Friday, June 13, 2008

Why Should I Care what You Believe?

Over the years that I have been writing this column I have made my feelings about organized religion, any religion, abundantly clear. Those who believe in God should dump their religious affiliations in favor of fostering an individual spirituality and personal closeness with Him.

But when some readers believe that I have been too harsh on matters of faith and religion, I have been questioned as to why I care what people believe. This is a pluralistic society and a free country in which people are free to believe whatever they wish. And I have no argument with that.

But sometimes, probably most of the time, the belief of a person is based on the dogmatic teachings of whatever religious group he or she belongs to. And sometimes those belief systems are detrimental to society as a whole.

I was reminded of that fact again this week when I read about the Conference of Catholic Bishops that was held last week in Florida. At that conference the bishops voted, with only one dissension, to condemn embryonic stem cell research.

George W. Bush, in an executive order, has prohibited federal funding of embryonic stem cell research for years. He has twice vetoed bills sent to him by Congress that would lift or soften the ban. The most unpopular, and if you believe scholars of history, the worst president in all of U.S. history remains intransigent to the end.

Nevertheless, it is likely that whoever replaces him in office will allow stem cell funding, thus ending a U.S. scientific disadvantage in biological research.

But knowing this, the bishops decided to send a clear message to the people of this country, especially those who are Catholic, that the pope disapproves of embryonic stem cell research. It has something to do with it being a sin to destroy a ball of cells that, under different circumstances, might potentially be able to develop into a person.

Of course, this is the same Catholic Church that also condemns any kind of birth control, because, “Every sperm is sacred,” as the Monty Python comedy troupe so adeptly sums it up in the movie, “The Meaning of Life.”

So now, if you are thinking straight, without bias, and from a perspective on an alien visiting Earth for the first time, you will understand just how silly such religion-inspired dictums really are.

How can anyone believe that God is so petty as to care whether or not we use birth control, or use stem cells from embryos that are destined for destruction anyway, or for that matter, whether or not we eat meat during Lent or consume the flesh of an animal without cloven hooves?

Stem cells may be the next great breakthrough in medicine, but how will we know if we can’t do the research? But we can’t do the research because of the closed-minded thinking of people like our president and like the leaders of the Catholic Church.

We can’t even teach our kids good science in school without the moaning and groaning of religious fundamentalists who keep insisting that our four-and-a half-billion-year-old earth is only 6,000 years old. They’re still trying every trick in the book to teach their religious fantasy story as legitimate science.

So that is why I keep harping on religion. It is not what people believe that offends me; it is the fact that so many of them try to turn it into something it is not and force it upon everyone else. And, yes, that upsets me. It should upset everyone.

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