Sunday, July 20, 2014

In a New York Times essay, Timothy Egan blames all the world's current problems on religion: Wow, it's so obvious!

Maureen Dowd and Frank Bruni are resting , apparently, so the Times dispatched Timothy Egan to publish another intellectually lazy attack on religion. In an essay title "Faith-based Fanatics," Egan argues that much of this year's violence and sorrows have their roots in religious discord. 

"God is on a rampage in 2014," Egan writes, "a lot like the Old Testament scourge who gave direct instructions to people to kill one another." If it weren't for the contemporary references, I would have concluded that Egan was just recycling one of his old theme papers from his student days at the University of Washington.  The argument that religion is the source of all the world's problems is one of those fatuous conclusions that college sophomores come up with.

Much in the style of the Times' Maureen Dowd (I think it's called drive-by journalism), Egan engages in gratuitous insults to bulk up his vapid essay. He takes a swipe at Pope Benedict (kick 'em while he's down),  Texas Governor Rick Perry (what's he got to do with anything?), and the male Roman Catholic members of the Supreme Court. And why not? If you get an opportunity to write an op ed essay for the Times, you've got to be snarky, or the editors won't ask you back.

Of course, Egan undercut his whole sloppy essay by admitting that the world's biggest slaughters were not driven by religion.  Without a doubt, the 20th century was the most violent century in the history of mankind, but it was unleashed by Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Zedong.  If you want to get a sharper perspective on the source of all this mayhem, read Robert Royal's excellent history on the history of Catholic persecution in the 20th century. Millions of religious people were killed, most of them by non-religious people.

It is true of course, that much of the turmoil engulfing the Middle East is steeped in religious ideology and that the roots of the current conflicts can be traced to religious disputes that go back a thousand years.  But the Muslim extremists who are on the loose are essentially nihilists.  To say the violence in the Middle East can be blamed on religion is like arguing that American Express is responsible for Pol Pot's murders because Pol Pot had an American Express card. I don't actually know where Pol Pot banked, but you get my rhetorical point.

I could argue of course that religious faith (and more particularly my own Catholic faith) compels us to respect every person's human dignity and to alleviate the suffering of others.  I think there's something about that in the New Testament, maybe in the Book of Matthew.  But that would be about as useful as a high-school debate team competition. 

I will simply say this.  Our world is facing very serious problems. Ukraine, we've learned in the last 48 hours, is virtually in a shooting war with Russia, and the nation's most powerful nations cannot even retrieve the remains of  their citizens who were killed when a civilian airliner was shot down. We need very sharp analysis of an escalating cycle of violence by people who have some moral center and ethical core. Mr. Egan and the New York Times do not contribute to finding solutions to the world's pressing challenges by dredging up empty arguments about how religion is the source of the world's conflicts.

And I will say one more thing. I myself look for direction as to how I should live in a world soaked in blood and greed and brutal exploitation.  I'm telling you, Mr. Egan, I'm not looking for answers in the New York Times.  President Obama is going to get a chance to earn his Nobel Peace Prize, and God help us--I hope he's not drawing his inspiration from the New York Times op ed pages.

As for me and my house, I will turn to my Catholic faith. I will draw solace and courage from our Catholic saints and martyrs--the very people Mr. Egan disparaged in his witless op ed essay.  Instead of doing so much empty writing, Mr. Egan, I suggest you do some reading. Start by reading the works of  Dorothy Day, not yet a saint.  If we follow her example and try to live as she lived, God will lead us home--regardless of what happens in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, and Gaza.


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