From Abracadabra to Zombies
Mass Media Funk
a commentary on mass media stories about the scientific, the paranormal, the supernatural, and anything else that yanks at my eyebrows.
Note: Mass Media Funk is now Skeptimedia.
Hey, Bennie! Leave My Soul Alone!
December 5, 2007. The Roman Catholic pope, Benedict XVI, says it's time to quit being selfish and individual-centric when it comes to saving souls. The time has come, he says, to return to the good old days when Christians considered salvation to be a communal concept. In those fine times, for example, monks prayed not only for their own salvation, but for the salvation of others. In his encyclical "Saved by Hope," the titular leader of some one billion Roman Catholics wonders: "How did we arrive at this interpretation of the 'salvation of the soul' as a flight from responsibility for the whole, and how did we come to conceive the Christian project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others?"
I'll tell you how we got here. The Crusades ended, the Inquisitions ended, and the idea that "serving others" by trying to save their souls, whether they wanted it or not, died on the vine in all good vineyards.
In the same encyclical, Benedict blames atheism for the misery caused by communism but makes no mention of the misery caused by religions in their crusades to eliminate infidels and their inquisitions to force conversions of non-believers and punish deviants from orthodoxy. Why does orthodoxy matter? Because without orthodoxy there is no salvation. Do me a favor, Holiness, and keep your concern for my soul to yourself. Don't tempt anybody to set out to save me or anyone else. If I have a soul, it's mine and I'd like to remain free to do with it what I want. I won't annoy you about the probability that your entire belief system is a delusion if you won't annoy me about concern for my imaginary companion. I don't begrudge your concern for your own soul, but leave mine alone. If I want your help, I'll ask for it. Until then, mind your own business and worry about your own wretched soul instead of mine.
You realize, Holiness, that we have a covey of presidential candidates who think I need to know about their religious beliefs. Some of these candidates might just want to bring about Armageddon, which would inconvenience me and maybe even you and some of your followers. While I'm concerned about the candidates' views on prophecies regarding the end times, I'm very concerned about their beliefs regarding salvation. Are they going to leave me alone to pursue the salvation of my soul, or not, as I see fit? Or, do they think they have a duty to save me as well as themselves? Are they going to presume to know what I should believe and do if I want my soul to be saved? If so, they'll never get my vote. A president's concern should be with his or her own soul, not with mine. She can worry about my body, my property, the roads I drive on, the wars she will send my children and grandchildren to, and other things of this world. But leave the soul and concern for its salvation to others. Hold sacred the First Amendment: keep government out of the business of concern for souls and let us decide whether we want to join any religion.
Like most other religions, you think you alone know the way to salvation. As long you don't think you have a duty to coerce me into being saved, you can think what you want and I won't care one way or the other. But I don't want to answer my door knocker one day and find a missionary standing there telling me that she's there to save my soul by order of the Catholic Pope. "Hi, I'm from the Papacy, and I'm here to help!" No thanks, Benedict. Keep your holiness to yourself and pray that your followers don't go medieval on you and start killing and torturing people for their own good, like they did in the good old days.
When I was a child I was a member of your organization. My parents thought it was their duty to save my soul and they believed the Roman Catholic Church was the only way to salvation, so they had me baptized and indoctrinated into your religion. Remember the good old days when my salvation depended on what I ate on a certain day of the week? When I was old enough to figure out what was being done to me I asked an expert about the wisdom of such a policy. He said that my salvation depended on my submission to the will of God and that obeying rules—no matter how contrived, pointless, or superannuated—was a way to be humble and obedient. Excuse my arrogance, but what if this expert was wrong? What if I do have a soul but God doesn't want me to be a submissive, non-thinking, irrational, obedient slave to the will of any other human being? Will the expert stand in for me on judgment day and take my punishment for following the wrong path to salvation? I don't think so.
We're still waiting for the Savior to arrive on the scene and announce: "Hi! I'm here to save your soul. Follow me and do as I say and you'll be saved. Of course, should you find some other Savior more to your liking, by all means, follow her. I won't mind. After all, it's your soul and should I turn out to be a false savior, you could end up getting royally screwed in the afterlife and I won't be able to be your scapegoat then. You'll have to suffer the consequences of your error on your own. Why don't you go off into the desert for a few days and think about it? It's your choice and I won't be offended if you choose not to follow me."
We're still waiting for the religion that says: "It's your soul. You are the one who will pay the price should there be an afterlife and a vengeful God waiting to smite those who do the wrong things on earth. You're the only one who should decide how to live your life with respect to your soul. We know we are one among many who offer salvation in exchange for your membership in our club and all that that entails. We won't coerce you into joining and we won't be offended should you choose to join up with the infidels and the damned."
Finally, Excellency, remember that there's another religion which thinks everybody must join it and be saved or be killed as an infidel. (I can't mention this religion by name because a few of its followers might consider it an insult and publicly proclaim that I should be beheaded or killed by a firing squad.) Most people in that religion have given up on the idea of death-to-nonbelievers as old-fashioned and obsolete in today's world, but a few carry on the tradition. They'd like to kill you because you're not one of them. They consider you to be unsaved until you join them. Will you join them? I didn't think so. Tell you what, you leave me alone and I'll ask them to leave you alone. I don't think they'll pay any attention to me, but then, neither will you. Anyway, here I stand. I can do no more until the worms get me.