A Religious Pope-Dream
by Francois Tremblay (e-mail: FTremblay@liberator.net) [March 23rd, 2000]

     For the first time in the history of Catholicism, a pope has given apologies for his cult's historical misdeamors, so to speak. Except they were not apologies to the groups of people that have been persecuted, but to God. Why God needs to hear apologies is beyond me, but that's religion for you.
     On March 12th, Pope John Paul II said that Catholicism is "asking pardon for the divisions among Christians, for the use of violence that some have committed in the service of truth, and for attitudes of mistrust and hostility assumed toward followers of other religions." Amongst the events and persecutions lamented during the following prayers were : sins against other cultures (including colonization of native people), sins against Jews, sins against women (including witch-hunts and official sexism). No word about the holocaust, though.
     Note the "other religions" part : nothing about the non-religious people, deists, agnostics or atheists killed for being heathens. Somehow I have the impression that non-religious people count for nothing to Vatican dwellers. Note also the telling use of the word "truth." Ironically, not a word against oppression of the real truth, science. A word about Galileo, Hypathia or the Library of Alexandria would have been rather necessary! Even today we find no acknowledgement of the revolting religious rape of "pure and defenseless reason" throughout the ages.
     One last gripe I have about the Pope's little ditty is when he ironically laments that "the equality of your sons and daughters has not been acknowledged," against Biblical doctrine. Women can't be catholic priests, either, let alone pope. As they say, some people are more equal than others.
     But enough about John Paul. Don't blame him : unlike me, he probably doesn't write his own texts. Blame him for being an evil bastard, and you'd have a point.
     The Pope may be the single most evil man alive, according to some people. And for good reason. Not only is he the head of the biggest cult in the world, but he preaches against birth control measures. This is quite deadly in a world where overpopulation is the biggest and most far-reaching problem today. The Roman Catholic cult is a big part of that problem. Anti-contraception policies, especially in many third-world countries, where the reproduction rate is higher, are enforced by means of indoctrination and political pressure. A more sarcastic person could say that the Pope doesn't stop it because he knows very well it only gives more fresh minds to brainwash in his cult.
     The other way to solve high reproduction rates is education, especially education for women. Promoting religion does not help the general level of education at all, as you can imagine. Not only does it introduce unwanted memes that contradict science and introduces a higher level of faith, but many people come to serve the clergy instead of helping their fellow men.
     Of course, stupidity also engenders a predisposition to become religious. Since the "best" religions are the ones that propagate quickly, and intelligent people are much less prone to accept religious precepts, we must conclude that engendering stupidity would be a "memetic advantage" in some way. Churches have no interest in schools, except theology schools.
     At any rate, the Pope's actions do not eradicate the doctrine of sin. In no way has the official cult doctrine changed. All that he did was make pseudo-apologies (directed to God, even) about past events. Yet the cult still continues to enforce the inequality of women, the eradication of birth control and the notion of sin in general. What good is a criminal if he repents from past behavior and still commits his crimes? Well, what are we to think of a man who has beaten his wife for ten years, apologizes to his father, and then continues to beat his wife. It's pretty obvious that he would still be considered a criminal. We should consider an evil cult that repents from its past actions, and still revels in them, in the same way.
     Ironically, the notion of sin itself is a great evil, one that begs to be wiped out from our memetic landscape. Sin is a form of moral judgment based on a god's will -- that whatever God's will is, is good. Religious behaviour turns around this notion.
     The idea that we must obey a deity construct in order to be good is a morality of submission, not of independant thinking. Even if a god did exist, it does not necessarily follow that we should obey it, or that such an obediance would be the only good. Unfortunately, as I have observed many times, a mind which does not understand the notion of moral contextuality will only be able to do so with great difficulty.
     The Pope's feeble attempt to repair the damage done by his cult during the last millenias does not erase the evilness of religion and its precepts. It boggles the mind to think how advanced our society would be, both philosophically and scientifically, would our modern religions have been supplanted by secularism and rationality.

Sinful doubt

     Not only is it not convincing, but the Pope's speech raises a lot more questions than it answers.
     The most obvious one is, why do these actions need to be apologized for at all? From a secular point of view, the question is deceptively trivial. From a religious point of view, it is a much more difficult, if not impossible, question to answer. Mass murdering is encouraged by the god of the Bible in many occasions, especially the Old Testament. Why should followers worry about imitating their own god?
     The problem with taking any Biblical morality as a given is that there is no such thing as a Biblical morality. The Bible is so full of contradictions that no precise identity could be possibly given to such a morality. To paraphrase an old maxim, "scriptures are like a well: you can take water from any side and splash the other with it."
     The practical consequence of this is a culture-oriented morality. Whatever has become acceptable slowly changes religious doctrine, so that the morality adapts with the time, albeit more slowly. In more theoretical terms, it means that religious morality is nothing less than moral relativism (or more precisely, moral tribalism), the very thing that religionists denounce with so much vigor. Professing to follow an absolute standard of morality, they in fact follow a system that has changed considerably throughout the ages, so much that a public figures who acts like Christianity professed during the Dark Ages is today called demented, or criminal.
     This dichotomy between theory and action can lead to dire consequences. The relativist aspect of the dichotomy gives the freedom to believe in any moral precept that one feels strongly about, while the appearance of absolutism strenghtens one's resolve to the point of fanaticism. This volatile combo, as we know from history, is more than sufficient to summon up extreme violence.
     From a more objective point of view, we know that morality, like any other form of knowledge, must come from reality, and not supposed gods or inspired scriptures. Associating morality with religion is very dishonest, not to say destructive.
     If we accept the Pope's notion of good and evil, another relevant question related to this is, why were humans created with this capacity to do tremendous evil? If it is found to be important enough to have to apologize to God, then we must presume that, in the eyes of the Catholics, God would be somehow angry or dissapointed at these actions, presuming a supernatural being can have emotions at all. But if God is omniscient, he would know the flawed nature of the man he was about to create, as well as the eventual consequences. And if God is omnipotent, then surely he can create humans that do not have the potentiality of committing such acts, without infringing on their capacity of free will. So why didn't he?
     This problem is illustrated by the Genesis story of "Adam and Eve," where the two first created humans eat of the forbidden fruit. But God must have been aware that his creations would break his rules, or at least that they had the potentiality to do so. Why would a god be angry because his creations behave in a way that he has foreseen and planned? Either this being is not omnipotent, or it is not omniscient.
     On this same point, it's important to note that the Pope apologized about actions committed by his own cult. But supposedly these people were "saved." If salvation does not make one good, then what does it do to the person, aside from guaranteeing a place in Heaven? It does not seem to change the person's character, that's for sure. Perhaps it is more true to say that salvation is an easy justification for one's actions.
     All these perplexing questions will be left unanswered by the Pope and his cult, because they are much more embarassing than mass murders -- they question the very foundation of the Christian religion. It is one thing to answer to past mistakes, but another to answer to one's present mistakes.
     Perhaps you know the old conundrum about God and the good. It goes like this: is "the good" good because God said so, or is "the good" an irrefutable rule that is above God? Both alternatives are very embarassing for the believer. If "the good" is good on a decision from God, then it could be different than it is now. For example, the torture and mass murder of millions of Jews could become good, because God has willed it to be so. On the other hand, if "the good" is part of an irrefutable rule which is outside of God's control, then this is very similar to the objective position. We would still need to look at reality to find morality, and not at a god's will.
     Fortunately, all of these moral questions only apply to religionists. As some atheists like to say, "it's your rules, you go to Hell." And it's as well, because for some people, Hell may be not in the heavens, but on Earth.

[Visit Francois Tremblay's personal pages at http://www.objectivethought.com.]

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