Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Religion’s True Face

“Gays are abnormal people. Abortion is evil, and just a convenient way for women to avoid giving birth. Euthanasia is a mistake. Condoms are porous, and those who encourage their use could well be brought to trial for advocating murder.”

When you read those sentences, you tend to think something along the lines of “ah, well, another fanatic,” or maybe “oh, it’s just a televangelist preaching brain-damaged fools living deep in the US’ infamous Bible Belt.” Or you think, “hmm, that one’s worthy of the true fascist and far-right parties, and to think of it, the Nazis would certainly have approved.” But those sentences aren’t ravings of a maniac, of a nazi nostalgic or a far-right extremist. Those sentences are part of an interview that was published today in a mainstream magazine here in Belgium. The interviewee being none other than a regular bishop of the regular Catholic Church, Mgr Leonard. Of course, Mgr Leonard is famous for his extremely conservative views. He was a fervent supporter of Joseph Ratzinger, our beloved Panzer Pope, and a member of the very powerful Congregation for the Preservation of the Doctrine and Faith (previously known as the “Holy Inquisition”, but for some reason they decided to change their name…). But still, Mgr Leonard is a bishop, and his message is supported by his hierarchy.

When you read those sentences, you think “obscenely backward.” And the message expressed in that interview definitely is. Just as it is also the message and the motto of the Catholic Church these days. You might think that the words are outrageous because the man and the institution behind him intend to spark a debate, and to have a serene discussion between people of different opinions.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is no debate to be had, there are only dogma and rules to be imposed on everyone. It goes so far as to challenge the basic principles of law. A law voted by the parliament will not bind the Church and those who bow down to its dictates. When one hears this kind of speech, one cannot help but wonder: aren’t the Church’s people as well as the “faithfuls” citizens of a country, thus bound by that country’s law? Or are they somehow above that, hence above respecting what applies to everyone, including the freedoms our laws offer when managing our lives? Nobody ever said that devout Christian women would have to undergo abortion. Nobody ever said that devout Christians would be forced to accept euthanasia!

When you attend a conference at which Mgr Leonard is invited, sooner or later, someone in the audience will ask him THE question. Someone will ask him about abortion. Being a very, very good Jesuit, he will answer you, as will all the men of the Church answer you: he will tell you about the value of life, about the unborn child, about its unborn soul. He will tell you about the joy and beauty of life. He will tell you about the unborn child’s father, he will tell you about the maternal womb, and all in all he will make a moving, extremely well built five-minute speech, in which there is but one flaw.

During five minutes, the man of the Church will talk about many things revolving around abortion, but he will forget to deal with one little element in the process, one tiny, tiny item involved in the whole thing: a woman. Five minutes on abortion, and no mention of the word “woman” except in a single, offhand sentence. And there, the very core of the Church’s problem is revealed. How can you start disserting on a subject such as abortion without discussing what women think, what women feel, what women experience, how women view themselves, and how they view their own right to self-determination and to rule their own bodies?


You can skip the insignificant “woman” element if you start explaining that this insignificant element uses abortion as a simple convenience means to avoid giving birth. When you’ve said that, you’ve said everything. You’ve revealed everything, and forever unveiled the ugly face of Catholic Church, and all monotheistic religions: that of a misogynist. You have insulted women all over the world, you have negated their psychological distress and pain, the shocking and painful surgical procedure they must go through when resorting to abortion. You have denied their very existence as individual, and shackled them into the simple image of a womb. A tool destined to give birth, period.

Islam, Judaism and Christianity have more in common than just worshipping a single deity. They all harbour a very long-lasting hatred for women. Yes, those religions hate women, and it doesn’t take a lot of intelligence to find this out: every holy book contains its share of chapters devoted to how women are inferior, how they should be disciplined by men, how they are impure in this or that circumstance, on how they are temptresses, and they’re always the ones guilty for pushing the innocent men to sin. Never mind that “poor, innocent men” are considered as impotent children who can’t control their own urges, who shouldn’t even have to, when you think about it, since it’s always women’s fault. It seems that men who stick to those religions are content with that portraying of them, which may also be comprehensible: it’s so much more convenient. Who cares that biology teaches us that male behaviour is by far the aggressive part where sexuality is concerned? It’s not as if religion had to bow down to the hard truths of science. Everyone knows that religion is above that. By the way, how old is the earth these days? 5,000 years? Made over the course of 6 days by a grumpy old man with a white beard?

Say what you will, all the chauvinistic and misogynistic passages exist in this or that Scripture. And never has any true Church authority come forward to deny them, and to ask women for forgiveness, for all the crimes and the suffering they have endured for millennia at the hands of men acting in the name of those Scriptures and beliefs.

Changes and evolution in the last centuries almost managed to lull free-thinkers and women into complacence, into a sense of false security, but make no mistake: the Church is still there. It hasn’t changed, its core values are still there. It simply has learnt to wear a more pleasant, a more inviting mask. A quick fix to uncertainty, to insecurity, to loss, grief, fear, unhappiness and death, it is again on the road to seduce all the people rocked and unbalanced by the way our society is evolving and abandoning them on the way. Now the Church hides behind “universal values”, and slowly, slowly crawls back to the frontlines. Little by little, syllable by syllable, it challenges secular law, it demands its place in the temporal order of things. Patient, stubborn, it works at carving its way back toward the level of power it enjoyed before.

It would impose its dogma and its dictates to those who do not share its faith or its beliefs. And why not, since it claims to hold values that are “universal” and thus apply to anyone, no matter what they think or believe in? Why not, since anyway they’re out to save your soul, no matter whether you’re interested or not?

I must have said this a million times: faith deserves my and everyone’s infinite respect. Faith is a personal matter, one that belongs to the person experiencing it and nobody else. Faith belongs to your private life, and it’s your most absolute right. Religions, however, have time and again demonstrated that they are incapable of sticking to the domain of their faithfuls and to the private life domain. Time and again it tries to crawl back out of its closet to impose its views on everyone. Time and again it tries to seize the power it lost and to dominate our lives.

Religions belong to the past. They belong to obscurity and a feudal relationship of servant to master. We aim to live in democracy, in freedom. In such a world, there is no place for obsolete elements that refuse to acknowledge the reality that surrounds them. There is no place for obsolete elements that would impose their laws on others, and stubbornly refuse to understand that we now live in a secular society.

If religions cannot adapt to our secular world, then they must go.

And good riddance.

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