PZ Myers receives hate mail from a Catholic. No surprise there. But I’m jealous. I’d like some of that ire tossed in my direction. Most of the Christians I’ve had ‘discussions’ with are of the Protestant persuasion, although, my childhood experiences with religion were mostly at Catholic Churches; they either consisted of my religiously apathetic mother dragging me to Christmas Mass, “for the pageantry”, or a friend’s parents inviting me to Easter services, because they thought I was a heathen. My boyish reaction at these events was usually the same; I felt like a disappointed fan at a rock concert when the main act doesn’t show up; everyone in the audience pretended like god the ‘rock star’ is going to make an appearance, but he’s a no-show. All hype and no delivery was how I saw religion. My feelings remain the same.
But one of my favorite stories about Catholic priests is from 2001, out of San Francisco. The details are so over-the-top that you’d think an anti-religious Hollywood writer had penned them while in therapy. One Rev. Bernard Dabbene was literally caught in the act.
A priest of 34 years, Dabbene was spotted by police on Nov. 11 with the teenager in a parked car at 25th and Illinois streets — an area frequented by drug dealers and prostitutes.
Both were found with their pants unzipped and Dabbene’s trousers fell down when police confronted him.
The boy said he was running from a gang and sought help from the priest only to be fondled. The priest said they were merely discussing unspecified job opportunities.
In the TV news reports at the time, it was stated that when Dabbene stepped out of the car, his pants fell to his ankles. This is comedy gold. And it reminds me of the twisted and often ironic humor of Dante’s Inferno. It almost makes me wish there were a hell.
A survey asking about people’s knowledge of religion has some not-so-surprising results. Protestants and Catholics are less knowledgeable about their own religion’s doctrines than atheists, Jews, and Mormons.
Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn’t know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ. [Yahoo News]
In addition, Americans don’t grasp the secular laws that protect both government and religion, the separation of church and state.
The study also found that many Americans don’t understand constitutional restrictions on religion in public schools. While a majority know that public school teachers cannot lead classes in prayer, less than a quarter know that the U.S. Supreme Court has clearly stated that teachers can read from the Bible as an example of literature.
“Many Americans think the constitutional restrictions on religion in public schools are tighter than they really are,” Pew researchers wrote. [Yahoo News]
Questions concerning Charles Darwin and evolution were included in the survey.
Respondents were also asked, “And which of these court trials focused on whether evolution could be taught in public schools?” and offered the choice of the Scopes trial, the Salem witch trials, and Brown vs. Board of Education. Only 31% of respondents selected the correct answer of the Scopes trial, 36% selected Brown vs. Board of Education, 3% selected the Salem witch trials, and 30% said that they didn’t know. [Nation center For Science Education]
Nothing particularly surprising in the results. The Pew Research Center’s report is here (PDF).
I prefer Monty Python’s Bishop sketch to any story of real clergymen. But I’m sure the Bishop Of Lancaster, Patrick O’Donohue, is a warm friendly fellow who would offer a guest a cup of tea and a biscuit. When it comes to matters of the Catholic Church, however, I think he’s a die-hard theist. He’s all upset over the threat of “aggressive secularism”. He’s particularly in a tizzy over educated Catholics spreading skepticism. I think that’s called the free market, or in religion’s case, freewill. Huh. I get the feeling the Catholic Church doesn’t like competition, a.k.a. freedom of thought. What say you, Bishop?
“In the case of education, we can see its distortion through the widespread dissemination of radical scepticism, positivism, utilitarianism and relativism.”
“Taken together, these intellectual trends have resulted in a fragmented society that marginalizes God, with many people mistakenly thinking they can live happy and productive lives without him”
So I’m obligated to buy your product, Bishop? Even drug dealers aren’t that aggressive in their advertising. Going door-to-door and shoving crack cocaine in people’s faces is bad for business.
In a Newsweek opinion peice from September 27th, writer Lisa Miller, “argues against the atheists”. The column is called “Belief Watch”, and Miller’s apologetic scribblings do the vacuous nature of religious belief complete justice. She begins by arguing that atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are unfamiliar with real believers.
First, if 90-odd percent of Americans say they believe in God, it’s unhelpful to dismiss them as silly. Second, when they check that “believe in God” box, a great many people are not talking about the God the atheists rail against—a supernatural being who intervenes in human affairs, who lays down inexplicable laws about sex and diet, punishes violators with the stinking fires of hell and raises the fleshly bodies of the dead.
When over fifty percent of Americans believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis, what are we atheists supposed to think? If we include all Christians worldwide, particularly the ones in poorer Catholic and Eastern Orthodox nations, the percentage is probably much higher. This doesn’t take into account the non-democratic Islamic nations, where Western ideas are spat upon, and where basic education is limited to males, and where people are threatened into believing in the all-powerful Allah. So, the actual number of believers in an angry, vengeful, and intervening god is probably much much higher than even Lisa Miller cares to imagine.
Apologetics is a form of faith; it’s faith in faith. Miller finishes her paper-thin argument by hauling in the invisible sacred cow.
Submitting faith to proof is absurd. Reason defines one kind of reality (what we know); faith defines another (what we don’t know). Reasonable believers can live with both at once.
Reasonable believers? Can reason and faith coexist? And how can faith define the unknown? Isn’t the unknown, by its very definition, indefinable? Here, Miller’s mental gymnastics are Olympic quality. And most believers would likely take great offense to her reducing their unshakable faith to an algebraic X. Personally, I prefer to think of all faith simply as a Y.