For an atheist, I tend not to talk much about religious matters anymore. When I first came “out” as an atheist, it was an interesting topic of discussion for me, but I quickly bored of it. Still no evidence for god? Okay, move along. I’m much more interested in the immediate harm of anti-vaxxers and the general push of science education. However, there are some matters of faith that still get under my skin, mainly because they can and do cause harm in the real world. That’s right, I’m looking at you, Catholicism.
The Catholic Church surely don’t have the monopoly on harm. But as an ex-Catholic who was quite dedicated to the faith and raised in a nearly all-Catholic community, the stupidity of some Church doctrines get under my skin in a deeply emotional way. Maybe it’s frustration at the hundreds of hours I spent in church, the skewed view of history I received in my Catholic school, the percentage of my allowance that ultimately went into their bloated coffers, the anti-abortion letters we wrote to politicians as homework, the dozens of hours I spent in service to my church, desperately trying to connect the Catholic worldview with my own emerging one, or the fact that some of my nearest and dearest friends are still Catholic.
Sometime in high school, I found it increasingly difficult to align myself with a worldview that viewed homosexuality as an unnatural evil. To count myself among the numbers of Catholics who supposedly, though not in reality, all hold to church doctrine, seemed disingenuous. How so many can do that without trying to change their church for the better or just leave it in the Middle Ages where it belongs… I will never understand.
Anyway, this sentiment was brought forth in response to a couple of recent news items. In one, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., is at a standstill with D.C. lawmakers over certain non-discrimination laws that would require the Catholic Church to not discriminate against same-sex couples. Catholic Charities would then end its contract with the city, which allows the organizations to partner up to provide basic charitable care to the city’s poorest inhabitants. The article doesn’t cover the thorny issue terribly well, since it is full of quotes and accusations from both sides. The issue is elucidated somewhat by a follow-up article (thanks, Nick!)
I think the solution is fairly simple: separation of church and state! It protects the religious freedom of the Church, which can then discriminate at will with its followers’ own money, and the lawmakers don’t then have to bend over backwards to compromise on civil rights. While you are at it, take away the tax-exempt status of churches, and leave that privilege for the actual charitable subsets of the organizations. I think no matter how you slice it, the Church looks like a bunch of bigots to the rest of us.
So this ties into the next recent topic, a debate on whether the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world. On the “yes” side were Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Anne Widdencombe MP, and for “no,” everyone’s favorite chain-smoking atheist Chris Hitchens and the lovable Stephen Fry. As you can imagine, the proponents of Catholicism tout the many charitable acts provided by the Church (um, see previous issue, it comes with a stipulation) and ignore the accusations of harm done by the Church in the past and in the present. Even if you ignore rehashing the Crusades, the Inquisition, or the arrest of Galileo, there is plenty of harm to the world from Catholicism today. When the Church actively discriminates gays for no other reason than “god says it’s icky,” when the pope goes to Africa and blatantly lies to a continent ravaged by AIDS, saying that condoms worsen the spread HIV, when these Middle Aged superstitions are carried to all corners of the Earth with the bait of food and education, so that a doctor can be excommunicated for performing a live-saving abortion for a raped 9-year-old girl, or innocent people in Africa and around the world are being tortured and killed in accusations of witchcraft in 2009, some with the help of Christian pastors… yeah, I have a problem. You can have charity without the funny hats and ridiculous doctrine and the cost in human lives. Shouldn’t an organization that claims to have knowledge of divine truth be progressive in issues of civil rights, even to the point of being millennia ahead of the rest of the world?
I do believe that most religious people are generally good and would continue to support charitable acts around the world without Church oversight. After all, building a better world is a basic tenet of secular humanism. Part of that belief is also motivated by the fact that I know so many people that I love and adore and that would never intentionally harm another human being who are Catholic. My problem is with the doctrine and those that carry it out in harmful ways. I would just love to see millions of Catholics see the atrocities being perpetrated TODAY in the name of their religion, and either force it to adapt, or leave it altogether. I was heartened to see at the end of the debate that most of the audience came around to this starkly obvious conclusion.
Just watch and tell me what you think.
Part 1 of 5
Part 2 of 5
Part 3 of 5
Part 4 of 5
Part 5 of 5
So there, that’s my asshole skepticism unleashed just a bit. Passionate, yes, but informed, and with darn good reasons to care so much. And if you really care, too, please do what you can to help others around with world without the guise of religion, and donate a little bit to a charity like Doctors Without Borders.