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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Religion: When bad things are done by (supposedly) good people ...

Columnist Michael Gerson recalls
sitting at a Kigali restaurant with a Tutsi woman who described the death of her younger sister, a university student, during the Rwandan genocide. The girl had been given up for murder by one of her own teachers, who was a nun. The survivor across from me, previously a Catholic, had never attended church again. In the sacrifice of the Mass, she could only see the sacrifice of her sister.

Many items on the list of horribles laid at the door of religion are libels or exaggerations. But this charge - the indifference or complicity of many Christians during the great genocides of modern history - is one of the genuine scandals.

In Hitler's Germany, Christians responded to mass murder with general acquiescence and only isolated defiance. Protestants earned the most shame.
He's right, of course, and he adds
During the Rwandan genocide, writes Timothy Longman, "Numerous priests, pastors, nuns, brothers, catechists and Catholic and Protestant lay leaders supported, participated in, or helped to organize the killings." Two Benedictine nuns collaborated with Hutu militias in the murder of 7,000 people just outside their convent grounds. A priest participated in the burning and bulldozing of a church with 2,000 men, women and children inside.

It is very difficult to understand how those who worship a man on a cross could help to drive the bloody nails themselves.
He offers a useful analysis:
When religion is infected by racism, ideology or extreme nationalism, it can become a carrier of hatred instead of conscience. And when churches are concerned mainly for their institutional self-preservation, they often end up neck-deep in compromise or paralyzed by cowardice.
Yes indeed. The Vatican was not telling those people to do those things; rather the opposite. But the message they heard was "protect our institution, our culture, our spocial and political advantages, etc."

This is a perennial temptation of religion.

Gerson is writing in the context of Pope Benedict XVI's lifting the ban of excommunication on a Pope St. Pius X Society bishop - in an effort to heal a long-standing rift. Unfortunately, the bishop turned out be a Holocaust denier. I am sure that "B16" did not know that. He fully intends to continue his predecessor's project of healing rifts. But one wishes that he had better research services. Perhaps he will take steps to acquire them now.

Gerson's reflections throw a curious light on Bill Maher's documentary, Religulous. Recently, on a radio show hosted by Barry Arrington, I expressed puzzlement that the film focuses on ridiculing simple peole who are religious and says comparatively little about evils committed orc ondoned by religious folk. But a moment's thought, and the picture comes in: It would then be necessary to talk about the good that far more religious people do.

Here's my review of Religulous. I was also on

See also:

Spotted: Neuroscientists in the movies ... Andrew Newberg!

Commentator challenges "Religulous" documentary producer to a debate

Does religion protect us against pseudoscience?

Atheist bigots: Avoiding serious questions and targeting ignorant religious folk?

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