It’s a bit tricky being an atheist sometimes. The mere act of pointing out that some Christians believe not in an historical figure – the eminently sensible philosopher known as Jesus Christ – but in a myth about said Jesus coming back from the dead, and have a thing about eating real flesh and drinking real blood, has elicited considerable hostility from a number of Crikey readers.
One of them emailed me to tell me I was dead — not in a threatening sense, but in a philosophico-spiritual sense. I found it hard to argue, especially after a Home Happy Hour spent yelling at the kids to do their homework while cooking dinner.
Several complainants suggested I wouldn’t dare say such offensive things about Islam. Au contraire. Islam is about the only religion that makes Catholicism look enlightened in its attitude toward women. But, here’s the thing: oddly enough, we don’t shower tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on Islamic celebrations in which over a hundred thousand young Muslims are invited to come to Australia.
In fact, I can just see The Telegraph headlines if a World Muslim Youth Day were held in Australia, complete with Government support. And that’s a fairly fundamental point. Catholicism is a major institutional religion, with significant economic as well as political power. Islam, however much it is demonised, ain’t.
And no matter how it is justified or spun, and whether it’s in micro, regarding the WYD, or in macro, with the tax-exempt status enjoyed by all religions, the fact remains that in an ostensibly secular nation, massive resources are directed toward religious institutions despite the profound damage inflicted by such institutions via their attitudes toward women, gays and lesbians and children. Moreover, the conflict of interest when politicians who are religious — like Morris Iemma — make decisions in favour of religious organisations is never discussed.
This is not to suggest nothing but evil springs from the activities of the religious. For example, the Catholic Church, in which I was raised, has a relatively strong tradition of social justice, something almost entirely absent from the rather more fashionable happy-clappy churches like Hillsong, which seem more like lifestyle and self-help companies for aspirational dimwits than spiritual gatherings.
The best email I received was from a Queenslander who has been to the two previous World Youth Days and offered his perspective on the event. It’s enough to reinvigorate one’s faith in youth — Catholic, atheist or otherwise:
By and large, World Youth Day itself is a public relations event for the Vatican to show the world how many young Catholics they can get together. And of course, like which city gets to host the Olympics, politics plays a part in who gets to host World Youth Day. The Cardinals in charge of Toronto, Cologne and Sydney are all well-known conservatives. I can’t see an Archbishop who believes in liberation theology getting the nod to host World Youth Day.
I have made a conscious decision not to go to Sydney for World Youth Day. I have found it much more worthwhile to spend time as a volunteer in an indigenous community called Santa Teresa, just south of Alice Springs. I have been there on two occasions, first in 2005 and then last year. I have stayed with a group of Catholic Brothers who, along with the extraordinarily generous people of Santa Teresa, taught me much more about the Gospel than I ever learned through World Youth Day.
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I think young people of all faiths (or of no religious faith) should be encouraged to make a positive difference to their communities through constructive engagement with the world, not by attending an event where they are told how evil the world is.