On Religion And Abuse

Perhaps, readers, you should consider this as a companion piece to this earlier one I did about religion and violence. The essential argument that I made there was that much of what is now claimed by particularly the “New Atheists” as religion’s unique ability to drive really nasty kinds of violence by making absolute claims about the world was really more a problem with human nature and less about the nature of religion per se.

With the recent Sandusky case at Penn State we can see a similar parallel with the horrific cases of abuse in the Roman Catholic church and more secular institutions. If we use Rome as the stand-in for religion in this case there seems to be something that fits the charges of atheists: because the church offers transcendent metaphysical claims about life and the universe, because it is a model for understanding humanity’s role in the world and a hope for the future¬†of course people would to¬†anything to defend it. And tragically “anything” has included covering up the actions of numerous serial rapists by moving them around and buying off the victims. While the hierarchy does this, there are legions of lay-Catholics who are ready to get up and defend the church in the public eye (though there are legions more who are not). The New Atheist move is to say that this is because the church makes all kinds of absolute spiritual/metaphysical claims and so has a hold on otherwise reasonable people.

In the case of Sandusky though, we saw all kinds of people getting up to defend a pedophile and those who allegedly enabled him because of football. Here the stock response is that in many parts of the US football is “like a religion” or something to that effect. We can even point to the Reformed tendency to see idolatry as the root of all sorts of evil and say that yes, football might look like an idol. But beyond that, how is football like a religion? It can’t save your soul. It doesn’t explain why humans are on earth or how we got here. It doesn’t explain what happens after we die. It makes no sorts of abstract metaphysical claims. People just seem to really, really like it, so much so that they may even say that it’s one of the things that gives their life meaning.

But again, football has none of the features that the New Atheists suggest make religion so dangerous to humanity. It is possible to be a completely satisfied materialist and still be crazy about your football team. So what’s the takeaway for a New Atheist? Forget about religion, maybe people should just not care about stuff because when you care about stuff you can end up irrationally defending the indefensible?