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The Pope Retires -- Abuse Does Not

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Pervez Hoodbhoy, one of South Asia's leading nuclear physicists wrote, "Whenever and wherever religious fundamentalism dominates, blind faith clouds objective and rational thinking. If such forces take hold in a society, they create a mindset unfavourable for critical inquiry, with its need to question wisdom."

The same can be said for left-wing ideologies that in their zeal lose sight of facts. There is always the danger that the ideology becomes the idol to be worshipped.

Fundamentalism thrives on the deep primal emotion of fear: whether on the left or the right, one is made to feel that "the sky is falling, the sky is falling." In Canada and the West, fundamentalists whip up emotion with grandiose rhetoric, and then offer us a new messiah with his new message. He will lead us all to the promised land. It sounds great. At first. The initial fear is assuaged.

Now the stresses of life are reduced because someone else has solved the problem and is now caring for you. And before you realize what is happening, you have lost the ability and let go of the desire to make decisions. You have given up your sense of agency, your ability to choose and you submit to the "knowledge" of others. You have given up your freedom.

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For thousands of years we have been warned about the dangers of giving into fear because fear-mongering is fundamental to fundamentalism. The Bible is full of warnings: "Do not fear." One of the most important lessons the Bible teaches is that we must not fear freedom (the lesson of Exodus). Living in a democratic country it sounds odd that people here would give up their freedom. But they do. Freedom requires engagement, study, critical thinking and the need to always make decisions. It is hard work. It can be exhausting.

Russian author, Dostoyevsky, wrote about the burden of freedom in his parable The Grand Inquisitor. In the story, Jesus comes to Seville, Spain at the time of the Spanish Inquisition in the late 15th century. He is taken prisoner by the Grand Inquisitor and questioned.

The Grand Inquisitor tells Jesus that humanity is too weak to bear the gift of freedom. It does not seek freedom but bread -- not the divine bread promised by Jesus, but ordinary earthly bread. People will worship whoever gives them bread, for they need their rulers to be gods. The Grand Inquisitor tells Jesus that his teaching has been amended to deal with humanity as it really is: "We have corrected Thy work and have found it on miracle, mystery and authority. And men rejoiced that they were again led like sheep, and that the terrible gift that brought them such suffering was, at last, lifted from their hearts."

Religious leaders, like secular counterparts, abuse power. For me, each time "religion" is abused, it is more painful than hearing about corruption in politics/government. Abusing religion is taking God's name in vain. It is a corruption of ethical-monotheism. The ethic is sound. Rabbi Hillel summed it up while standing on one foot. "Do not do to others what is hateful to you." The rest is commentary. Go study. Abuse is the failure of human beings, not the ethic.

We continue to hear about religious groups who cover-up sexual abuse. We have been exposed to the Catholic Church's abuse of young people that was kept hush-hush for decades to protect the abusers. Unfortunately, just as Pope Benedict XVI is retiring, we are hearing about more abuse and the attempt to hide the truth, again. We learned about sects in Mormonism and the abuse of young girls 13 and 14, sent off to marry old men, and boys being sent away. In Uganda, fear of homosexuality is being spread through some fundamentalist evangelical groups.

Now Rabbis in Israel and New York, leaders in their communities, have been found guilty of covering up sexual abuse by coercing the abused to remain quiet and not to call the police who are considered outsiders -- not to be trusted.

All abusers are the same. They know that successful conspiracies require that all in the group participate so they bring fear into the hearts of their followers-fear of the outside world; fear of modernity; fear of shunning-being cut adrift from the only life they know. Religious fundamentalists walk their religious ways lock-step to the right, enforcing totalitarian-style ghettos, whose walls are made of rules upon rules, just as strong as the real thing. And they manage to do this in the midst of thriving democracies.

Democracies cannot afford such communities. The children in these ghettos are denied the ability to think, to choose, to develop a sense of individualism, to access information, and often the ability to earn a living beyond their walls. It is a world without enlightenment. Staying in these closed-off neighbourhoods, these children are more susceptible to abuse; sexual, physical, and emotional. Religious freedom, like all freedoms, has parameters. We must work to find a balance between religious belief systems that enhance the meaning and quality of life, and the fact that we live in a pluralistic society in the 21st century.

Religion brought morals, values and ethics to Western Culture that helped to develop strong communities and continues to encourage strong, compassionate communities by providing support and care for those in greatest need. But, religion needs to breathe to live and grow. It can't when kept hidden behind walls or locked firmly in the past.

Those of us who believe in God cannot stand by and allow fundamentalists to second religion and then abuse the flock.