I have three stories to pass on that have been in the news in recent days, all concerning religious idiocy. The first is stupid, but easily passed over. The second is reckless, not to say potentially disastrous, and the third is downright disgraceful, and unforgivable.
The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, has criticised Facebook and MySpace as being harmful. He is very uneasy about the communication they enable and the friendships that are formed through it. There is here an element of despising something one does not understand, but it’s not forget how the church has always been opposed to the free traffic of thoughts and ideas. A tight control on what people could read, how they could think, and therefore what they would believe, was essential to the continued flourishing of the church and through it the control of the people.
I have always believed that clergymen should say what they have to say in church, on Sundays, and for the rest of the time just shut up. This sort of thing does nothing to convince me otherwise. The Archbishop says that friendships formed online are “not rounded” whatever that means. Online friendships can be just as strong as face-to-face friendships. How can it be wrong for a person to have friends from around the world? I know that in all probability I will never meet most of my online friends in the flesh (which is a shame because I think some of you are utterly lovely and wonderful) but that does not devalue those friendships in any way. And since religion requires one to communicate with an imaginary friend, I’d have thought that communicating with online friends by computer was immeasurably more rounded by comparison.
Ignorance and lack of information breed superstition and an environment in which religion can thrive. In one part of India, it seems, people believe that they can protect their babies from harm and ensure their future health and prosperity, by dropping them from the roof of a mosque 50 (yes, fifty) feet high, to have them caught in a bed sheet. This annual ritual has been going on for at least seven centuries. Ok, we can understand why people may have believed that in the year 1300, but today? How indoctrinated by religion can a person be to be able to believe this drivel nowadays.
And from exotic India to not quite as exotic Wisconsin, where something truly disgraceful happened. An eleven year old girl, suffering from undiagnosed diabetes fell ill and her parents decided that she didn’t need a doctor, didn’t need to go to hospital. No, what she really needed was to have them pray for her to get better. So they did. And as these two morons sat there wishing their little girl would recover, because that is what praying is, the poor girl died. According to medical evidence, she would have responded to treatment had she received it. But she didn’t. Her parents were too busy asking their imaginary friend to help them. As her condition worsened, they did make a phone call – to the owner of a religious website, who prayed with the down the phone, but that did no good either. Now the parents have been found guilty of second degree homicide and face a long term of imprisonment when they are sentenced in the autumn. I hope they get it.