Atheist Know a Thing or Two About Religion, so Settle Down Benedict!

September 30, 2010

Thank god only the Pope has the power of infallibility - and not just any average catholic!  As has been discussed on this blog a couple of times, a recent Pew survey shows that atheists and agnostics - along with Jews and Mormons - seem to know more about religion and associated issues, than catholics, protestants and others.  Without adding my own analysis to this complicated issue, I just wanted to share with you an amusing time I just had on NewTalk1010 Toronto radio engaged in a one on one "Holier Than Thou" battle against  Fr. Damian MacPherson, Director of Ecumenical & Interfaith Affairs for the Archdiocese of Toronto. The radio show thought it would make a good follow up to the Pew survey story.

We were each asked 5 questions, mostly on irrelevant pop culture.  MacPhearson seemed good natured enough, but it also didn't seem like he really wanted to be there.  He managed to get only 2 correct answers, whereas I was able to get 4.  The only one I missed, shockingly, referred to an episode of Family Guy with Adam Sandler.  The good father failed to identify Cat Stevens as the famous british muslim musician, forgot the word "fatwa" (although he was awarded a point anyway for answering that a "death sentence" was placed on Rushdie) and I believe mispronounced "matza" when asked the Hebrew word for unleavened bread.  He also missed identifying the most common animal in the Old and New testament, answering lion, instead of lamb. Perhaps he has an overly aggressive view of scripture.  He also, and most damningly, managed to get my name wrong, referring to me as "Jason" at the end of the segment, just before the host thanked "Justin Trottier" for his participation.  

This was reminiscent of the national Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Test the Nation IQ game show hosted in January in which CFI created the atheist team and we went on to (admittedly narrowly) defeat the religious leaders team on live television.  

As I began this blog post just before the radio interview request, please forgive the awkward transition, but I had originally meant to comment briefly on Benedict's recent outburst and plug an editorial we had published condemning the Pontiff.  The two subjects are at least related in that if it should be the case that atheists know a thing or two about religion, perhaps their rejection shouldn't be seen as a sort of apathy on matters of faith and ethics, as Benedict stated, but as a well thought out rejection of the comingling of faith and ethics in favour of a more equal secularism.

As is now well known, Pope Benedict XVI, who has such a knack for winning friends, managed to demonize at one stroke hundreds of millions, if not over a billion, individuals on this planet, by blaming the Nazis and the Holocaust on atheism , in a desperate and transparent move to shift any responsibility from the Vatican. To those who have been following the disasterous career of the present Pope, this is hardly shocking. But what is surprising - and heartening - have been the reactions that these despicable comments have generated. For example, there was well respected journalist Gwynn Dyer reporting : "The best defence is a good offense. A less worldly pope, making a state visit to Britain as the revelations about Catholic priests and bishops abusing the children in their care spread across Europe, might have been reduced to shame and silence."

Other religions have also responded , such as, for example, Eminent Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, who said: "that as Catholics and Hindus and others had freedom of their belief systems and were respected for their respective choices, and so should be the atheists. A religious leader of Pope's stature should have been more inclusive."

And of course members of our own movement were given a platform to respond directly to the Pope's attack, including Richard Dawkins who addressed it in his speech at the Protest the Pope rally in London. 

Finally, Centre for Inquiry Canada got into the action with a number of editorials, including the following published in the Holy Post , which managed to go on the offensive:

"The Pope conveniently leaves out the Catholic pantheon of moral failures in the mass murder department. Examples include Torquemada, the father of the Inquisition and the force behind the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and all of the Popes who preached war against Islam and absolved the knights in advance of any mortal sins, allowing the Crusaders to indiscriminately butcher thousands of men, women and children in the Levant." 

We should all be very satisfied with the way the Pope's thoughtless and revisionist comments only provided yet another opportunity for atheist activism and solidarity.