say (and yes, he was apparently being serious):

Yeah, go ahead and yuck it up right now you immoral liberal fornicators. Know that your ways of spreading global iniquity will fall in 2012 when the GOP leads America and the world to a new age of morality via Sarah Palin.

The numbers you celebrate here are the same numbers that will all be sharing the same fierty eternal fate if you don’t change your perverted atheistic ways!

His username links to a conservative Christian website with more vitriol, but it’s just a little bit too psychotic and deranged for my tastes. If you’re really curious, do a Google search for ‘christwire.org’ – among the site’s recent offerings is an article called ‘Michelle Obama’s Sinful and Unholy Prom Dress’. Just letting you know what you’re in for… (Upon closer inspection, I cannot for the life of me work out whether that site is a prank.)

This is all welcome news, but it does not mean that the ‘battle’ (if you want to call it that) is anywhere near being over. The great majority of Americans are still theists, and a majority of those theists still seem to be more than willing to oppose gay rights, stem cell research, abortion and the teaching of evolution in high schools. Only a very small percentage of Americans are ‘out’ as atheists – we might be gaining ground, but we are still very much in the minority.

UPDATE: The humorously well-disguised ‘Reverand Right’ predicts that the rise in atheism will soon mean that the USA becomes ‘like Denmark‘. Good heavens. Unfortunately, there probably are plenty of right-wingers out there who would view this as a bad thing.

Christmas Wishes

Christmas can sometimes be a bit anti-climatic when it finally arrives, but right now I’m stuffed with turkey and feeling pretty good about the whole seaon. There’s something worthwhile about having one day every year that almost everyone celebrates in some form or another, even if they don’t all do so entirely willingly. It’s especialliy worthwhile if it can make people’s thoughts in a positive way towards the many problems that our species faces, and in that spirit I’d like to quote a post I read on Daylight Atheism entitled ‘What I Want For Christmas’. I’d agree with everything on that list, but the following in particular are events that I sincerely hope I’ll live long enough to witness.

I would have the Pope admit that he was wrong to oppose family planning and abortion, wrong to exclude gays and women from the priesthood, and wrong to teach that he knows anything more about God’s will or God’s existence than anyone else. I would have him urge his flock to liberate their women, learn about and use contraception, and sell off his fabulous wealth and use the proceeds for the good of the poor throughout the world.

I would have the absolute rulers of the Islamic world close down their state-sponsored madrassahs, imprison their morality police, and then resign their thrones and teach their people about human rights and democracy. I would like to see a new flowering of science, art and culture among the Islamic people, a rebirth of the wonderful culture of tolerance and exuberant creativity they once enjoyed.

I would like to see the world’s billionaires unite and form a massive nonprofit to fight poverty and disease everywhere. I would like to see the world’s corporations agree that they will funnel their profits into this trust, rather than paying out further bonuses and dividends to the already wealthy.

I would like to see the nations of the world come together to safeguard the planet’s remaining wilderness, agree on a comprehensive plan to stop global warming, and pour their wealth into developing new sources of clean energy.

What would you like for Christmas?