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Adam & Eve & Francis & Osama
Last month (October 27), Pope Francis told the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (a name, if not an organisation, that could have come straight out of an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus or an issue of the Onion) that the Big Bang and evolution were not theory, but fact, but that these truths did not necessarily contradict the intervention of a divine Creator—thereby proving to the Pentecostals that the Catholic church is as ungodly as they suspected. In recognising evolution and the Big Bang, Pope Francis necessarily dismissed the Adam & Eve story for the ancient Jewish creation myth it is; and it’s a rare ecclesiastical act that brings as much hope to rational folk as it does despair to superstitious ones.
One hopes that a future pope—probably not Francis himself, since even the Holy Father can work only so many miracles in one lifetime—will follow suit and draw a red line through other Catholic mysticisms that played really well in the Dark and Middle Ages, but just can’t survive in the modern world, such as immaculate conception and virgin birth, holy water and smoke, the sale of indulgences and, eventually, holy communion and transubstantiation itself. The Church tends to catch up with reality very slowly, if at all: the official Catholic apology for persecuting Galileo Galilei came reluctantly in 1992, 329 years after Galileo was forced, under threat of torture, to recant the truth that the Earth orbited the sun.
A few centuries from now, perhaps, a future pope may declare that annulment of marriage was a mistake and all those divorced Catholics who “remarried” in garden weddings were not sinners after all; it may not be much comfort to the sensible, guilt-ridden Catholics of today, who use artificial birth control, or who have benefited from modern fertilisation techniques, both of which the Church still declares to be sinful. But perhaps Pope Francis isn’t done shaking out the cobwebs just yet—the heretic of the 13th century becomes, in time, the visionary of the 14th.
To mark the year 2000, British philosophers were asked to name something they looked forward to in the next 100 years. Many predicted the collapse of organised religion, whose current excesses they cast as particularly spectacular death throes. Could the Pope’s statements to the Monty Python Academy be a significant milestone on that path? (Francis is not the first pope to point out that the fact of evolution doesn’t positively preclude a Creator.) Or will history ascribe the acceleration of the collapse of belief, if it happens (as it surely will, if there is a God) to other, holier folk? Like ISIS and Boko Haram? And their Christian and Hindu extremist counterparts?
Though differences in degree do matter—as anyone who has had both a headache and a migraine would attest—there is no difference in substance between the prayerful murderers of Isis beheading western journalists and their equally pious Christian brethren now denouncing the Pope for denying the literal truth of the Adam and Eve tale. Both declare a blatant lie to be an unquestionable truth, and neither is required to prove its case, merely to assert its God-given, God-approved, God-directed righteousness. Similarly, there is no difference between the thinking that allows the “correctional rape” (say) of Boko Haram and the religious instruction of children of tender age at a fundamentalist school of any faith, except that physical rape may do less long-term damage.
Indeed, there is no difference between the belief of modern terrorist and ancient religion leaders; they just happen to believe different things: if their beliefs lined up, as those of then US President George Dubya Bush and then British Prime Minister Tony Blair did, they might even have prayed together for a common aim, as Bush and Blair did, before retreating to the White House/10 Downing Street and giving the order to rain bombs on the children of Baghdad—a city, incidentally, far more ancient than any in Europe, with a far longer and far more respectable history; but, sadly, considerably relatively deficient in modern weaponry.
The Catholic church has had 2,000 years to work out its doctrine. Other, relatively newer churches and faiths, have had considerably less. It is the hope of the rationalist that, when they watch other believers perpetrating obviously evil acts in the name of God, the believers of today, not as primitive as their forebears, might begin to doubt; and then question; and then refuse to accept obvious lies as supposedly “revealed” truth.
There should be no more proof required that no religion today could possibly be right than the existence of more than one. If there really were one true way to God, there would indeed be one true way, not half a dozen. They can’t all be firetrucking right; so they must all be completely wrong. The Pope’s confession—to use the word in both its ordinary and its Catholic sense—last month could be the start of an unstoppable progression towards rationalism, or at least a rationalist approach to a belief in an almighty god. Strip all the doctrine away, you see, and you just might be left with…God; and a god who made sense; and did not require unquestioning belief, particularly in manmade institutions claiming to act on behalf of and with his—or her—authority.
BC Pires is going to hell in a hand basket woven from the exact same rushes amongst which the baby Moses was found.
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