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A tale of two hemispheres…

10

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.

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Comments

  1. Great post! Never thought of journalism? More on the editorialism side though… but I think you would be damn good Tony! 🙂

  2. Growing up Lutheran, we were free to look for the truth and good in “religion”. That is what the learned man,Martin Luther,was doing in the 1500s in Europe – questioning the unsupported workings of the Catholic church. It is not suprising to me that organized religion in Europe is reduced to a fraction of what it originally was. Here in the states, it never ceases to amaze me that those wearing WWJD bracelets and gold crosses around their necks distort the Word and do the opposite of what a loving, caring and sacrificing God would do. They prey on the less fortunate and undereducated, break every commandment and hide behind false interpretations. One of my favorite movies is “Kingdom of Heaven” based around the Crusades in 1100 AD. In one scene the star character is speaking with a religious knight and states “I have lost my religion”. The religious knight replies ‘I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of god. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What God desires is here” (pointing to his heart) ” and here” (pointing to his head) “and what you decide to do every day will make you a good man or not”. Our beliefs are personal and should be that way. If a Christian really wants to be like Christ, they would travel, speak truth and help people by giving, not taking and living for the best purpose of doing good. I agree with your take on the “grandstanding” and glorifying their works for the religious group, not to glorify who they should be doing it for. If you know about Christ, he specifically asked that those he helped, not tell others but just live for God. Religion groups, seem to forget that when they commercialize and glamorize themselves. Nice post, Tony. Hope all is great with you. Kath

  3. nicely written sailor boy! sounds like you soaked up some amazing experiences while on your european travels!

  4. Wow, what a comment Kathy! Thanks for your thoughts, and gotta say it’s a great surprise to hear from you here! 🙂 Please keep in touch! Hope to see ya in Florida! Cheers and thanks again!

  5. Although I’m a convinced atheist I have to say that I don’t necessarily have something against religious people. For the most they’ve just been indoctrinated while young and the existence of a deity has become so inherent in their world view that they just drag it along. It’s not a dominant thing in their personality.

    However, I do mind people that aren’t open minded or reasonable. I will never say that God doesn’t exist because let’s be honest: we just don’t know. However, with the evidence available so far it seems reasonable at this point to assume that He doesn’t exist. I would be totally open to believing if striking evidence arises, though.

    My problem with religious people is that most loud ones are not open-minded, do not consider nor hear valid arguments. Don’t even want to enter discussion. Aren’t reasonable. It just bothers me that they stop learning at that point. Just a shame.

    Coming from a family where my mom is Christian and my dad atheist I have to say though that religion doesn’t have to be a be all end all.

  6. Insightful thoughts, MB. I find it interesting how your views on religion have evolved over the past years since I’ve known you. Very interesting indeed… 😉

    See you in LA!

  7. Tony Tony…I just love how you bring this post to my attention. Brought on, perhaps, by our recent trip to Central America? hhhhhmmmm. sadly you will not get a challenging debate from me. I am not nearly as articulate as you are. Love your passion. All that you mentioned regarding evangelical Christians sickens me as well. The apparent contradictions of religious institutions, unfortunately, I have seen first hand. People whose lives have been tormented and broken in the name of Truth wrongly abused. But that does not change my heart and experiences that I have had in my faith. And that is what it is- faith. Believe in something that is unseen. Not rules. Not religion. This mission trip for Patrick, Nolan, Hayley and I was a dream come true. We were able to take our kids out of the glutenous United States for one stinkin’ week and let give a part of themselves and their lives away. There is no self adoration here. The grandstanding not for us-rich-white-folk who sacrificed a week of comfort and pleasure for it all to be forgotten when we returned to our ac laden homes and running hot water. The grandstanding- the one we raise our hands to, the one we raise a shout to is Christ. We are simple folk, looking for how to extend what we have been given to others. I hope a small trip like this one gave our kids a bigger perspective on life. We fell in love with the people and the country. El Salvador is beautiful. We were able to practically help while we were there. And hopefully have developed relationships that allows us to continue to do so. And yes-the photos on fb, though inadvertently provoking ad nauseum, are are there to share with those who we love and left at home.
    Thanks for sharing, Olidio! Never a dull moment with you around. I have always admired your world traveling life style. The short stint to Central American was the inaugural stamp on my virgin passport! I am so excited. I do hope that it is the first of many. Patrick and I have always thought that when we are done raising these kids (!) we could travel the world and work anywhere as a teacher and nurse. And we may need a charter sailboat to get us there………..hhhhhmmmmm

  8. Thanks for your comments Val. While it may seem like your little jaunt down south was a catalyst to this post, let me say for the record that it was strictly coincidential. 😉

    My disdain for missionaries and missions in Latin America runs way further back than you can possibly imagine.

    You seem to forget that I’ve spent the bulk of the last decade in Latin America. So I have a long back catalog of experiences to tap into when it comes to stuff I’ve seen missionaries do in the region. And granted, I’ve seen maybe one that was providing a direct benefit to the poor in a way that didn’t enrich or aggrandize a church. Heck, I even volunteered with them, and helped them get their computer system going in their clinic.

    The unfortunate reality, however, is that most if not all mission projects do little more than than give their “missionaries” a warm, fuzzy feeling, and enrich the sponsoring churches to a nice little tune of tax-free cash. They do next to nothing for the people they are intended to be helping. I can surely appreciate that the kids would definitely gain a keen perspective on how lucky they are to be living their lives in the US rather than in some impoverished Central American village. But they could get that from seeing the place from any standpoint that exposes them to the realities, not just a mission trip.

    I have met and talked with quite a few people who have been down to Latin America with organizations like CS and many others on SEVERAL occasions. And hey, who wouldn’t want to do a cool trip to a place like El Salvador, do “god’s work” for a week or two, and catch some waves while they were at it? And yes, I’m sure that the people who choose to go, who raise the money from their friends and family to do so, and “do god’s work” have no doubt that they are making a difference for the poor of ElSal or whatever country they happen to be visiting.

    But sorry Val, I hate to tell you. For the most part, all that really happens is that the poverty cycle gets perpetuated, and the local folks’ “handout mentality” just gets deepened and further exploited. Furthermore, the benefits of the “projects” have little if any long-lasting economic or social benefits. Whatever “work” was done by the “mission people”, could have been done by the locals for the going wage. People who need the work and would LOVE to be paid for painting their schools, installing toilets, patching roofs, digging ditches, or whatever “work” actually gets done, if any. Yet, what happens in almost every case is that the wide-eyed gringo “missionaries” do the “work” instead. While these able-bodied people who can sure use the cash to feed their families just look on. Come on, Val, you know I’m right about this.

    I have yet to see a “mission” project that provides a real economic benefit to the impoverished communities they’re purporting to be helping. Church missions have become HUGE business for the churches themselves. That fact alone tells you where the real intentions are.

    I know we deeply disagree on the concept of “faith” and “believing”. But sorry Val, but I choose to side with truth over faith. “Faith” is what keeps the poor powerless and dependent. Self-determination is an unknown concept to a poor “believer”, who constitute the vast majority.

    It’s what keeps people in fear and doubt of stuff and deities whose existence can’t be proven. There is no virtue in believing in something “unseen”, no matter how it may appear to be to any particular faith’s subscribers. Religion and “faith” have done nothing to improve the world, yet have done everything possible to divide and polarize it to an extent where civilization can simply not afford anymore. The point of my post was to highlight the immense differences between what’s happening here in Europe and what’s happening over in the Americas. It’s clear to me that most places here have more or less figured that out. Now the only question is, will the Americas be able to grow up too?

    I do appreciate your thoughts and your comments Val. Let me know when ya wanna engage in a real debate about this. Come on, it will be fun. 😉

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