Friday, April 08, 2005

Religion and Personal Responsibility

Q. What do left-winger Christopher Hitchens and libertarian-Objectivist Timothy Sandefur have in common?

A. Some sort of "thing" about the late Pope John Paul II.

Here's Hitchens:
Unbelievers are more merciful and understanding than believers, as well as more rational. We do not believe that the pope will face judgment or eternal punishment for the millions who will die needlessly from AIDS [presumably because of the Church's teaching about the use of condoms: ED]....For us, this day is only the interment of an elderly and querulous celibate, who came too late and who stayed too long, and whose primitive ideology did not permit him the true self-criticism that could have saved him, and others less innocent, from so many errors and crimes.
And here's Sandefur, who at least doesn't lay a hypocritical claim to forgivingness:
This morning, I woke up and I thought, “Oh no! I need to know what’s going on with the dead body of an old Polish priest who’s spent the last quarter century telling people they’re going to hell for using condoms!” Fortunately, every single television channel and every single radio news report was available to give me that information. Yes, this just in—the Pope is still dead.
There's a notion that Sandefur certainly subscribes to -- one that Hitchens might also subscribe to when he's sober enough to subscribe to anything -- and that notion is personal responsibility. If you don't agree with the teachings of the Roman Catholic faith, you can violate those teachings (with or without a clear conscience) or you can reject those teachings entirely and leave the Church. The choice is yours, not the Church's.

I say that as someone who left the Church 70 percent of a lifetime ago. No one held a gun to my head and said "You must believe in and practice everything the Church teaches; you must remain in the Church." No one is holding a gun to anyone else's head either. People are taking -- or failing to take -- responsibility for themselves when they commit acts that cause them to die of a horrible disease. Those deaths are tragic, but they are not the Church's fault.

But writers like Hitchens and Sandefur really have a different problem, I think, which comes across as "zero tolerance" for religiosity. As an agnostic, I find that kind of arrogance unseemly because it is an intellectually bankrupt position, as I have discussed in these posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science

The Limits of Science

Beware of Irrational Atheism

The Creation Model