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Religion as a Scapegoat

8/28/2005 - 7:00 AM PST

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Secularism Shows a Growing Hostility

LONDON, AUG. 28, 2005 (Zenit) - The July terror bombings in England opened up a debate over the place of Islam in the country. It also triggered heated words over the role of religion in general. Not a few commentaries attacked religion in general as being dangerous in today's secular culture.

Writing in the Guardian newspaper on July 22, commentator Polly Toynbee called for a defense of "Enlightenment values" against the threat of violence inspired by religious extremism. "If religions teach that life after death is better," she warned, "then it is hardly surprising that some crazed followers will actually believe it."

"It is time now to get serious about religion -- all religion -- and draw a firm line between the real world and the world of dreams," declared Toynbee.

Matthew Parris, writing in the July 23 issue of the Spectator magazine, declared: "What unites an 'extremist' mullah with a Catholic priest or evangelical Protestant minister is actually much more significant and interesting than what divides him from them."

Parris says that the crucial difference between those who are secular and those who are religious is that the latter teach about a new life after death and try to help people have faith. The divisions between religions, such as whether or not they instruct followers to kill innocent people, is of little importance, he argued.

For Muriel Gray, writing in the Scottish newspaper Sunday Herald on July 24, "The cause of all this misery, mayhem, violence, terror and ignorance is of course religion itself." Gray lumped together extremist Islam with "fundamentalist Christian insanity" and described all religion as "Dark Ages nonsense."

"For the government of a secular country such as ours to treat religion as if it had real merit instead of regarding it as a ridiculous anachronism, which education, wisdom and experience can hopefully overcome in time, is one of the most depressing developments of the 21st century," according to Gray.

These sentiments are not new. In the Times newspaper on March 19, long before the London bombings, Sam Harris wrote: "Incompatible religious doctrines have Balkanised our world and these divisions have become a continuous source of bloodshed."

He rejected the idea that such conflicts could be avoided through promoting religious moderation. "In so far as religious moderates attempt to hold on to what is still serviceable in orthodox religion, they close the door to more sophisticated approaches to human happiness," according to Harris.

"If religious war is ever to become unthinkable for us, in the way that slavery and cannibalism seem poised to, it will be a matter of our having dispensed with the dogma of faith," he concluded.

Listening to Catholics

The difficulty for Catholics of following their faith in the midst of a hostile secular world was amply documented in a report released by the bishops' conference of England and Wales. Published on July 18, "A Report of the Findings of Listening 2004: My Family My Church" collects the results of a series of "conversations" held at the diocesan level.

The consultations held last year were designed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the U.N. Year of the Family and, according to the organizers, aimed "to hear what families say about the reality of their lives, their needs and the means by which our church community can offer effective support."

The highest number of responses to the question about difficulties experienced as a family in the world centered on the challenges presented by consumerism, selfishness, materialism and individualism.

Many families noted the harmful influence of the media. The media were often blamed for promoting negative portrayals of families and unrealistic expectations of life. Peer pressure was another difficulty identified for all ages: teen-agers, young adults and families.

Many respondents strongly identified Christian values as a source of strength for family life. Gospel values, prayer, and the support of the parish community were seen as important elements in helping families.

Nevertheless, many also noted that the younger generations lapse from religious practice, a source of grief for many parents. To overcome this problem the report noted that there is a great need for pastors to place more emphasis on family holiness and family spirituality. In fact, the report concluded: "There appeared to be little awareness of the vocational nature of marriage and parenthood or of the specific spirituality of the home (domestic church)."

The report also concluded that after examining the commentaries from many dioceses, "we see a huge need for better communication and deeper understanding of Church teaching in the area of marriage and family life, ...

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