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Religion in the Cross Hairs

Secular World Attacks Organized Belief

By Father John Flynn

LONDON, NOV. 26, 2006 (Zenit) - Organized religion is coming in for harsh criticism in many parts. English singer Elton John said religion turns people into "hateful lemmings." He also accused it of lacking compassion. His comments came in an interview with the Observer newspaper's Music Monthly Magazine, published Nov. 12.

The aging pop star's criticisms were sparked off by the matter of how religion deals with homosexuality. "I think religion has always tried to turn hatred towards gay people," he said.

He is far from being alone in this view. In the United States, talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell likened Christianity to radical Islam. Her attack, in a nationally broadcast program in October, was not well received, according to a Nov. 13 press release by the California-based Barna Group.

A nationwide survey by the Barna Group found that although few Americans would challenge O'Donnell's right to make such statements, just as few share her point of view.

Across the Pacific, Pamela Bone, writing in the Australian newspaper on Aug. 15, rejoiced over data which, she argued, showed that "in nearly all prosperous liberal democracies, atheism is strong."

Bone accused religion of being "directly responsible for countless world conflicts, resulting in the loss of millions of human lives." Religion is still a danger today, she contended: "The truth is that it is now too dangerous for religion to be given the special status it has always had."

Bone added: "The best hope for a less religious and thus safer world is for religion -- all religion -- to be open to rational and stringent examination and criticism, and yes, to ridicule."

Meanwhile, in Canada, author Christopher Hitchens recently explained why he "hates religion," reported the National Post on Nov. 18. Speaking at the University of Toronto, Hitchens declared he hates Islam because it exhibits a "horrible trio of self-hatred, self-righteousness and self-pity," while making a "cult of death, suicide and murder."

He also hates Judaism, because it leads to Christianity. His negative view of Christianity is well known, particularly after his infamous attacks on Mother Teresa of Calcutta in the 1990s.

In the midst of declaring his multiple hatreds, Hitchens declared: "I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the world is religion."

Anti-religious books

During the Toronto address Hitchens gave some details of his forthcoming book, "God Is Not Great." The book, he said, is "a general case against religion."

Anti-religious books are in fashion these days. American author Sam Harris has just published a brief (112-page) sequel to his 2004 book, "The End of Faith." At a recent presentation at the New York Public Library, Harris condemned the God of the Old Testament, in addition to the New Testament, "likening the story of Jesus to a fairy tale," the Washington Post reported Oct. 26.

For good measure Harris also attacked the Koran, calling it "a manifesto for religious divisiveness."

According to the Washington Post, "The End of Faith" has sold more than 270,000 copies. In that book, Harris described religion as "a desperate marriage of hope and ignorance." He also slammed religion for promoting intolerance. Nor was his argument limited to extremist groups. "One of the central themes of this book," Harris declared in the opening chapter, " is that religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma."

In a curious use of religious terminology, Harris concludes the book by describing faith as "the devil's masterpiece." The book also appeals for a sustained campaign against religion, and faith in general: "We must find our way to a time when faith, without evidence, disgraces anyone who would claim it."

British author Richard Dawkins also recently published a book decrying religion, "The God Delusion." Dawkins is well known for his hostility to religion. "The celebrated atheist and high priest of popular science" is how a review of the book in the Observer newspaper on Oct. 29 described him.

Dawkins is not limiting himself to publishing. The Sunday Times on Nov. 19 reported that he plans to set up a charity that will subsidize the publication of educational materials for distribution in schools.

His organization, according to the article, will also attempt to divert donations from the hands of "missionaries" and church-based charities. His foundation, which is in the process of seeking registration in the United Kingdom and the United States, will have a database of charities free of "church contamination."

The Times article cited the concern of Anglican clergyman John Hall, dean of Westminster. Hall criticized the project as not being based ...

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