Magazine article USA TODAY

The Pope Sets Us Straight

Magazine article USA TODAY

The Pope Sets Us Straight

Article excerpt

POPE FRANCIS has become a media superstar over the past two years, and his visit to the U.S. was a very big event. His message of compassion, his concern for the poor, and his personal humility--as well as his concerns about capitalistic greed and global warming--have struck a chord with millions of people, but how much relevance do some of Church's 2,000-year-old ideas have to the modern world, especially given that traditional Catholic teaching on abortion, homosexuality, and divorce increasingly are under attack, even with the Pope's softening stance on the latter pair.

Many go so far as to say that religion is an entirely negative force and responsible for most of the violence and warfare in the world. If there were no religions, the contention goes, the whole world would be a peaceful, harmonious brotherhood. A number of scientists have bought into this argument, portraying Christianity not only as damaging, but unscientific, the superstitious remnant of a more primitive age. An example of such thinking can be found in the writings of E.O. Wilson, who has achieved worldwide fame for his work on ants and termites. Wilson is a brilliant scientist, so it is all the more striking that his views on religion are so ill-considered and unscientific, reflecting intellectual prejudice rather than careful thought.

In his most recent book, The Meaning of Human Existence, he claims that the true cause of hatred and violence is faith versus faith, and to this statement he brings all the prestige and force of his scientific reputation.

However, as anyone who has studied history carefully understands, it completely is wrong. The very idea that peace is of value in itself largely was unknown in Europe before the rise of Christianity. The Romans almost continuously were at war and considered it right and proper that they should be so. Julius Caesar was responsible for the deaths of at least 1,000,000 people in his conquest of Gaul, a campaign that made him so popular he was able to seize power in Rome.

Even later, when wars were fought in the name of religion, it is unclear whether religious differences caused wars or merely were an excuse for them. The Medieval Church spent far more effort in trying to prevent wars than in provoking them. Even the Crusades were, at least in part, an effort to get quarrelsome barons to take their violence elsewhere.

We also might ask whether societies with advanced religious systems are more or less than those without, such as the Yanomamo of the Amazon rain forest. …

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