Whether it was deserved or not, I always liked Pope John Paul II. He seemed like a nice guy with good intentions who wanted to bring people together and didn't necessarily see religion as a barrier to communication or good deeds. And while I may not have agreed with JP2 on many specific issues, he seemed like the kind of guy I'd like to have a beer with (though not in the presidential sense), and could see having an interesting discussion with him. Pope Ratzinger is no John Paul II.
On top of several things I already didn't like about Ratzinger, this latest story of him issuing an encyclical attacking atheism might be the worst. Ok, sure. Atheists have done lots of bad things. The Soviets were atheists. Hitler and many of his guys were possibly atheists (though I believe they used religion to further their cause). And I'll even take loons like Charles Manson and lots of serial killers on our side. I don't know if that's the case, but I'm sure we've got our share of the psychos.
But to suggest that atheism is responsible for "the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice?" Come fucking on! I mean, the first two words that come to mind are: Crusades and Inquisition. Beyond that, my understanding of English and American history, while far from complete, is strong enough for me to know that lots of Christians did lots of bad things. Hell, Christians had so much fun screwing over Indians that they gave the name to two completely different races of victims before screwing them over.
How about another word: Islamofascism. I don't even agree with that word, but its use is enough to completely undermine Ratzinger's argument. I'm not sure why Christians seem to be so hung up on themselves that they think atheism is purely a rejection of their religion, but we don't believe in the other religions either. And so when the discussion of atheists versus theists comes up, they've got to include all those terrorists on their side, beheadings and all. I've known quite a few atheists who have acted like pricks in their time, but not one of them beheaded anyone.
And then, of course, there's George W. Bush. Nuff said.
And let's not forget that war aside, there are lots of Christians in our own country who are bigots and a-holes. They might go to Church every Sunday, but that doesn't stop them from making the world a worse place the rest of the time. In fact, many of them justify their bigotry based upon their religious beliefs and self-righteousness. The bible's a big book and you can find justification for just about anything you want, if you look hard enough. And they will look hard enough.
Like with abortion. You'd think if abortion was such a big deal to God that he might have thought to write a passage directly forbidding it, but no. You've got to read in-between the lines of stuff that, from my perspective, seems to be talking about something completely different. Religious conservatives have no problem stating emphatically that life begins at conception and that abortion is obviously murder, so you'd think an all-mighty god wouldn't have had such a hard time saying it either or predicting that he might need to. But I guess that's part of the whole mystery thing, huh.
But a big part of that is the language barrier. I understand that God doesn't like to mettle in our affairs, but is it too much to ask for an updated translation of his book? Hell, even a straight-up translation into Latin would be nice, and we can take it from there. While the newer parts probably aren't too difficult to figure out, I'm sure we don't even know what original language some of that earlier stuff was in. Heck, Christians can't agree to which sections even belong in the bible, yet lots of them insist that it's the official Word of God and must be accepted literally and unquestioningly. I mean, if this is such an important book, you'd think we should at least be given a definitive version of the thing.
Oh, and if you'd like a little laugh, here's a link to some dude who insists that the King James version is the definitive version and that any later revisions are absolutely false. And so while he scores high on consistency, he loses points for being a complete fruitcake.
But none of this is to suggest that I think religion is necessarily a bad thing. If used right, it could be great. I don't need one for myself, but if somebody insists that they'd be raping dogs without one, I guess I'd rather they be religious. But that's the thing: Atheism doesn't cause bad behavior either. If somebody's going to be bad, they'll be bad. And people will find a way to rationalize anything they want. If it's in the bible, great. Or they'll accept the word of their preacher. Or perhaps Nietzsche gave them the go ahead. Or perhaps it was their neighbor's dog. But whatever it is, these are just rationalizations and if someone's going to torture or kill you, they were going to do it no matter what. Their source is just there to make them feel better about it.
No Progress At All
And I'm not sure I like this part of Ratzinger's encyclical at all:
"We have all witnessed the way in which progress, in the wrong hands, can become and has indeed become a terrifying progress in evil. If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man's ethical formation, in man's inner growth, then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world," he said.
Maybe I'm taking this to the wrong conclusion, but isn't he suggesting that if we don't get our act together morally that he doesn't want science to progress? In fact, I daresay that his argument should mean that we pullback our scientific exploration quite a bit until we get ourselves better morals. And again, it's quite obvious that there are quite a few non-atheists who are to blame for bad use of technology, so I really don't know where he thinks he's going with that.
And who the hell is he to complain about a man's inner growth not progressing? He's the guy who's trying to scare us all like little children into behaving morally, or risk eternal damnation. I mean, the whole "Naughty or Nice" thing is Santa's schtick, and any adult who still adheres to that system of justice should be locked up. Yet they're still trying to scare us with that regarding God? Hell, at least I've seen Santa at the mall. I went to church every Sunday for eighteen years and never once saw God. And these were Catholic churches, so you'd think if he'd be anywhere it'd be in one of those places. They're quite nice on the inside.
And sure, Catholics are at least decent enough to want us to develop a real moral system, but in the end, they're willing to accept a bogeyman-style god who will allow you to suffer forever for a relatively brief mistake. But scare-tactics are no substitute for morality, and if an otherwise immoral man can go to Heaven simply because he's scared and a moral atheist cannot, well that's not really a god I'd want. I can imagine God in Heaven right now thinking "Damn, maybe I should have made it an IQ test instead."
And for Ratzinger to pretend that a god-fearing immoral man who behaves morally simply to gain an eternal reward has more morality than me, is obviously a sign that he is lacking in intellectual honesty and is just trying to start a fight. And that's why I would absolutely refuse to drink a beer with Pope Ratzinger, unless of course the beer was one of those tasty German ones and he was buying. But even then, I doubt I'd thank him for it.
For more, please read my follow-up post:
In Support of Baby Death