Saying No to God

On Friday I saw Spotlight, a film that recently won Best Picture at the Oscars. The film portrays an investigative journalism team at The Boston Globe that in 2002 published evidence of a major child abuse scandal amongst Roman Catholic priests in the Boston area. The team sought to expose flaws in the “entire system” of Roman Catholicism. As if to underscore the extent of the problem, the film ends with a note that Cardinal Bernard Law — a man directly responsible for covering up sexual abuse by dozens of priests — though he initially resigned from his role in Boston, was later given a higher position of power in Rome. In the years since Spotlight’s report, the Church has responded saying that they took the findings as a chance for large-scale changes in the organization, and that they’ve now “reformed”.

This could be an essay about my disdain for religion, but it won’t be, because I think that religion holds very real value for an astounding number of people. Rather, it is the marketing of religion that I so despise. And because of this, I clung to a particular quote from the film.

In a scene where the Spotlight team is interviewing their first victim of child abuse, a man who heads an organization called the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests says “When you’re a poor kid from a poor family, and a priest pays attention to you, it’s a big deal. How do you say no to God?” This singular sentiment reveals the authoritative nature that some religions play in its worshiper’s lives, and it’s this angle — the political agenda of religion — that truly turns me off from it.

In high school, a close friend and I decided to tell our parents, each in our own way, that we did not want to believe in a God. We’d both been raised with religion, each confirmed in our churches — he Protestant, I Catholic. Each of us had a large extended family for which religion was important. This discussion, that of publicly outing ourselves as non-believers, felt weighty at the time. I don’t particularly recall the conversation that occurred with my parents, but what I do remember is the response of my friend’s mother. Upon hearing her son disavow the family’s religion, she asked him “but don’t you want to raise your kids with good moral values?” I am surely misquoting her all these years later, but the gist of her sentiment remains: religion is the only way to teach your offspring how to be upstanding humans.

What I dislike most about this attitude (aside from it being a logical fallacy of the most poisonous kind) is that it lends such little faith to humans of their own accord. It suggests that in the absence of religion, we would never possess the capability to know right from wrong, and to teach our children the same. From the very outset, it is a recommendation that you not think for yourself, but take the centuries old written word of the Bible as indisputable fact, and I simply could not, and can not, accept that as healthy for humans.