/* */ Rosa Rubicondior: Religion - The Good, The Bad and The Completely Irrelevant.

Saturday, 7 August 2021

Religion - The Good, The Bad and The Completely Irrelevant.

Words of encouragement and beatific smiles, but little else for Greta Thunberg, from the increasingly powerless Pope Francis.
COVID-19, global warming and diminishing Catholic guilt.

If ever there was a time for the Catholic Church, under the leadership of Pope Francis, to do some good for the future of mankind and life on Earth it is now, with two major crises currently playing havoc: the coronavirus pandemic and global warming. The latter being perhaps the most serious in the longer term.

And yet we have had very little in the way of encouraging Catholics, let alone the rest of us, to do something constructive about either!

In an article by Thomas Reese in Religion News Service, he simultaneously points out this failure by the Pope and identifies some of the reason for it. The main problem is that the Pope can no longer command the support and mandate the actions of Catholics, under the threat of hellfire and damnation, or even death for heresy for non-compliance, so all he can do is smile and mutter warm words and platitudes in the hope that someone will listen to him.

The problem is not just the lack of any moral authority from the leader of a church whose clerics systematically and routinely abused their positions of trust to sexually predate on children and vulnerable adults, but the fact that when Popes did have those autocratic powers, they almost invariably abused them. Far from supporting scientists like Galileo and Darwin on the basis that the truth is worth defending, they were condemned as heretics because they reported evidence that went against the established doctrines. The test was not "What does the evidence show?" or "What is the truth?", but "What do we need people to believe?".

Reese points out the contrast between when Popes could order Crusades against Muslims and how today the Pope is powerless to order a 'crusade' to save the planet, or to get the world's people vaccinated against the coronavirus:
And rather than organizing crusades against Muslims, as it did in the past, the church could mobilize its people to protect the health of the Earth and humanity. But today, the children’s crusade is led, not by the church, but by Greta Thunberg. Hopefully she will be more successful than the Children’s Crusade of 1212, which ended in disaster.
But of course, by the murderous Medieval crusades, and the Inquisition, the Pope showed how to abuse dictatorial powers, so those powers, post-enlightenment, have been removed.

Again, Reese points out:
There was a time when Christianity had the ability to do great things (some good, some bad).

We marvel at those Christians in the past who dug the foundations of great cathedrals, the completion of which they and their children would never see. The idea of taking on a project, like building a cathedral, that might take centuries to complete is incomprehensible to us.
Indeed, although it is quite difficult to think of many 'great things' that Christianity did. Reese cites the laying of foundations for Cathedrals for their grandchildren by people who would never see the full fruits of their labours, but those were invariably on the instructions of powerful bishops and monarchs, intent on consolidating their grip on the people with an ostentatious display of wealth and power.

It is doubtful that the labourers, or those who paid them, were motivated by a vision of the great architecture, impressive vaulting and stained glass that would follow. Skilled though they may have been, they were likely more motivated by the need to earn their daily bread and feed a family, in the case of the diggers, and their own self-aggrandizement in the case of the financiers, than thoughts of what their grandchildren might eventually see.

In stark contrast, there are the very many bad things that Christianity did, from witch burning, holy wars like the Albigensian Crusade (read, genocide of the Cathars), antisemitic pogroms, the Inquisition, marginalisation of women and minorities, the literal demonization of people suffering with mental health and neurological problems, imperialism and permitting slavery in the nameunder the guise of 'civilising' other peoples and teaching them the 'good news' of the need for salvation and how to achieve it by adopting Christianity, obeying the priests, accepting the autocratic rule of Christian kings and emperors, and knowing their place and staying in it.

Yes, Thomas Reese is right: the Pope could and should use what authority he still has to urge Catholics to do their utmost to save the planet and get on top of the coronavirus pandemic. But he cannot, for the simple reason that he has little or no moral authority left after centuries of abuse of their power by his predecessors, the accumulation of vast treasures of incalculable worth for nothing more important than self-glorification, decades of abuse of children and vulnerable adults by his priests and a long, sorry history of marginalisation, demonization and damnation of minorities, degradation of women, and the promotion of poverty and suffering as a blessing.

He now leads a church visibly struggling to keep up with the advances in humanist ethics now replacing the primitive, Bronze Age superstitions and brutal, misogynistic tribal moral codes that his church still holds sacred, in civilised countries. To paraphrase Stephen Fry's words in the Intelligence Squared debate, the Pope could take that vast wealth stored in the Vatican and use it to send his nuns and priest and monks out into the world with instructions to use it to vaccinate the poor and invest in green technologies and renewable energy.

If he did so, the Catholic Church could be a force for good in the world; but he does not, and it is not.

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