Thursday, January 24, 2013

Religion Breeds Intolerance

The "tolerant" Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI recently called on his devout followers to remain strong against "intolerant agnosticism" supposedly prevalent in many countries.   That’s a pretty baffling statement, even from a prelate known to walk around with aides trained to remove his foot from his mouth.

An agnostic is simply someone who isn’t sure there is a god or not.  The word was coined in the 1800s by English biologist Thomas Huxley, who was advocating for research based on evidence not on emotion.  It’s a concept, however, that dates far back into history – well before Christianity – and is included in ancient Greece and Indian literature.

That view differs greatly from atheism – another word from the 1800s – which denies the existence of God, and from deism, which insists there is a divine figure in the uncharted heavens. 

And what have these terrible agnostics done to arouse the Pope’s dismay?  They have supported the concepts of homosexual marriage and women priests.

How horrible.

And what have these dread agnostics done to support such outrageous views?  Have they killed anyone?  Have they burned those who disagree in public ceremonies? Have they condemned anyone?

Marching on behalf of women priests
Nope.  They’ve signed petitions.  They have marched around with signs.  They have lobbied lawmakers and the Church.

How awful.

The Pope is definitely appalled.  "Today's regnant agnosticism has its own dogmas and is extremely intolerant regarding anything that would question it and the criteria it employs," he thundered.

Really?  Was that an agnostic who stopped a Catholic Church in London from holding gay-friendly masses for the past six years?  No, that would be the Roman Catholic Church, which originally approved the Masses in 2007.  The approving official was Cardinal William Levada who was replaced by Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, who apparently is less tolerant.

Catholics opposed to homosexuality used to protest outside during services.  Now, they will be inside.
Bishop Fellay

Was it agnostics who called Jews “enemies of the Church” and claimed Jews were behind the modernization of the Church in the 1960s?  No, that ignorant hate was spewed by Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the Society of Saint Pius X, a Catholic organization.   Fellay had been excommunicated by John Paul II, but Benedict reinstated him in 2009.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, a Jewish human rights group founded by the late Holocaust survivor, called Fellay's comments a sign of "the deep-rooted anti-Semitism that lies at the heart of the SSPX's theology.” 

Did agnostics abuse children and try to cover it up?  No, that would have been the Church again, which asked a California judge not to force it to release the names of Church officials who protected pedophile priests.   The judge said no.

Presumably, he was an agnostic.

The reality is that people who question faith actually do a lot of thinking about their beliefs.  They aren’t trying to convert anyone.  There’s nothing to convert them to.  They also haven’t killing people, denouncing them or doing anything more than looking for wider tolerance.  They want research and study to replace abject slavery to any belief.  No one is expected to die simply by opening a book or conducting an inquiry.

Results of the Inquisition
The Church, on the other hand, can hardly make that claim.  Over the centuries, from Inquisition to auto-de-fes, the Roman Catholic Church has happily and enthusiastically killed and harassed opposition.  It has shown extraordinary intolerance of any contrary view.

Extreme Muslims are not far behind.  For example, Indonesia, home to more Muslims than any other country, is planning to increase teaching of religion at the expense of science. That’s what the devout do: smother knowledge.

One Indonesian scholar noted that “we’re going to have a lost generation… It’s going to mean fewer researchers, less technology development. It’s Indonesia entering the dark ages.’’

The Roman Catholic Church would be right at home back there, too.

So would Orthodox Jews, who have physically attacked opponents and zealously killed, in according to biblical guidance to do just that.

Agnostics?  Not likely, regardless of the pope’s claims. They are the ones still condemned as they have been for centuries and often violently attacked for daring to raise questions that believers can't answer except with intolerance.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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