Yesterday, two great pious leaders of the world met in Washington DC. President Bush has immense temporal power, leading one of the richest countries on the planet with the most potent military force. Pope Benedict is a spiritual leader to a billion people, with immense influence and the responsibility of a long religious legacy. What could they have talked about? Mostly, they seem to have patted each other on the back and congratulated each other on their commitment to superstition.
In remarks greeting the pope at the White House, Bush called the United States “a nation of prayer.”
Bush was interrupted by applause as he said, “In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred and that each of us is willed.”
Benedict responded by praising the role of religion in the United States.
“From the dawn of the republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the creator,” he said.
I am often told that religion is a source of morality. I’ve read the Bible myself; I can see that there were moral philosophers at work behind that book, that we have a tradition of law in the Old Testament, with a fellow named Jesus adding social justice and concern for the poor and weak in the New that are actually rather commendable. I also see a lot of myth and error and misplaced obsession with the supernatural that rational people are willing to set aside to focus on the core humanitarian message … or at least they do so in the best of circumstances.
Yet what I also see in modern religion is a re-prioritizing: the secular concerns that should matter, the egalitarian word of a religious tradition that valued the cohesion of the social fabric and demanded equal treatment for even the least of society is ignored, given a little lip service perhaps, but made subservient to the intangible theological nonsense of prayer, of an invisible god, of submission to dogma and hope in an unevidenced afterlife. It’s a religion that has shifted its eyes from a task to be done here on earth to an unearthly vision of a magical unseen world run by an ethereal tyrant who must be placated.
Bush calls us a nation of prayer — a depressing label that makes us a country of delusions. Worse, he claims that we respect life as sacred, a lie straight from his lips. How can George Bush claim our country does not debase and discard human lives?
As you well informed blog readers all know by now, last week ABC broke an interesting little story. It was about how Condi Rice, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, Colin Powell, George Tenent, John Ashcroft and other Bush “Principals” all gathered in regular meetings in the White House to discuss and approve of the various torture methods being used against prisoners held by the United States in the War On Terror. ABC interviewed the president a couple of days later and asked him if he was aware of these meetings and he said he was not only aware of them, but that he’d approved of them. Moreover, he specifically said he had no regrets about what was done to Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who we know was tortured with simulated drowning — also known as “waterboarding” — which is considered by the entire civilized world to be torture.
The great pious Catholic Pope stands before this man, and what does he say? Does he mention that Jesus asked that we do to others as we would have them do to us? Does he remind him that they call their religious figurehead the “Prince of Peace”, and that he asked us to turn the other cheek when we were struck, or that he asked that we protect the poor and weak? Does he point out that the central event in their shared faith was the torture and execution of their prophet and god, and that the New Testament isn’t about emulating the heroic Romans?
No, of course not. An obscenely wealthy old man heading an organization that protects child abusers and advocates horrendous and ignorant social practices that harm the poor all around the world would look utterly hypocritical even trying to rebuke a war-monger and apologist for torture. So instead he stands there and tells him that they share common principles founded in fear of a nebulous god. Those are ‘principles’ I reject — they seem to be nothing but labile excuses for doing as you will to anyone who falls under your thumb.
There’s an evil tableau for you: the callous torturer stands up with blood on his hands and a lie in his teeth, while the priest draped in gilt reassures him of his righteousness. How often has that scene played out in history, I wonder?
Our press seems to be more interested in promoting the pomp of a papal visit than actually addressing the vileness that this administration prosecutes; we’ll see more of the pointless, self-promoting ceremonial nonsense of the mass in New York this weekend than we’ll see addressing the unconscionable evil these great pious leaders condone. I won’t be watching any of it. The sight of these two sanctimonious monsters makes me ill. How about you, Christians? These are your leaders, your paragons, your representatives of the power of your faith. Do you feel some slight tremor of shame that your values are on parade in an empty ritual in the foreground, and a brutal indifference to human life in the back?