Baroness Warsi has every right to decry what she describes as the ‘aggressive secularism’ of the liberal elite, though given that people have been put to death for thousands of years for what they (do or don’t) believe, there’s no wonder that post-Enlightenment, secularists have got the bit between the teeth and are all too keen to speak up. I’ve been reading Christopher Hichens’ God Is Not Great and, as you’d expect, there are some fine points throughout, but what’s really hit home is his debunking of the idea that religion somehow instills morality in all of us, and were it taken away we’d somehow be plunged into a world of savagery and untold depravity.
In 2000, Pope John Paul II magnanimously apologised for two millennia of violence, persecution and blunders against Jews, heretics, women, Gypsies and native peoples. He didn’t actually name the crusades, the Inquisition or the Holocaust, but the implication was there. At that time the scandal of systematic child rape clandestinely sanctioned by the Roman Catholic church hadn’t broken, so he couldn’t apologise for that, but I’m sure he would have slipped it in somewhere had he known the cat was out of the bag. Being that he wasn’t being too specific, perhaps that was covered as well. It may also cover the deaths of 20 million-and-counting Africans one day if the Church ever admits that condoms don’t spread AIDS, like clergy told parishioners in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In 2009, Pope Ratzinger reiterated the Church’s stance, lamenting that it was “of great concern that the fabric of African life, its very source of hope and stability, is threatened by divorce, abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and a contraception mentality.”
You naughty Africans with your prophylactics!
So anyway, in a world where information is available, it’s important that people are presented with options. Evolution vs. Creationism? Let them decide. If God created man in his own image then he gave us discerning and enquiring minds to probe and question, and surely it seems churlish to punish us when he seems so reluctant to offer up any proof of his own existence. As Bertrand Russell said: “I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine.”
The Church spent centuries abusing its authority by manipulating the fears of people who couldn’t read while reciting Latin to them to confuse and terrify them further. The atrocities that have been committed in the name of religion are legion, and a cursory look back through history will note that the three great Monothesisms as well as your more apparently peaceful faiths like Buddhism all have blood on their hands. There’s an idea that we should respect other people’s beliefs. As the Hitch notes in the aforementioned book, you don’t have to respect them, you just have to tolerate them. Baroness Warsi calls secularists ‘aggressive’, but in this context they don’t seem particularly agressive at all.