Pope Benedict XVI is making the headlines in Australia at the moment upon his arrival for World Youth Day celebrations, that are seeing an estimated 500,000 pilgrims in attendance, a figure larger than the number of visitors for Sydney’s 2000 Olympics. Here’s a quote from The Australian newspaper:
“I am, finally, an optimist,” he said on his flight from Rome in response to a question from The Australian about religious apathy in his host country. “Now at this historical moment we begin to see that we need God.”
Such optimism contrasts with the Pope’s pessimism about the Australian church in 2005 when he said the “so-called ‘great’ churches seem to be dying” and that this “is true particularly in Australia”.
With sliding church attendance, Benedict had initially considered Australia to be sliding into a state of moral wasteland, but is now buoyed by the enthusiasm his visit is generating. Really, this does not surprise me. While Australia is far removed for America in its state of multiculturalism and tolerance, it remains at the core very much a Christian nation. Our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is a devoted Christian whose church visits regularly feature on news broadcasts, and who believes that religious values should be brought within the public sphere. This only supported his popularity, given that he was an easy replacement over our previous conservative and Christian Prime Minister, John Howard. What rules the roost is not reason but superstition.
This morning I was reading a report suggesting that Benedict was right to claim that without religion, society descends into a moral downslide. Yet such arguments are not met with hard facts. Unfortunately these claims are made without reference to the suffering that humanity has incurred in the name of religion. Were it be that religion was the primary source of virtues such as love, grace, and compassion, then it might be said that religion should never be undermined. However, experience proves quite the opposite. While these virtues are inherent within the stories of religion, they are not the fruits of it.
As I have said previously, a boundary-free spirituality is more suited to our world than the present belief systems that divide and destroy. As soon as you say, “I am a ……”, you immediately separate yourself from others, placing a unique distinction based upon your beliefs. That is only delusional thinking.