Friday, April 9, 2010

Hiding Behind Religion

We've all seen examples of individuals hiding behind religion, trying to excuse reprehensible behavior by claiming that a religion teaching peace, love, fellowship, and forgiveness wanted  them to murder, rape, mutilate, or watch Fox News. (Cheap shot! Pow!) But sometimes larger, societal-level problems also get hidden behind the skirts (choir robes?) of religion.

Take, for example, this article by Mollie at Priests aren't the problem

"We’ve seen a lot of stories that err not so much in what they say as what they don’t say. Sometimes we don’t hear all the details about a specific case. Sometimes we don’t learn about the efforts the Vatican has successfully made to change how it responds to sexual abuse. And I’ve seen very little media coverage that places the problems in the Catholic church in context of other religious groups’ problems or society’s larger problem with child sexual abuse...

...The story includes some helpful data points. Insurance companies that offer a sexual misconduct rider on liability insurance say their own studies indicate that Catholic churches are not at higher risk than other denominations."
She cites several articles that make the point even more strongly: Catholic priests do not commit child abuse at a higher rate.

So why does it seem so much worse? Mollie makes the point that it might just feel worse, since there's such a high expectation of trust. Or maybe it's because the Church did not act quickly enough to stop some of these priests, allowing them greater opportunity.

To me, though, this shows a different problem. We equate Priests with higher levels of abuse because it's easier to think of child abuse as a "Religious Problem".

This happens frequently in our culture. We equate a given "problem" with religious people (such as terrorism, polygamy involving children, or anti-intellectualism) and forget that there are many non-religious people displaying the same behavior. Granted, many terrorists have some religious motive. In other places, such as Palestine and Ireland, religion is so blurred with national identity and politics that it's difficult - and a little unfair - to lay it solely at religion's feet. And then there are Timmothy McVeigh and the Unabomber, neither of whom displayed any particular religious fervor.

I am not trying to write religion a pass here; there are definately bad people who have been inspired by religion, and others who, being bad, have found shelter and identification within it. But we too often forget that when discussing "religious wackos" it's the "wacko" part that's the problem, not the religion!

More importantly, by writing off such major problems as "because of religion", we risk ignoring much larger, systemic problems underlying them. If we got rid of all religion, would child abuse and terrorism also disappear? No; of course not. And hiding the real problem behind religion leaves us dangerously blind to it.

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