The news never disappoints. Every morning when I wake up I tour a number of online newspapers. My internet homepage is aldaily.com, managed by the Chronicle of Higher Education. I start with the Globe and Mail and then work down, through the Guardian, Indpendent, Telegraph, National Post and New York Times. Life is short: I can’t do them all. Every morning, without fail, there is some religious madness or other. Very seldom do atheists make the news: but religion is always there in living colour. And yet it is the new atheists who are called strident, uncivil, contemptuous — and other terms intended to be opprobrious, though actually pointing out the refreshing candour of nonbelievers. No mysteries for them to skulk behind. Set alongside the iterated idiocies of religion atheism turns out to be surprisingly civil and compassionate and refreshingly honest.
Take Andrew Brown’s CiF Belief piece from last Friday. With wonted hyperbole he says that
… anyone who spends time with decent Christians will know that they are aware of all the atheist arguments against God.
Notice that ‘all’ and suppose it true. What does that say about Christian believers? Before answering that question, consider the following statement: “Despite all the evidence against the theory, Dr. Dread Dimwit still believes that Aristotle’s theory of spontaneous generation is true.”
Now consider Brown’s claim. Christian believers know all the arguments against belief, and yet continue to believe. Turn to a couple more articles from this morning’s news. Start with:
Stem cell research, evolution — as Cardinal Schönborn puts it:
Scientific theories that try to explain away the appearance of design as the result of ‘chance and necessity’ are not scientific at all, but, as John Paul put it, an abdication of human intelligence.
All the evidence points the other way, but it is an abdication of human intelligence to draw any conclusions from it. It’s nice to know that the Vatican knows, without evidence, what can be known only with it.
And that leads us to the Devil — who else?
Every diocese of the Roman Catholic Church must have a “trained” exorcist on staff. The question about how you train someone to expel from people the Spirit of Evil itself in the absence of any evidence whatever that this entity exists poses something of a problem, but the church seems to take it in its stride. It is a part of Catholic doctrine, therefore it must be so, whatever the evidence. Again, one has to ask the question. Knowing all the arguments against something, does it still make sense to believe it true?
Well, let’s take one more step into the realm of dogmatic certainty. Let’s go to
The Roman Catholic Church, whose believers know all the arguments against belief and yet go on believing, have made it impossible for women to get an abortion. Why? Well, just because. Because God injects souls into entities smaller than the eye can see, just as soon as an egg and a sperm join to form what might someday, if it manages to navigate all the perils, become a human being. For the Roman Catholic, belief — that precious thing that is held despite knowing all the arguments against it — is enough to determine what a woman must do, no questions askable, no doubts entertainable, no arguments allowable. Does this still make sense to you?
Well, then, consider this. In Liverpool, Nova Scotia, not far from where I live, a man was living with the pain of guilt. His wife, Barbara Bolton, was dying of stage 4 breast cancer. It was well known in the community, according to the report in the newspaper, that she was very ill and in great distress. Her husband, Stephen, “gave her a lethal injection of two medications — morphine and Nozinan.” However, he could no longer live with the guilt, so he turned himself in to the local RCMP. He notified the Halifax Chronicle Herald first, telling them that he did not have an agenda, just a guilty conscience. “I am racked with guilt,” he said. (Shouldn’t that be ‘wracked’?) (I have just been called by the CBC for an interview about this story.)
Lest you are thinking, “What has this got to do with religion?”, the truth is that the reason for our laws against assisted dying being so strong and unbending just is religion. Margaret Somerville may try to argue that there are all sorts of secular reasons to forbid it, but the fundamental, underlying reason, is religious, and remains so, despite all the trappings of secular argument with which the religious continue to festoon it. The Roman Catholic Church is, once again, the chief offender. It stands guard over the doors of life and death, and it doesn’t matter what individuals believe, they are largely governed by those who believe that God forbids such things as abortion or suicide or euthanasia, and who know all the arguments against their beliefs, and still hold to them. Such determination has its rewards. People really think that it means that they really know.