Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Why Society is Responsible for the Sins of Religion

I often complain of the undeserved deference given to religion in America.  The complaint also applies to other nations as well, but of the modern industrial nations America alone has the strongest fixation of hanging onto discredited religious beliefs and institutions.  True, most of us - especially in older generations - were brainwashed growing up in pews across the country, but at some point one needs to grow up and open their eyes.  Most of us grow up being fed with the Santa Claus myth, but at some point we acknowledge that the story line is untrue and that adults have misled us.  The same needs to happen with religion in general and denominations that preach division and contempt for others in particular and demand exalted respect for themselves.  A column in the New York Times from last week looks at the horrible consequences of giving undue respect to religious and clergy.  While focused on the Roman Catholic Church, the piece could just as easily be about the Southern Baptist Convention which likewise has a huge problem of sexual abuse by clergy.  Here are column highlights:
It’s fashionable among some conservatives to rail that there’s insufficient respect for religion in America and that religious people are marginalized, even vilified.
That’s bunk. In more places and instances than not, they get special accommodation and the benefit of the doubt. Because they talk of God, they’re assumed to be good. There’s a reluctance to besmirch them, an unwillingness to cross them.

The new movie “Spotlight,” based on real events, illuminates this brilliantly.
“Spotlight” — which opens in New York, Los Angeles and Boston on Friday and nationwide later this month — chronicles the painstaking manner in which editors and writers at The Boston Globe documented a pattern of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests and the concealment of these crimes by Catholic leaders.

[I]t isn’t about journalism. Or, for that matter, Catholicism.  It’s about the damage done when we genuflect too readily before society’s temples, be they religious or governmental. It’s about the danger of faith that’s truly blind.

It takes place in 2001 and 2002, and that time frame itself is a remarkable reflection of how steadfastly most Americans resist any intrusion into religious groups, any indictment of religious officials. 

“Spotlight” is admirably blunt on this point, suggesting that the Globe staff — which, in the end, did the definitive reporting on church leaders’ complicity in the abuse — long ignored an epidemic right before their eyes.

Why? For some of the same reasons that others did. Many journalists, parents, police officers and lawyers didn’t want to think ill of men of the cloth, or they weren’t eager to get on the bad side of the church, with its fearsome authority and supposed pipeline to God.

“Spotlight” lays out the many ways in which deference to religion protected abusers and their abettors. At one point in the movie, a man who was molested as a boy tells a Globe reporter about a visit his mother got from the bishop, who was asking her not to press charges.

“She put out freakin’ cookies,” the man says.  When the cookies finally went away, many Catholic leaders insisted that the church was being persecuted, and the crimes of priests exaggerated, by spiteful secularists.

But if anything, the church had been coddled, benefiting from the American way of giving religion a free pass and excusing religious institutions not just from taxes but from rules that apply to other organizations.

A 2006 series in The Times, “In God’s Name,” noted that since 1989, “more than 200 special arrangements, protections or exemptions for religious groups or their adherents were tucked into congressional legislation, covering topics ranging from pensions to immigration to land use.”

To cloak sexual abuse and shield abusive priests, Catholic leaders and their lawyers routinely leaned on the church’s privileged status, invoking freedom of religion, the separation of church and state, and the secrecy of the confessional. They thus delayed a reckoning.

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one,” says a character in “Spotlight.” Indeed it does: a village too cowed, and a village too credulous.
We all need to grow up, open our eyes and demand tat the special privileges and exemptions enjoyed by churches and religious organizations (and their often charlatan leaders) end.  If they cannot operate and survive under the dame rules and tax policies as other institutions, then the deserve to wither and die.

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