Religion: A Natural Part of the Human Species

I long ago came to the conclusion that religious/spiritual belief is as much a part of human nature as the desire for sex or to eat good food; that for all the banging around religion gets, trying to beat it out of people is like trying to beat the desire to procreate out of them. Yes, some people have no desire to procreate, but they are a minority and likely always will be. The same appears to be true of religion. People will have religion seemingly no matter what you do; even in Europe, where organized religion has long been on the wane, many people who self-describe as atheists still believe in things like an afterlife, ghosts, astrology, and so on.

Indeed, to me it appears self-evidence that atheism itself often leads people who would otherwise be religiously inclined to gravitate toward ideologies; Marxism, Objectivism, radical Feminism, “Skepticism” as a way of life and a fierce self-identity, even the bizarre crowd that goes by the name of Atheism+, which is as dogmatic, closed-minded, and intolerant as the most rabid fundamentalist Christian extremist or old-school anti-Vatican II Catholic sedevacantist. Even when I considered myself an atheist (I no longer do) I always believed that the seeds of fanaticism were a separate thing from the seeds of religious belief, as were the fruits of same. The human need for spirituality and the human expression of fanaticism may spring from the same soil (the human mind) but they are just not the same thing; take away religion, and something else will take its place that will likely be no better and could conceivably be much worse.

Anyway, having come to this conclusion years ago, I was fascinated to read that there is a Study group at Oxford examining humans and the prevalence of religion among them and that it seems to have come to similar conclusions: religion is as natural to the human animal as anything else we do. Most humans will have a religion, formally or informally; the only question is what form it will take.

Oh, and by the way, a happy and blessed Easter to you all.

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New Pope Chosen

The College of Cardinals has chosen the new successor to St. Peter in The Vatican. As of this writing the name has not been announced but live updates are being shown streaming here on the Vatican YouTube channel. Watch this space for an update as soon as we have it.

*Update*: Changed live stream link to go directly to the Vatican’s own live stream.

*Update 2*: The Vatican’s own YouTube channel appears overloaded for some. Here’s a Live Stream from The Guardian as an alternative if you’re having trouble.

*Update 3: As of 3:13pm Eastern time, the announcement is being made by Cardinal Protodeacon Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran. The new Pope chosen is Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires–the first Pope in history from the Americas! He is also the first Jesuit pope in history. Interestingly, while Tauran was born in and currently serves the Church in Argentina, his family is of Italian descent, which indicates that to some extent the Italian cardinals got their way while those who wanted a non-European Pope also got their way.

*Update 4: The new Pope has taken the name Francis. He is the first Pope so named. So now we have it: Pope Francis I, SJ. That’s history in many areas at once.

There will doubtless be much more commentary on all this from multiple other sources, probably even some here on Dean’s World.

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Pope Emeritus Retires

Enjoys his first day off the job.

There were some atmospheric and geological effects according to some, although it looks to me like they’re stretching. “Within days?” OK. Even this Catholic had to chuckle at that stretch.

Amidst all the Catholic-bashing and obsession with sex scandals (sex scandals lesser than the US public school system’s, but hey, never mind that, there’s a religion to bash here) I find it interesting that more people don’t comment on the historical oddity of actually having an ex-pope around, which is historically very unusual, although I suppose it may become more normal in the coming decades.

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Pope Benedict XVI Resigns

Multiple sources including the Wall Street Journal report that the Pope is resigning, which has observers around the world all atwitter. The news is fascinating on multiple levels.

While I’m not looking forward to the inevitable avalanche of Catholic-bashing (which is in vogue today now more than ever in my life it seems), other interesting things to observe will be:

This is not be the first time a Pontiff has resigned although it’s been many centuries since that’s happened. It would appear that Benedict’s own statements that he didn’t really want to be Pope in the first place may have been more legitimate than cynics believed. It also opens up a new door to the world’s largest group of Christians: at this point, almost every Cardinal in a position to pick the new Pope will have been appointed by either John Paul II or his successor. No Cardinal over the age of 70 will be allowed to participate in the conclave, which means they’ll all be people who grew up in the wake of World War II and have been affected most of their lives by Vatican II. It should be interesting to see what new direction, if any, this heralds for the Church’s mission and focus. A clean break from scandals that rocked the Church over the last half of the 20th Century will also be possible.

Also, presumably Benedict will keep his title as Cardinal, although unless he rewrites the rules, he interestingly enough cannot vote in the conclave to replace him, although I’m sure he can make his thoughts or wishes known. This is because under current rules only Cardinals age 70 or under may vote in a conclave to elect a new Pope, and he’s significantly older than that.

As a Catholic I have nevertheless often been deeply uncomfortable with certain specific teachings on human sexuality and reproduction within the Church. While I don’t expect dramatic change (that’s just not something the Church is in the habit of doing–if it were it wouldn’t still be here) I’m hoping to see a few re-examinations in that area in my life time as well.

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American Civil Religion

I have believed for some time that there is a religion, roughly Christian in shape, that many Americans are members of. I’ve sometimes called it American Nondenominationalism (which used to be in the Dean’s World archives but I can no longer find). Anyway, imagine my surprise when something that looked very much like what I was describing was pointed out on Facebook by my friend Jerry Kindall as American Civil Religion. My only argument with it is that some Fundamentalist Christians tack their own particular type of Bible-only Fundamentalist Christianity onto it. Then you’ve got something pretty much exactly as I’ve described so many times.

Of course I suppose people who ascribe to this worldview snort at the rest of us as “liberal moral relativists” or somesuch, but… [shrug] I see so many of our national myths upheld as unquestionable truths rather than, well, myths much less interesting (if sometimes prettier) than our actual history, I now know what to call it when I see it.

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