Papal Bull

According to today’s news, Pope Benedict XVI is concerned that “modern culture” is to blame for a rising tide of irreligion. People are “brushing God aside”, he laments, and nothing good will come of it.

Well, certainly nothing good is going to come of it for folks in his line of work, so it’s understandable that he would be upset. And to be sure, “modern culture” is indeed to blame — if by that he refers to Western civilization’s increasingly successful attempt, in recent centuries, to rid itself of the stifling superstitions that have held us in thrall throughout our dark and bloody history.

It would, of course, be absurd to suggest that religion has done nothing for us. It has performed very well in its principal function: to define, bind, and regulate human social groups. The Pope is understandably anxious about the diminution of this bracing effect on his native continent and culture; the birth rate among educated, indigenous Europeans (who are the most likely to be shaking off religion’s tenacious spell) has fallen off sharply, while hordes of imported believers — in particular Muslims — are breeding apace. This cannot sit well in the Holy See, and it has prompted Benedict to toss off some feverish remarks:

There are those who, after deciding that ‘God is dead’, declare themselves to be ‘god’ and the artisan of their own destiny, the absolute master of the world.”…

When men proclaim themselves to be absolute masters of themselves and sole masters of creation, can they truly build a society where freedom, justice and peace reign?

Let me clarify. I think I am just the sort of person the Pope is referring to, and if he thinks he knows how I see things, he’s got it very wrong.

First of all, I certainly don’t think God is dead; the very idea is incoherent. It is simply that if I hadn’t had people drumming the notion into my ears all my life, it would, most likely, never even have occurred to me that anyone might take the fantastic and utterly undemonstrable idea of “God” seriously in the first place.

Second, neither I nor anyone of my acquaintance (save for a few guitarists and singers I could name) actually imagines himself to be any sort of “god”. (At the very least, certainly no married man would ever entertain such a notion.)

The artisan of my own destiny? Well, the Holy Father might be a little more on target there; I do feel a certain responsibility for the course my life is to follow. I wouldn’t call it “destiny”, though. Indeed, if I entertain for a moment the view the Pope seems to recommend: that I actually have a “destiny” — an unavoidable outcome for my life, an outcome that is determined not by my free choices, but by some supernatural dictator — I must say that I find the prospect appalling. Why would anyone wish for such an arrangement? So, yes: artisan of, if not my “destiny”, at least my own life, sounds about right to me.

“Absolute master of the world?” His Holiness simply cannot be serious. Pleasant enough to imagine, of course, but surely if it were really so it would be a great deal easier to find parking. No, I’m afraid I have no such illusions.

The Pope does ask a pertinent question, though, there at the end: is a free, just, and peaceful society possible without religion? Well, as I seem to be constitutionally unable to choke down the theistic Kool-Aid, I certainly hope so. Looking around at the “blessings” religion is bringing to the world these days — and recalling the effect of religion on some tallish buildings downtown, a few years back — I think we’d better be willing to give it a try.


  1. Elisson says

    “Due to circumstances beyond my control…

    …I am captain of my fate and master of my soul.”

    Posted October 6, 2008 at 5:00 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Elisson! Nice to see you.

    Are you quoting The Grate Book of Moo?

    Posted October 6, 2008 at 5:17 pm | Permalink
  3. the one eyed man says

    I think the strongest argument against religion is that it necessarily involves dogma, and dogma is inherently the enemy of free thought.

    Or I used to think that, anyway, until the lightning bolt hit my keyboard.

    Posted October 6, 2008 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

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