Thursday, June 20, 2013

Imagine No Religion. It's Easy...

If one of the sources of terrorism is religious fanaticism—and this is in fact the case—is then religion a healing and saving force? Or is it not an archaic and dangerous force that builds up false universalisms, thereby leading to intolerance and acts of terrorism?

Must not religion, therefore, be placed under the guardianship of reason, and its boundaries carefully marked off? This of course prompts yet another question: who can do this? And how does one do it? But the general question remains: ought we to consider the gradual abolishment of religion, the overcoming of religion, to be a necessary progress on the part of mankind, so that it may find the path to freedom and universal tolerance? Or is this view mistaken?

Joseph Ratzinger, “That Which Holds the World Together: The Pre-political Moral Foundations of a Free State,” in The Dialectics of Secularism: On Reason and Religion, 64-65

Reflection – I am enjoying this essay of Ratzinger’s so much that it is a great temptation to just keep blogging about it until the whole thing is reproduced on my blog. The ensuing and impoverishing lawsuit for copyright infringement, and the fact that this would be a crashing bore to most of my readers, is the only thing holding me back here, folks!

Well, looking at this little bit, you cannot say that Ratzinger did not give a fair and full airing to his ideological opponents. Is religion in fact a noxious weed in the garden of humanity, a wellspring of violence and hatred that should be eliminated? ‘Imagine no religion. It’s easy if you try,’ John Lennon sang, in that song so many consider to be an earnest plea for universal peace and understanding.

Of course the trouble is, at least in part, what Ratzinger raises here. How would we abolish religion from humanity? How would we, exactly, uproot this noxious weed from the garden? Its roots go deep, and it is far reaching. Do we use the coercive power of the state? What does that look like? Internment camps for several billion people? Because religion, while somewhat moribund in North America and Europe, is still a vital and necessary part of almost everyone’s life in the rest of the world. Forcible removal of children from religious homes for re-education? Yeah, that’ll work…

The confinement of religion to the strictly private sphere? Well, that is the current line in North America and Europe. In the rest of the world, it simply doesn’t fly. Islam, by definition and by its own theology, is a public religion with a strong political component. But even in North America and Europe, we are finding that we cannot separate public and private into such nice tidy compartments, and attempts to do so end up being a de facto coercive suppression of religion.

If the private nature of religion means that I have to pay so that you can have an abortion or use contraception, then the private nature of religion means I am not free to practice my religion. You may as well send me to an internment camp while you’re at it!

Persuasion, then? Well, you can try that. It is noteworthy that with all the press and publicity the New Atheists have received, they really haven’t persuaded too many religious people of the truth of their beliefs.

It is odd, that, since they insist their presentation is utterly logical and straightforward and clear. You would think they would have convinced someone by now, with all their millions of book sales. Most of their enthusiastic fans appear to be young men, mostly, who were never much of anything to start with, and find in their books a pseudo-intellectual veneer to justify their anomic existences.

But I digress. Is religion, for all that, a negative, harmful force in humanity? For myself, I find efforts to ‘prove’ that tendentious and relying on confirmation bias. In other words, when someone serves the poor or lives a life of blameless virtue and kindness, that is ascribed to some nebulous human goodness, even if the person in question insists they are motivated by faith and love of God.

If a religious person is mean, harsh, violent—well, that’s their religion talking! And that proves (PROVES, I tells ya!) that religion is evil, evil, evil. It’s just silly, really, this line of ‘reasoning.’

Meanwhile, the questions remain, and I am plumb out of space. Tomorrow I will continue this section of the essay, and Ratzinger will take us in another direction, with more questions, hopefully on the way to coming up with an answer or two. See you then.

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