Here is a snapshot of religion provided (unintentionally) by this morning’s USATODAY.
Item: “Faith, medicine at odds.” Colleen Hauser, a Minnesota Catholic who also believes in the Native American healing techniques promoted by the Missouri-based Nemenhah Band has taken her 12-year old son, Daniel, into hiding. The boy has Hodgkin’s lymphoma; a disease that doctors say is 91% curable in children Daniel’s age. Mom believes that chemo and radiation, the proven cures for this disease, are unnecessary and that her brand of Native medicine is superior. Is she is killing her son in the name of her faith? Does she have that right?
Item: “4 arrested in NYC synagogue bomb plot.” The FBI arrested four men they had been watching for a year who were about to bomb a synagogue and community center, and shoot down military aircraft. The paper didn’t say what their motive was, but NPR said they were upset about the killing of Muslims by US soldiers. In a war between Christians and Muslims, why are the Jews the easiest target?
Item: “Car bomber strikes in Baghdad district.” Yet another car bomb tore through a Shiite neighborhood. No group has taken responsibility, but you can be pretty sure the murderers were Sunnis. We spent thousands of American lives and billions of American dollars to free these people and all they want to do is engage in religious warfare. Is this the proper use of our American heroes?
Item: “Children forced into exorcisms.” Nondenominational Christian clergy in the Congo are making good money pouring hot wax on little kids and pulling demons out of their stomachs. Claiming to be guided by the Holy Spirit, these priests are demanding $50 per exorcism from people who annual per capita income is $100. Parents who can no longer care for their children are proclaiming them possessed and forcing them onto the streets to fend for themselves. Estimates are that 70% of the 15,000 abandoned children in the capital of Kinshasa are thought to be there because of charges of witchcraft. Jesus performed exorcisms, so there may be no way to stop this, but at least he didn’t charge for his services. Why is Christianity so plagued by witches and demons?
Item: “Report details abuse at institutions.” According to a report released yesterday, “children were beaten and raped for decades” in Catholic-run institutions in Ireland. The study traces abuse from the 1930s onward. How much brutality and rape tacitly sanctioned by the Church do Catholics have to endure before they simply walk away from their church in disgust?
What to make of all this? First, for every story of religious evil there are also stories of religious good. Second, abuse and witchcraft makes headlines, feeding the hungry and housing the homeless do not. And yet… Religion, like any other human institution, can shelter the wicked as well as the righteous; can promote evil as well as good, madness as well as morality. Religion can be trusted no more than any other human institution. The truth is, trust no one. How sad.