In a recent op-ed, Salt Lake Tribune writer George Pyle argued that:
Following no organized religion does not mean that individuals do not believe in God, or a higher power. It just means they are compelled to define and follow that power on their own, being responsible for their own decisions, not outsourcing their thinking to any Earthly leader. And that should make democracy easier, not harder.
When no single religion is in a superior position of power, participants in a democracy must find another common language, the language of civil society, in which to converse. Preferred policies must be argued in terms of rational facts, because no one can simply claim it is God’s will and shut down the conversation.
This assertion is not controversial and should not be controversial.
Paul Mero wrote a surprisingly arrogant response to Pyle’s editorial. Mero, for those who don’t know, is a leading Utah based recipient of Wingnut Welfare as head of the Sutherland institute. Mero’s main point is summed up:
. . . there is no civil society without religion. Religion is a basic human value; it is a human good. All but the secular mind pause to reflect persistently on the purpose of life. Not only is this reflection natural to every reasonable human being, it is a requirement for human excellence.
Mero’s piece is basically a series of ad-hominem attacks and of assertions without evidence:
There is something spectacularly incomplete about the secular mind. It is anti-heroic. It is deeply conflicted. It chastises everything good and decent even as it claims to embrace everything good and decent.
The secular mind prefers “facts” without context and naturally cherishes other, less challenging virtues of diversity such as tolerance (again, without context).
The secular mind has no moral imagination. To be precise, since it is skeptical about the existence of truth, the secular mind is incomplete as a guide to humanity.
Mero defends religion thus:
Condemning organized religion because of the Inquisition or the Taliban is like condemning Albert Einstein because some people have low IQs.
Non sequitur of the month club. We don’t make sense but we do like pizza.
In all seriousness, however, Paul Mero fell into the trap religious individuals fall into all the time. His faith gives his life meaning, it informs his moral view of the world and so forth; he then imagines that a lack of faith means one’s life has no meaning, that one has no moral view of the world. He thanks God for beauty and imagines that one must thank God for beauty or one can’t appreciate or even recognize it.
Condemning religion is hardly necessary. The list of violence and cruelty done in the name of religion is long and depressing. Absent their religion, the members of the Taliban wouldn’t have shot a little girl for reading a book. Absent religion, the people of Northern Ireland wouldn’t have spent decades blowing up each others’ houses and pubs and family. Absent religion. would the Middle East be a decades long powder keg of violence? The Inquisition, centuries of witch burning and wars wouldn’t have taken place across Europe. Christianity is clearly guilty of perpetuating, across the centuries, racism, sexism, and homophobia. It has aided and abetted murderous regimes at times and at other times turned a willingly blind eye to others. In our own nation, the deeply faithful followed the lead of their Christian ministers to defend slavery, racial segregation, denying women the vote and in our time denying same gender couples the right to marry. Religion, too often and in too many places, uses its institutional power and moral authority to argue that a whole group of human beings is less equal, less fully human, than other groups of human beings.
If secular persons disdain religion, religious persons have given plentiful reasons to do so. Paul Mero’s article, stuffed full of religious chauvinism, is yet another reason. Rather than sing the praises of faith, rather than extol its virtues and point out the richness is brings to many lives, Mr. Mero opted instead to offer a shrill screed lashing out against non-believers for the supposed ugliness and incompleteness of their minds. Those rhetorical tactics always work.
We need to save religion from its defenders.