Having been on a sojourn in Europe the last few months, I have been able to enjoy a dynamic that’s been quite refreshing. One that’s so far and away from what I see in most of the western hemisphere. Religion has, for the most part been marginalized to a point of virtually zero. In countries like Sweden and Denmark, it’s literally dying off along with the older generations. Even in classic catholic strongholds, like Italy, religion has grown hollow for most people, at least for the younger generations. Most believers tend to be more attached to the rituals, traditions, and the social aspects of religion, than religion itself. Religion and belief have simply evolved to the point of nostalgic value, and little else.
For developing-world immigrants now living in Europe, particularly muslims, this blase’ view towards religion by their host countries are sometimes viewed as intolerant. Even blasphemous. They have turned vocal and now regularly demand special rights and recognition for their beliefs and religious laws. And while most european nations have shown an immense tolerance for their newly incorporated religions and cultures, they have also shown a resistance to adapting their laws to support or enable religion in any way. In short, they’ve outgrown kowtowing to religion.
In Switzerland, minarets have been outlawed, and this has been supported by a referendum, mostly due to the view that Switzerland is a christian nation (although weakly at that). The main argument used in passing the mandate was that the minaret was more a symbol of muslim conquest, than a holy symbol. In France, an immigrant muslim woman recently lost a court case because she was prohibited from getting her driver’s license photo while wearing her traditional muslim burqa. The countries’ laws regarding this issue are rather clear. A driver’s license photo must show your complete face. Obviously so police can readily identify you when it is presented. The law make no exceptions, as it would be illogical. In the states, a Florida muslim woman made a similar legal protest on religious grounds and the fervor around religious discrimination was deafening.
The argument that public safety trumps religious freedom is sound, despite the controversy. To say that this caused a firestorm among the muslim community in Europe would be an understatement. But it’s just another example of how the tide has clearly turned against religion, and not just islam, in the eyes of governing and the general attitude of most europeans.
Then, in a rare twist of ironic contradiction…
By now we’ve all heard of the psychotic self-proclaimed “christian viking” demagogue, who determined that it was necessary that he kill some 70+ people, mostly teenagers and twenty-somethings, in the name of his beliefs. Apparently, these very muslims who have been crying foul regarding their own religious rights and the “tolerance” of them, spelled the end to his view of Norway as he knew it. To him, it was one of the last bastions of christian, nordic traditions. Never mind that according to most recent surveys and polls, Norway has some of the lowest percentages of active believers in Europe. So even while religion is clearly on the wane in Europe in general, it doesn’t stop your occasional psychos from claiming it to justify their nutty, if not dangerous cause.
And despite horrific acts like these, and the cries of outrage of intolerance of religious tenets, such as a woman needing to cover up her head and face for an official document photo, the downward spiral of religion continues. The prominence of religion and any faith-based belief maintains its course in being marginalized in Europe. It has been reduced to near zero-level of social or political significance in many countries, despite having a majority number of believers. In fact, incidents and displays such as the ones noted here only accelerate the process further.
Make no mistake about it, a large percentage of the european nations’ people still believe, whether it’s a “god” or some kind of “life-force”. The difference, however, is that their belief is less a driving force in their lives compared to their western-hemisphere counterparts. Religion is FAR less dominant, in every sphere of civil life, including politics.
The Catholic Church, once a stalwart and icon of power throughout Europe, now garners little respect, if any. It has even recently been condemned by the Prime Minister of Ireland. Which just a few years ago, would have been considered outrageous, if not downright blasphemous. Yet, there was good reason to do so. There was nothing less than vilification for the church’s atrocious history of aiding, abetting, and then methodical covering up of thousands upon thousands of child rape and torture cases perpetrated by clergy in recent decades. And those are only the cases that have been documented and reported. Surely its wretched history goes even farther back into the church’s early history.
To have Ireland, forever since a beacon of catholicism in Europe, if not the rest of the world, vilify the church? It is in one word, revolutionary. It’s also a sure sign of the slow death of the church. Just not soon enough, if you ask me.
Meanwhile, across the pond…
It’s fair to say that the exact opposite is happening. Particularly in the US, religion has found it to be its last true “first-world” stronghold. Despite the fact that the US catholic church has been losing members in droves in recent years, and closing churches by the thousands, it still receives a peculiar amount of respect and legitimacy.
Worse, despite the fact that most of the church’s major dioceses have paid out tens of millions in settlements and lawsuits for their roles in the same kind of horrific conduct perpetrated by its esteemed clergy, most catholics continue with their faith in complete and total denial of the realities. The math is simple. The church has clearly been implicated in THOUSANDS of horrific cases of rape, pedophilia, child abuse and more.
To date, the church has paid out millions in out of court settlements in an effort to buy silence from its victims and their families. It has systematically and methodically covered up, interfered with, and obstructed justice in countless cases in the US alone. This makes the catholic church a criminal enterprise, nothing less. Worse, this reality makes even the church’s most modest parishioners, witting supporters and/or enablers of that enterprise. As Bill Maher calls them, they’re the “mafia wives”. Whether anyone cares to admit it or not. Despite this and continuing decline in numbers, the church continues to trudge on when it comes to social influence in most of the Americas, particularly the US and Latin America.
The protestant “evangelicals”, particularly the ones who call themselves, “southern baptists”, continue to expand their multi-million dollar generating mega-churches despite tough economic times. I still find it odd that believers are still willing to pay their tithes to these extravagant, bloated, money-machines of god. Even at the expense of food or savings for their families. Economic times have been tough for a few years laately. Yet, only now are the mega-churches starting to feel the pinch. The only thing I can say to that is, it’s about time.
In the americas, an overwhelming majority of people who call themselves christians blindly obey the churches and their doctrines. They go so far to dismiss commonly-accepted science. They cling on to silly, if not utterly implausible views, despite logic and reason banging on their doors.
In Latin America, I have witnessed firsthand the wretched, heinous damage perpetrated by so-called, faith-blinded “missionaries”. They go to these impoverished countries in an effort to convert the converted to their particular churches. These congregational tug-o’-wars have divided communities, villages, and families. All in the name of expanding a church franchise. It’s despicable.
And interestingly, that’s not even the worst of their crimes. And yes, I use the word “crimes” because that is what the majority of the actions perpetrated are. Nothing less.
Consider the incredible amounts of money that these churches generate from their home congregations to sponsor their so-called “missions”, in the name of “helping the poor”. Tens, hundreds of thousands, even MILLIONS of dollars are collected and generated by these churches’ congregations. All the money can be transferred offshore without, scrutiny, consequence, or limit. We can thank the IRS’ exemptions for religious organizations for that. It’s a privilege that no other individual, or even corporations can utilize (even more outrageous considering these religious institutions are tax-exempt to start with). All of which only a small percentage of the collected funds actually get utilized on their poor convert subjects in any way, and usually in a deftly hollow and non-productive manner.
And there are always horrific strings attached to their “help”. In the end, a bible school gets built, or an old dilapidated one gets painted and spiffed up. Some bibles (many times in english), may get handed out. Or if they really want to make an impression, a doctor or nurse will come to a village to provide rudimentary if not pathetically fake medical care. Lots of photos get taken, featured on websites, people’s facebooks, and youtube videos, and so on. And the good missionaries spare no energy patting themselves on the back for a job well-done.
All this grandstanding is done in the effort of creating more “buzz”. The goal is to generate even more funds and profits for the churches. The horrific, sapping, exploitative cycle that’s created in this process is shocking. At least to those who simply take the time to see what is happening. How it can be so egregiously perpetrated at the expense of very poor and uneducated people, is nauseating, if not downright criminal.
There is a profound and disturbing divide between the hemispheres, sad to say. It’s even sadder to say that the polarization will only continue and increase to a level where a world “cultural war” lies inevitable.
In fact, in many ways, it’s already here.