Category Archives: Spiritual Matters

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Atheism+, Feminism, and “Liberal Humanist” Censorship

If you haven’t followed the story of the comically-named FreeThought Blogs (a place where atheism is turned into a religion and “Free Thought” consists of rigid conformity to groupthink), I’m not sure where to begin telling it to you, except that you’ve missed one of the most hilarious stories in Internet history. A good starting point is probably right here, although honestly, a full 90 minute movie would probably not do this epic tragi-comedy justice.

This “Free Thought” community recently even started a movement called “Atheism+” which is basically anti-religion combined with typical paint-by-numbers “liberal” and “feminist” thinking. What they actually condone is threatening, harassment, slander, lying, revealing people’s personal information on the internet, and even taking their harassment into the real world into mobs to intimidate and censor points of view they do not share. Take, for example, this astonishingly misogynist, racist, hate-filled poster which was recently the target of their rage:

Full-sized PDF versions of this and other “hateful,” “misogynist,” “racist” posters can be found here. As part of an effort by a large and growing movement, these posters have begun appearing in different parts of Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom,and by all reports will soon be appearing in Chicago and Seattle here in the United States.

The documented response to this and other nonviolent human rights advocacy for men has received widespread censorship efforts from multiple parties. Some proudly self-identify as “feminists”–please note that I do not call them that, that is what they call themselves. Others, it turns out, have named themselves the “Femistasi” and are openly associated with and congregate within the “FreeThought” Blogs “Atheism+” community. A recent mob of these people, a mixed group of men and women, recently swarmed onto the scene where noted atheist, rationalist skeptic John the Other had, with permission, posted these vile, hateful posters. Our friend Girl Writes What has some excellent video of the event. You can watch that here. Warning, some potty mouth.

For those of you who complain that you just don’t like watching videos, I attempted to make a transcript for you but I realized it’s too much work. If you aren’t interested enough to watch this video of a group of male and female thugs who call themselves “femistasi” practicing censorship in a threatening mob swarmed around one short balding man and his one friend with a camera, I can’t help you. But I will say that the video by Mykeru Media is the funniest and in many ways most insightful of both these events and how things look from the burgeoning, hated, and growing Men’s Rights community:

An old saying by Gandhi often comes to mind: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.


A fascinating new schism in the atheist movement.

Atheism as a movement? Why yes, it appears so, and some of them are already busy creating dogma and identifying heretics. Which ought to be proof to some people that what they thought was caused by religion–intellectual rigidity, intolerance, demand for conformity, and hysterical fear–turn out to be normal human traits no matter what you believe or don’t believe theistically.

Amusing to read though. Clearly, feminism (and a related form of racism that demonizes one particular race as “privileged”) is a religion and absorbed and interpreted as part of personal identity just as much as any religion. At least for a lot of people, regardless of their other beliefs. It’s probably why I rarely even use the word in everyday conversation: no one can tell you exactly what it means, the listener often means one thing while the speaker means another, it’s all subject to change at a moment’s notice, and for some people it’s become so wedded their personal sense of identity they feel personally attacked if you say anything remotely critical of it. [shrug]

*UPdate*: Girlwriteswhat has her own inimitable thoughts (and not even in video form, for those of you who don’t like that format).

Circumcision & Religious Liberty

Note to Judy Bachrach: thank you for saying it so well.

*Update*: And from the comments, here’s a link to the supposed health benefits of mutilating girls. The “it’s healthy and hygienic for boys” bullcrap should be treated just as contemptuously as that link deserves to be. And don’t even get me started on “it looks nicer.”

I once again note that I don’t blame parents who’ve made this very misguided mistake. But a very misguided mistake it is, and we should do our best to stop people making the same mistake in the future. Don’t retro-rationalize an unnecessary cutting up of any child’s genitals, please.

Anti-Circumcision Decision In Germany

The German courts have outlawed genital mutilation for religious purposes. I applaud this as a human rights advance and hope to see it as a growing trend. If you want to do this to your children, wait until they are grown adults and can make their own decision about it. It is not just a flap of skin, and they should know that.

With all love and respect to my Jewish friends, I approve of the German court’s ruling, and note that even your observant Jewish brethren are not all with you.

And no, I don’t care if you “don’t mind” about your own circumcision. I mind about mine. And no, I don’t care if you think that’s funny. It isn’t.

I understand the religious sensitivities and, just as we tell parents of religious groups that don’t believe in blood transfusions that they can’t let their children bleed to death, this should be no different.

I respect the right of religious persons to disagree with me, and I won’t debate you, except to say it again: follow the laws of the nation you live in. And make this a choice reserved for adults.

(Thanks Gi.)