Skepticism, I firmly believe, is the soul of progress. The ability to be a skeptic in the face of injustice weaves the fabric of basic human liberty. We have freedom of expression. We can say that we think a law is stupid. We can say we don’t care for the president — and often we do. Because criticizing what we perceive or know to be wrong is so vital. To be silent in the face of indecency is to consent to it. Yet, so often skepticism seems to fall victim to deafening silence in areas concerning religious dogma. A general aura of taboo emanates around the idea of criticizing world religions and their norms. “It’s just what they believe,” is too often the justification for immoral actions carried out under the pretense of religion.
I choose to be a skeptic of the resigning Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, after his final Sunday as the head of Catholicism, because I do not consent to dogma he has stood behind, despite his “infallibility.” It’s a funny thing criticizing something that is “infallible” since surely by the laws of nature I must be wrong. Yet, I shall press on anyways.
Ratzinger preached an overt doctrine of homophobia, claiming homosexuality was a destructive force for mankind. I don’t care if this is part of religion or his personal beliefs. That’s bigotry. Hate speech is hate speech whether it’s rooted in religion or not. He also said condom distribution on the African continent to combat AIDS would only increase the spread of the disease. I say this is profoundly ignorant, and quite frankly profoundly stupid. I don’t care if it’s somehow backed up by religion. Ignorance is ignorance. The retired Pope gave public support to an elementary school teacher in Italy who was suspended for giving graphic lectures (with images) about the apocalypse, the devil and hell to six-year-olds. Teaching a six-year-old that he or she should fear the possibility of being eternally roasted and tortured by a malignant beast is child abuse. Justifying it with religious belief does not make it any less egregious.
Switching religions: When we look at many Islamic countries where woman are forced to dress certain ways and live without the same rights as men, we mustn’t sit silently. When people say, “It’s their culture. You can’t judge them,” or “It’s their religion,” they may think they’re being tolerant, but they’re actually enabling sexism. To silently consent or to use religious or cultural beliefs to support the abuse of women silences the voices of those Islamic women who want and deserve equal rights.
If you found yourself in some remote woods where cannibalism and head shrinking was practiced because it was an accepted religious and cultural custom, wouldn’t you still think it was terrible? Of course. You would view that behavior with disdain, because whether or not it’s rooted in some sort of supernatural belief, it’s just plain wrong. There’s a big difference between being tolerant and enabling immorality.
We should not feel timid about criticizing destructive beliefs and practices regardless of how they are justified. Don’t be afraid to speak out against someone or something just because of an association with religion. Wrong is wrong.
Frank Marasco is a senior in the College of Communication. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.