I went to church quite often when I was a small boy, especially around Christmas.
My brother and I spent many a winter afternoon kneeling in front of the nativity scene that had been set up by the altar at St. Monica’s. A couple of rosy-cheeked cherubs quietly prayed and kept one eye out for the priest as we stuffed our jackets with the cash-filled envelopes that had been left as offerings by generous parishioners. The money was for the poor and we were broke—why not cut out the middle man?
My relationship with God has had its ups and downs over the years. At some point we agreed that if I’d quit bugging him for the Lotto numbers every week, he’d stay out of my way and let me figure things out on my own.
If only I could say the same for people. Seems like every time you turn around lately, someone’s trying to tell you what to believe. Worst of all are the unbelievers. Smelling blood in the water, they never miss an opportunity to piss on somebody’s Christmas pageant (though they’re conspicuously less vocal when it comes to criticizing religions that don’t turn the other cheek).
Last November, a six-year-old girl in North Carolina was barred from reciting a poem she’d written in tribute to her grandfather, a Vietnam vet, at a school assembly. A local atheist demanded the ban because he felt the lines “He prayed to God for peace/He prayed to God for strength” were an egregious violation of the separation of church and state. Wouldn’t want to encourage those religious zealots and bullies, after all.
The truth is, human beings have always needed to believe in something bigger than themselves. They will always seek moral guidance from authority figures and will always need rituals and symbols to help them figure out who shares their values. And being human, they will almost always abuse power and find ingenious ways to pervert even the most well-intended doctrines.
Traditional religion has a lot to answer for, but if you really think that getting rid of it will encourage people to behave more rationally or keep the rabble from forming violent mobs and persecuting those who disagree with them, you’ve obviously never been to a Kyoto or G20 protest.
Jehovah and his bearded emissaries may be on the way out, but before you go dancing around that golden calf, think about what’s replacing them—scientism, environmentalism, and a whole lot of other isms whose adherents are as fanatical and uncompromising as the most rabid fundamentalists.
Most frightening of all, perhaps, are those who look to the almighty government for answers. Hungry? Sick? Tired of working? No problem, my child: The state will provide from its miraculously bottomless pockets. No problem is too big or small, no area of life too private to escape Big Nanny’s tender ministrations.
Say what you like about organized religion, but these days you’re more likely to find a healthy climate of debate and dissent among ordinary Catholics, Jews, and Muslims than you are among the left’s more “progressive” factions. To question the wisdom of carbon taxes or suggest that conception is any more awe-inspiring than a hangnail is to invite a wave of histrionics so scorching it would make Savonarola blush.
Go ahead and turn your back on God if you must, but don’t mistake your apostasy for open-mindedness and critical thinking, especially if the first place you run is to the temple across the street.