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Sheffield '11: Truthiness Tuesdays

Chelsea Waite '11 provides a varied array of claims about how religion is benign and beneficial ("Truth Tuesdays," March 2). According to her column, it is not the tenets of religions that are problematic — it is their corrupted lust for power and thirst for domination. Apparently, if it were not for those corrupting influences, they would all happily coexist, each providing some wisdom and truth. To round everything out, she even provides the postmodern gambit that everyone just views the world in a different way, never mind whether that view corresponds with reality.

The focus of the column, a project in religious literacy, is a wonderful idea in principle. But it needs to be based on reality and show the good and bad doctrines, not a whitewashed caricature.

Waite claims that Christianity is based on "love" and Islam is based on "devotion and mercy." Perhaps it is just the infidel in me who will be cast into a pit of fire to suffer eternal torture for not worshipping some guy, but the whole love claim seems a bit hollow. The concept of Christianity being based on love does make a little more sense in light of the sheep–shepherd idea. A shepherd might love his sheep very dearly, but that does not stop the shepherd from having some tasty mutton now and then. To be honest, I still do not see much love.

Some of the evils of Christianity are due to "drives for power, for wealth and for domination." The perennial sex abuse by Catholic clerics has certainly been aided by the church's attempts to cover up the abuse to save face. Politicians have been all too happy throughout history to use religious divisions along with ethnic ones to consolidate power.

But it is hard to argue that things like homophobia in Christianity are caused by corrupting factors alone — the same is true for most other religions. The Bible makes it quite clear that homosexual behavior is a sin and a capital offense. Before the Christianity-is-love crowd says that this is just the backwards Old Testament, Paul makes it quite clear that lusting for people of the same sex is verboten — see Romans 1:26–32. Apparently, God does not approve of Sex Power God.

This leads to Waite's claim that religious people deserve respect. Like with every other person, respect is something to be earned by one's actions. While standing up for your beliefs rather than quivering in some dark corner will make me respect you more, that is by no means a guarantee.

Few people in America stand up for their religion more than the members of the Westboro Baptist Church. This is the church that pickets soldiers' funerals and other events with their "God hates (slurs)" and "Thank God for Sept. 11" signs. I might respect their right to freedom of religion and freedom of speech — they recently won a Supreme Court case protecting their right to picket funerals — but I do not respect them as people.

Yes, I do give them credit for being more consistent than most other religions — their signs are pretty good summaries on the Biblical God's opinion of queer people. Their actual message cancels out any respect I give them for above-average consistency. Even if I despise them, I also have a soft spot for their church. With so many other anti-queer groups trying to hide their animus, I find the Westboro Baptist Church's overt bigotry to be refreshing. Maybe the Vatican will supply "Deus cinaedos odit" signs at the next anti-same-sex marriage rally down the hill.

It is a good thing to promote religious literacy. I find it sad that in a recent study, only a few religions have as religiously literate a population as the nonreligious. But it does not surprise me, considering the lack of literacy among many believers about their respective religions. Not to keep picking on the Catholics, but every time one tells me that the immaculate conception was God getting it on with Mary, I secretly wish there were a hell — they would go to the same level as everyone else that propagates common errors.

But a worthwhile project would need to provide an accurate portrayal of the aspects of each religion. That not only includes focusing on sects that have abandoned many of the most egregious dogmas, but on those that relish those unappealing aspects as well.

David Sheffield '11 is a mathematical physics concentrator. The Inquisition can contact him at david_sheffield@brown.edu.




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